Three Lessons Commercial Authors Can Teach Literary Authors

If you look at bestseller lists for books, you will see very few literary titles in the top 10. That honour tends to go to authors of more commercial fiction, particularly thrillers and women’s fiction. More literary authors, who may spend years toiling over their novels only to sell a few hundred copies at most, may wonder what commercial authors are doing that they are not.

I believe that literary authors can learn valuable lessons from their commercial counterparts. There’s a reason why these books sell by the truckload, and if literary authors can learn to incorporate some of the techniques of commercial writers in a way that fits with their own style, they’ll increase their appeal to the reading public.

Here are three techniques you can use to help you achieve monetary as well as literary success.

Write Like You Speak

Commercial writers are able to capture the rhythms of everyday speech in their writing, which makes it easier for readers to slip into the story. This comes out particularly strongly in their dialogue, which reads as convincingly as if it were real conversation. Don’t be afraid to add in current slang or dialect words to bring colour to your dialogue.

Tighten Your Plotting

Commercial authors create a great sense of momentum in their writing. You get the sense that something could happen at any minute, and you keep reading to find out what it will be. Commercial fiction writers understand the power of story and create stories that sweep you along, helping you to forget about the outside world. While you can create compelling plots through character interaction, it’s good to build your story around a compelling event that will engage readers.

A Satisfying End

Most literary novels leave their readers hanging. I understand that the authors want readers to make up their own minds, but real life is ambiguous enough, so it’s nice to feel a sense of completion when you finish a book. Commercial authors deliver this in spades. It can be satisfying for a reader to work at a book to glean its message, but it’s a good idea to reward readers for their work at the end.

What lessons do you think literary authors can learn from commercial fiction authors? Or do they need to learn any?

4 thoughts on “Three Lessons Commercial Authors Can Teach Literary Authors

  1. The third point really hits me hard. I like my stories to have cliffhangers because when I read stories that have cliffhangers, I get a real “wow” feel. Maybe it’s just me 🙂 But you’re right about the differences because commercial authors feel like a more “street smart” version and many of them deservedly get more sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Iggy, a lot of people do like ambiguous endings. I may have allowed my own bias to sneak in there! I do think though that even if you have an ambiguous ending, you should at least give people enough material to work out the endings for themselves. Some literary books just let the endings hang, which is frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m particularly with you on a satisfying ending, but I don’t think it necessarily means all ends tied up, but certainly not leaving readers more confused than when they started, wondering why they ever set out on the journey at all. A credible ending can be satisfying even if it’s a disappointing one and often with several plotlines some can be tidied up with others left hanging.


    1. Well, as I said in another comment, I may have let my own bias creep in! I know a lot of people do like to work out the ending for themselves, but you’re right – the author needs to give the reader enough material to do that. Thanks for your comment.


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