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New Voices! Amber Forbes: Commercial Does Not Mean Inferior

To celebrate the holiday season, (well, besides giving away tons of books) we're sharing our 100 244 (and counting!) followers with some fantastic guest bloggers. Next up in our New Voices series is Amber Forbes, who embraces commercial and literary fiction with equally open arms.

A little about Amber:

Amber Forbes is a 19-year-old freshman at Augusta State University, majoring in English Rhetoric/Composition and minoring in Photography. She's also a slusher for The Oddville Press, with a short story titled "Dead Poet's Pendulum" published in their Issue V. You can read teasers of her WIP, Witch Tourniquet, every Tuesday, as well as her thoughts on the writing world, at

Commercial Does Not Mean Inferior

I used to think commercial was ‘fluff’ fiction, until I found out that a lot of my favorite books are commercial, or books that straddle the line of commercial and literary. Now I just think that whether or not something is commercial or literary is in the minds of the readers. But this isn’t about what’s commercial or literary. This is about standing up for commercial fiction, trying to get people to see that it can be just as deep as literary fiction.

When I was a senior in high school, I took AP Literature, and in that class I explored vast amounts of literature and wrote tons of in-class essays. I will never forget the month I had to carry around a fat book containing some great short stories and poems, with explanations on how to write each. It was a thrilling month because it was the first time I seriously dabbled in short stories and was actually able to write a good one. Despite this book being a great help, it also fell into the category of literary snobbery. I wish I could remember the name of the book, but I cannot.

During class, we had to read various definitions, and one of the definitions included commercial fiction. The book basically described commercial fiction as containing cliché or flat characters, an underdeveloped plot, and fiction that often contains clumsy writing. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy at all with this book’s callous, close-minded definition. I also believe this book hasn’t been updated in decades, because I can believe that commercial fiction was like this in my parents’ days, but not nowadays.

There are a lot of misconceptions about commercial fiction. I could list several websites with writing forums where tons of writers have marked off commercial fiction as being basic trash, but I won’t. First off, let me break down the definition of commercial fiction by defining commercial and fiction. Commercial means that a product is suitable for a wide, popular market. Think Twilight or most bestsellers. Fiction is something invented or imagined. So by combining these definitions, commercial fiction contains invented or imagined stories that appeal to a broad market. With this definition, where on earth do people get the idea that commercial fiction is somehow inferior to literary fiction?

Commercial fiction just simply appeals to the tastes of the majority. Just because something is commercial does not mean it lacks depth. In fact, depth is in the eye of the beholder.

Some people claim commercial fiction is all about the plot, all about keeping people in their seats by strangling them with seatbelts. To a certain extent this is true, but I’ve read tons of commercial books where the focus seems to be more on the characters than the plots, although the plots are very gripping. My favorite series of all time, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray, contains a character who reminds me of myself: Gemma Doyle. I read this series not for its plot, but for Gemma and her friends. The plot was amazing and gripping, and very, very deep, but if the characters hadn’t been as loveable as they were, I probably wouldn’t have finished the series. I think this is true for a lot of readers, especially readers of young adult fiction. Most readers want characters they can fall in love with, because by loving the characters, the plot becomes more insightful.

To be frank, I’m not sure what kind of writer I am. I know for certain my short stories are literary because “Dead Poet’s Pendulum” was published in The Oddville Press, an e-zine that looks for literary works. But as for my current WIP, Witch Tourniquet, I don’t know what I’d classify it as. I don’t mind being a commercial writer. I don’t mind being a literary writer. I love both literary and commercial books.

What I do mind is how much of an audience I can reach and how many people I can touch with what I’ve written. I want to be able to leave at least some sort of impact within the minds of my readers. Whether they love my plot, my characters, or the way I write words, I don’t care. I just want them to love something.

Whether or not you choose to write commercial or literary, you should strive to write the best story possible. In the end, that’s all that really seems to matter.

~Amber Forbes
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Yes, yes, yes. I couldn't have agreed more. I once signed up for a college fiction writing course where the professor put down the SF/Fantasy genre on the very first day. Needless to say, I got out of there quickly. I don't mind reading literary fiction (though I can't write it to save my life), but I dislike the prevalent attitude in academia that literary fiction is somehow "better" than commercial fiction. Popular doesn't equal inferiority.

  2. This is an awesome post. I totally agree with you. I have to admit that I've had that "attitude" toward commercial fiction before, until I realized what that term was actually referring to (kind of how you break it down in this post).

    On another note, in the age of iPods, flat screens, DVDs, and the Internet, I'm surprised the average person is still reading. Who cares whether it's "commercial" fiction or "literary" fiction. They're taking the time to read, and that's what counts.

  3. LOVE this post. (Also loved the Gemma Doyle trilogy).
    I've struggled with learning how to define something as literary in the current market and I do think it is because commercial fiction isn't what it was twenty years ago. There are a lot of straddler stories out there that appeal to masses and have great plots with deep characters. And I completely agree with what you hope to leave your readers with. Regardless of whether I read a commercial or literary, I just want to be able to say a book spoke to me in some way.

  4. Excellent post.

    The flip side is those who dismiss all literary as being flowery, boring tripe.

    Some commercial fiction is poorly written and gimmicky. Some literary fiction is dull. But there are plenty of both that are amazing as well. And I love them both.

    Thanks Amber!

  5. This is a great post! There are so many misconceptions and confusions about both literary and commercial. We all need to just hold hands and get along!

  6. Totally agree! They do not need to be diametrically opposed.

  7. Totally agree. Fluff and commercial are two totally different things. It's almost like putting down literary - "No, you can't be as successful as your brother Commercial!"

  8. You have an award waiting for you over at Star Shadow


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Item Reviewed: New Voices! Amber Forbes: Commercial Does Not Mean Inferior Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard