While talking to a newly formed book club in Nebraska last
night (my first chat with a group in that State; thanks, guys) three people asked if I could describe the difference between literary versus commercial fiction, and another asked what I personally preferred to read?
Simply put, literary fiction draws you in with language, imagery, character insight and sense of place whereas commercial fiction focuses more on narrative and plot. Literary fiction is also more tolerant of digression. If the story reveals something about the character, the pages are worth it. Also, the likability of characters isn't as required as commercial pieces.
Some well known commercial fiction authors would be John Grisham, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts. They rarely win prizes and aren't often reviewed, yet these authors do well financially as millions of readers regularly snatch up their books.
When it comes to personal preference, I'll read anything. Essentially, here's my strategy: If a book draws me in, I’ll keep reading. If it has a good story, I’ll finish it. If my mind wanders, I’ll put it down and find something better to do, and I usually won't pick it up again.
Of course, this is said from the reading side of my brain (a good book is a good book & all that jazz) while the writing side, fresh off months of hard work trying to create an unputdownable commercial piece, elbows me with a terse, Easier said than done, hotshot!