What is Literary Fiction?


Our Marketing Assistant, Jess, has a little chat about the difference between literary and genre fiction.

Here at Seren we primarily publish literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction, and many a time I’ve been asked what the difference is. This is a fair question – I didn’t know the answer myself until I went to university!

The simple answer is that literary fiction is much more focused on the quality of the writing style – on the way the book is written – rather than on the plot and the way the plot satisfies a certain genre. Genre fiction is full of fast page-turners and plots that try to blow your socks off, whereas literary fiction tends to be a little slower, a little quieter, but no less enjoyable.

In the realms of literary fiction we’re more likely to regularly encounter characters who feel like people we might pass in the street, rather than characters who fit a mould; crime fiction is brimming with grumpy detectives, each with their own dark and dangerous past – even Sherlock Holmes isn’t squeaky clean! In literary fiction, on the other hand, we’re just as likely to encounter the next Patrick Bateman as we are the next Atticus Finch. 

Literary fiction isn’t ‘better’ than genre fiction in much the same way that genre fiction isn’t ‘better’ than literary fiction. There’s no need for competition here, because if you’re a reader – whether you read regularly or sit back with a handful of books each year – you’ll have already read both types of fiction, and chances are you’ll have liked and disliked books in both categories in equal measure.

So if literary fiction and genre fiction are equally valid, why is our focus on literary fiction?

First and foremost, it’s writing we want to promote and celebrate. We want a good story – of course we do! – but if we had to choose between an action-packed story written in a mediocre fashion or a subtle, stunningly written story, I’m sure you can guess which story we’d pick every time.

Not only that, but literary fiction gives us a lot of freedom. Something I’ve yet to mention is that literary fiction and genre fiction are not entirely separate from one another; it’s common for a book to be considered literary fiction while also fitting into a particular genre. That’s one of the reasons we love literary fiction so much!

Francesca Rhydderch’s award-winning debut The Rice Paper Diaries is literary fiction, but it’s historical fiction, too; Jo Mazelis’ prize-winning debut Significance is literary fiction, but it’s also a thriller; Tiffany Murray’s haunting Sugar Hall is literary fiction, but it’s also a ghost story. We are able to publish a wide variety of fiction by a plethora of authors, all because we love stories that are beautifully told.

That’s why we love literary fiction, and that’s why we publish it.

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