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What Is Upmarket Fiction?

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  • February 20, 2024
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  • 7 min read


Have you encountered a novel that skillfully balances the thrill of a page-turner with the depth of literary fiction? Nowadays, there’s a growing trend in publishing where books defy easy classification into either commercial or literary fiction. These works often belong to upmarket fiction, seamlessly blending elements from both genres.

In this guide, we will tell you everything that you need to know about upmarket fiction.

What is Upmarket Fiction?

Upmarket fiction, also known as book club fiction or literary commercial fiction. This genre straddles the line between popular mainstream fiction and literary fiction. As the name suggests, it appeals to a more educated and discerning readership.

This fiction has complex, well-developed characters and thought-provoking themes. The prose is well-crafted and passionate. Unlike genre fiction that follows a formulaic plot structure, this fiction has an original narrative. The stories are insightful about the human condition and contemporary issues.

At the same time, it maintains a strong focus on narrative and readability. The stories are fast-paced and suspenseful enough to turn pages. These fiction books feature compelling drama and conflict. Characterization and prose may be elevated, but entertainment value remains a priority.

In short, this fiction combines literary merit with mainstream appeal. It brings sophisticated themes and prose to popular fiction. The stories are entertaining but also encourage reflection.

Origins and History

Upmarket fiction emerged as a distinct genre in the late 20th century, combining commercial and literary fiction. Though it shares some themes and characteristics with literary fiction, it developed partly as a reaction to the perception that it had become too experimental. This evolution is particularly interesting for those starting their book writing journey, as it illustrates the potential for nuanced storytelling that appeals to a wide audience.

Some of the earliest examples of upmarket fiction include books like

  • John Irving’s _The World According to Garp_ (1978),
  • Anne Tyler’s _Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant_ (1982),
  • Wally Lamb’s _She’s Come Undone_ (1992).

These books combined strong narratives and compelling characters with more elevated themes and prose than mass-market fiction.

Other influencers in the origins of this fiction were the establishment of certain imprints and book clubs catering to this middlebrow genre. Imprints like Bloomsbury in the UK and publishers like Macmillan pioneering upmarket women’s fiction provided platforms to nurture the emerging genre. Book clubs like Oprah’s further promoted upmarket titles and expanded the readership.

In the 1990s and 2000s, continued mergers in the publishing industry led publishers to seek out books with crossover appeal between literary and commercial fiction. The success of authors like Anita Shreve, Sue Monk Kidd, and Elizabeth Gilbert writing multi-layered page-turners cemented upmarket fiction as a profitable and critically acclaimed genre. Though its classification is still debated today, upmarket fiction’s origins demonstrate its aim to blend literary technique with mass appeal.

Themes and Subject Matter

Upmarket fiction often explores deeper themes related to the human experience that goes beyond traditional genre constraints. Some common themes and topics include:

– Existential angst

Characters grappling with purpose, mortality, and finding meaning in life. It allows for a deeper exploration of internal conflicts.

– Interpersonal relationships

Complex dynamics between friends, family members, and romantic partners. It delves deeper into nuances and complications in personal connections.

– Social issues

Topics like race, class, gender roles, discrimination. It can closely examine societal problems and barriers faced by individuals or groups.

– Self-discovery

Characters are undergoing transformative personal journeys and overcoming adversity. More room in it for in-depth character development and growth.

– Moral dilemmas

Situations that challenge characters’ ethics, principles, or values. It allows for nuanced explorations of “right vs. wrong.”

-Mental health

Issues like depression, trauma, addiction, self-destructive behaviors. It depicts inner turmoils realistically.

– Hard truths of life

Topics like grief, loss, aging, morbidity. It confronts more serious issues head-on instead of shying away.

Style and Literary Elements

It is known for its distinct literary style and elements that set it apart from other genres. Some key features include:

– Polished prose

The writing itself is high quality, with thoughtful word choice, varied sentence structure, vivid descriptions, and attention to the cadence and flow of the words. Upmarket authors take great care crafting elegant yet accessible prose.

– Complex, multilayered characters

Rather than archetypal good guys and bad guys, characters in this fiction tend to be psychologically complex, flawed, and dynamic. They face internal struggles and moral ambiguities. Characters drive the narrative.

– Slower pacing

Compared to mass market fiction that relies on quick, dramatic plot twists, this fiction tends to have a more leisurely pace to fully explore characters’ inner lives. It focuses less on shocking the reader.

– Thoughtful themes

This fiction explores profound or difficult themes – from love, grief, and mortality to moral dilemmas, social issues, and the human condition. It aims to give the reader new perspectives on life. This genre effectively bridges the gap between the entertainment and the intellectual depth of literary works, securing its place within popular genre trends.

Comparison to Other Genres

Upmarket fiction differs from other popular fiction genres in several key ways:

· Commercial fiction

Commercial fiction tends to be plot and character-driven, emphasizing story over literary style. It often follows genre conventions and has mass market appeal. Upmarket fiction has more elevated prose, multidimensional characters, and greater thematic depth.

· Literary fiction

Literary fiction focuses on style, character development, and exploring intellectual ideas. While upmarket fiction shares these traits, it retains a strong narrative plot structure that literary fiction often disregards. Upmarket also has more mainstream appeal than some literary works.

· Genre fiction

Genre fiction like mystery, romance, or science fiction adheres to the tropes and conventions of that genre. Upmarket fiction borrows some genre elements but transcends genre limitations. It combines literary techniques with popular fiction storytelling.

The Future of Upmarket Fiction

This fiction has evolved considerably over the years and continues to grow and change as new authors put their spin on the genre. Here are some ways the Book Writing Founders may see this fiction continue to develop in the future:

– More diversity in characters and authors

Contemporary fiction has more diversity than classic works, but there is room for improvement. We may see more of this fiction starring and written by authors of different races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, etc.

– Blending with other genres

It often incorporates elements of other genres like mystery, romance, or sci-fi. This blending may increase, leading to fresh takes like upmarket crime fiction, historical fiction, etc.

– Unique narrative formats

It uses traditional narrative structures, but new formats like stories told through emails, text messages, and other media could emerge. Book writing service providers and authors may experiment more with nonlinear narratives.

– Greater crossover appeal

As it gains prominence, it may attract more readers from genre fiction, looking for deeper themes and characterization. The stories may come to resonate with a wider mainstream audience.

– More unconventional perspectives

It spotlights underrepresented points of view and may continue pushing boundaries in this realm. We’ll likely see more stories from marginalized communities.

– Wider accessibility

As this fiction genre grows, publishers may try to release more affordable paperback and e-book options, bringing these stories to more diverse readers. Shorter stories could also open the genre to busy readers.


Upmarket fiction is a dynamic genre bridging the gap between commercial and literary spheres. Its ability to captivate readers with interesting narratives while offering thought-provoking depth. This makes it a unique and valuable contribution to the literary landscape.

By the end of this guide, we hope you understand what this fiction genre is all about and how it differs from the traditional literary spheres.

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