What Is Commercial Fiction? Definition & Writing Guide

Posted on Jun 20, 2023

Avatar Of P.j Mcnulty

Written by P.J McNulty

Home > Blog > Fiction, Writing > What Is Commercial Fiction? Definition & Writing Guide

Commercial fiction, in a nutshell, is fiction that sells.

It’s as simple as that.

It’s the kind of book that grabs your attention from the get-go, hooks you in, and keeps the pages turning.


Because it’s constructed to appeal to a broad audience. It targets the tastes, the passions, the fears, and the dreams of the masses. But remember, it’s not just about sales figures. Your book needs to hit home with readers. It’s about delivering an experience, a journey that readers want to embark upon. This is your key to crafting successful commercial fiction.

But why the label ‘commercial’?


The ‘commercial’ tag essentially means your book is marketable. It’s the type of book that bookstores want to display in their front windows, that book clubs want to talk about, and that readers can’t resist.

It’s your ticket to high sales numbers, but more importantly, to a far-reaching and varied reader base.

So, when you’re drafting your next book, ask yourself – is it commercial? Would it appeal to a wide demographic? Is it a story people would spend their hard-earned cash on? The answers will guide you towards crafting a compelling commercial fiction novel.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that commercial fiction is about dumbing down your work or selling out.

It’s quite the contrary. It’s about finding that magical sweet spot where your creative expression meets audience appeal.

Sure, commercial fiction often relies on familiar themes and relatable characters. It might not push the boundaries of literary innovation in the same way that some high-brow literary fiction does.

But remember this – pushing boundaries doesn’t always equate to readership. Sometimes, the beauty lies in delivering a story that resonates, that pulls heartstrings, and that leaves your reader, nestled in their armchair, utterly satisfied.

Lastly, don’t forget that commercial fiction isn’t a standalone genre.

This is key. It’s a blanket term that encompasses a range of genres – from crime thrillers to heartwarming romance, from epic fantasies to gritty science fiction.

Each of these genres has its own conventions and expectations that you, as a writer, need to meet. But the unifying factor, the golden thread that ties all commercial fiction together, is its appeal to a large audience. Your book, whatever the genre, needs to tap into that. It needs to spark interest, elicit emotion, and above all, it needs to sell.

Read on as we delve into the distinguishing characteristics of commercial fiction in the next section, enabling you to understand and, most importantly, implement them in your book.

What are the characteristics of commercial fiction?

You’ve grasped the concept, understood the definition, but how do you actually go about writing commercial fiction? How do you infuse your book with that page-turning, can’t-put-it-down, just-one-more-chapter appeal?

Let’s unpack the characteristics of commercial fiction.

First and foremost, commercial fiction is all about high concept storytelling.

This is your cornerstone. It’s that captivating idea that can be pitched in a sentence or two, yet unfolds into a riveting, multi-layered narrative.

Think of it as your book’s elevator pitch. Can you boil your story down into a compelling concept that grabs attention instantly?

That’s what readers of commercial fiction are after. They want stories that seize their imagination from the get-go, stories they can dive into headfirst and lose themselves in. Make sure your book offers that – a high concept that’s easily understood, but rich in its delivery.

The second characteristic you’ll want to focus on is plot. In commercial fiction, the plot takes center stage.

It’s not that the prose doesn’t matter, it does, but it plays second fiddle to a gripping, well-paced plot.

Readers of commercial fiction are in it for the ride, they want action, twists, turns, and a satisfying resolution.

So, give them that. Make sure your plot is structured, cohesive, and full of suspense. Keep them on the edge of their seat, keep them guessing, keep them flipping those pages. It’s all about delivering a riveting narrative that leaves them breathless.

Now, let’s talk characters.

Your book needs to be populated with characters that readers can relate to.

This doesn’t mean they need to be likeable or heroic, but they do need to feel real.

They need to have their own hopes, fears, and dreams. They need to be fleshed out, authentic, and capable of growth.

Your reader should be able to slip into their shoes and experience the world through their eyes. Make them care for your characters, make them root for them, laugh with them, cry with them. This emotional investment is what will keep them coming back for more.

Lastly, commercial fiction tends to revolve around universal themes.

Love, revenge, justice, survival, identity – these are themes that resonate with a wide audience. They’re themes that each and every one of us can connect with on some level. So, weave these into your story. Let your characters grapple with these themes, let them explore these common human experiences. This will not only deepen your narrative, but it will also broaden its appeal.

Remember, commercial fiction is about making your reader feel, making them think, and above all, making them turn the pages. It’s about delivering a memorable experience that leaves them wanting more.

So, as you craft your next book, keep these characteristics in mind. They could be the key to transforming your story into an irresistible read.

How to write commercial fiction

Now that we’ve covered the what, the why, and the where, let’s talk about the how.

How do you go about writing commercial fiction?

How do you craft a story that appeals to a wide audience?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are some practical tips to guide you on your commercial fiction writing journey.

Step 1 – Know your readers

This is key. Before you even put pen to paper, take the time to understand who you’re writing for. What do they like? What do they expect from a book in your genre? The more you know about your future readers, the better equipped you’ll be to craft a story that resonates with them. Remember, commercial fiction is all about the reader. Your book needs to deliver a satisfying experience.

Step 2 – Plot your story

In commercial fiction, a strong, well-paced plot is paramount. It’s what keeps your reader turning the pages. It’s what keeps them hooked. So, spend time crafting your plot. Make sure it’s structured, that it has twists and turns, that it builds suspense and delivers a satisfying resolution. Keep your reader on the edge of their seat, keep them guessing and engaged.

Step 3 – Create your characters

Create characters that your reader can relate to. They don’t have to be likeable, but they do need to be real. They need to have their own hopes, fears, dreams, and flaws. They need to be capable of growth. Make your reader care about your characters. Make them root for them, laugh with them, cry with them. This emotional investment is what will keep them coming back for more.

Step 4 – Select your writing style

In commercial fiction, clear, crisp prose is your best friend. It’s not about showing off your extensive vocabulary or crafting intricate metaphors. It’s about communicating your story in an accessible, engaging manner. Your prose should serve your plot, not overshadow it.

Step 5 – Determine your theme

Commercial fiction often revolves around universal themes – love, revenge, survival, identity. These are themes that resonate with a wide audience, themes that your reader can connect with. So, weave these themes into your story. Let them enrich your narrative, let them deepen your characters and add layers to your plot.

Remember, writing commercial fiction is about striking a balance.

It’s about blending creativity with marketability, about marrying expression with reader appeal. So, as you embark on your commercial fiction writing journey, keep these tips in mind. They’ll guide you in crafting a story that not only you’re proud of, but that also resonates with your audience, and above all, sells.

Commercial fiction vs. literary fiction

We’re going to explore a long-standing querstion here – the comparison between commercial and literary fiction.

What is literary fiction?

Literary fiction, unlike commercial fiction, isn’t necessarily crafted with mass appeal in mind.

It’s often described as the “writer’s writer” type of book – a story that pushes the boundaries of the narrative form, a narrative that’s often complex, sometimes esoteric, and that requires some heavy lifting from the reader.

It’s more about exploring the human condition and less about providing a roller-coaster ride of a plot. When you’re writing literary fiction, your audience is often narrower, but potentially more dedicated. They’re the readers willing to invest time and effort to appreciate your nuanced prose and thematic depth.

Now, let’s take a look at the differences between a literary and commercial novel.

The crux of the matter lies in style, themes, and audience reach.

Literary fiction often indulges in elegant, sophisticated prose, packed with metaphors, symbolism, and intricate layers of meaning.

Your book, on the other hand, if it’s commercial fiction, will prioritize a gripping plot over ornate language. Your prose should be clear, crisp, and above all, accessible.

In terms of themes, literary fiction tends to delve into the depths of the human experience, often exploring complex and sometimes abstract themes.

Commercial fiction, on the other hand, will focus on more relatable, universal themes. Remember, your book needs to resonate with a broad spectrum of readers..

Audience reach is another key difference.

As a commercial fiction writer, your aim is to appeal to the masses. Your book should be capable of attracting readers of varying tastes, backgrounds, and reading habits. Literary fiction, on the other hand, often caters to a more specialized audience – readers who appreciate a cerebral reading experience.

In the end, the choice between commercial and literary fiction isn’t about one being better than the other.

It’s about understanding what you, as a writer, want to achieve. It’s about knowing where your book fits in. It’s about identifying your audience and delivering a story that resonates with them.

Remember, whether it’s commercial or literary, fiction is a powerful tool for exploring the human condition.

The medium may vary, but the end goal remains the same – to tell a compelling story that captivates and moves the reader.

So, as you delve into your next book writing project, keep these distinctions in mind. They can guide your storytelling process and help you align your book with the right readers.

Popular commercial fiction genres

Now that you’ve got a solid grasp on what commercial fiction is, let’s delve into the heart of it.

Let’s talk genres.

In commercial fiction, some genres tend to shine brighter. They’ve proven their appeal time and time again. So, what are they?

Let’s take a look.

Commercial romance

Who can resist the pull of a love story?

Romance novels are a pillar of commercial fiction. From sweet, tender stories to passionate, heart-wrenching dramas, romance books offer readers an emotional journey.

The key to a successful romance book? Authenticity.

Make your characters real. Make their love story believable. Make the reader invest in their relationship and root for their happy ending. Your book needs to tug at the heartstrings, leaving your reader emotionally satisfied.

Commercial thrillers

This genre is all about the adrenaline rush.

It’s about keeping your reader on the edge of their seat, about building suspense, throwing in twists and turns, and leading them on a saga of tension and release. Whether it’s a crime thriller, a psychological thriller, or a spy thriller, your book should keep the reader guessing, anticipating, and gasping with surprise. The thrill is what keeps them hooked.

Commercial sci-fi

This genre invites readers to step into different worlds, to explore futuristic concepts, advanced technology, and alien civilizations.

But remember, at the heart of every good science fiction book is a story about humanity. It’s about how we react, adapt, and evolve in the face of the unknown. It’s about posing ‘what if’ questions and exploring possible answers.

So, when you’re writing your science fiction book, make sure it’s not just about the high-tech gadgets or the alien races. It’s about the human element.

Commercial fantasy

From epic high fantasy to urban fantasy, this genre offers readers an escape from reality.

It’s about worldbuilding, about crafting a realm with its own rules, its own magic, its own cultures.

But like science fiction, the best fantasy novels are those that tap into universal human experiences. Your characters might be elves or wizards, but their struggles, their triumphs, their journeys should be deeply human.

These are just a few of the popular genres in commercial fiction.

There are plenty more, each with its own unique conventions and reader expectations.

But regardless of the genre, the core principles of commercial fiction remain the same.

You want to reach the most readers possible and satisfy their expectations. This is key to your commercial success.

Why is commercial fiction important to the industry?

Commercial 2

Let’s shift our focus for a moment.

You see, understanding commercial fiction isn’t just about crafting your story. It’s about understanding the industry that your book is going to live in. So, what role does commercial fiction play in the publishing industry? Let’s find out.

Commercial fiction is, in many ways, the lifeblood of the publishing industry.

Commercial fiction drives sales. It’s the type of book that flies off the shelves, that makes it onto bestseller lists, and that keeps the publishing machine running.

But it’s not just about the revenue.

It’s about the reach. It’s about getting books into as many hands as possible. And your book, if it’s commercial fiction, can contribute to that.

Commercial fiction is also the catalyst for trends in the publishing industry. It’s what dictates the market. Publishers keep a keen eye on what genres, themes, and narrative styles are performing well in the commercial fiction space. This guides their acquisitions, their marketing strategies, and their predictions for future trends.

But let’s not forget about the readers. At the end of the day, the publishing industry exists to serve the reader. And what do readers want? They want stories that entertain, that engage, that transport them to different worlds. That’s where commercial fiction comes in. It’s reader-centric. It’s all about delivering a satisfying reading experience.

Finally, commercial fiction can open doors for new authors. Breaking into the publishing industry is no easy feat, but a well-crafted commercial fiction book can be your way in. Publishers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, the next page-turner, the next book that readers can’t put down. If you can deliver that, you’re well on your way to making your mark in the industry.

So, whether you’re a seasoned writer or a newbie, understanding the role of commercial fiction in the publishing industry is crucial. It informs not just your writing, but also your strategy for breaking into the market. So, as you pen your next commercial fiction novel, remember this – you’re not just crafting a story, you’re contributing to the vibrant, dynamic world of publishing.

How can commercial fiction help your writing


Now, let’s turn the spotlight on you, the writer.

Where does commercial fiction fit into your career? How can it shape your journey as a writer? Whether you’re just starting out or have a few books under your belt, commercial fiction can play a crucial role in your career.

Let’s explore how.

Commercial fiction can be a launchpad for new writers.

Getting your foot in the door of the publishing world can be daunting, but a well-crafted commercial fiction book can make the task a little easier. Why? Because publishers love books that sell. They love books that captivate a wide audience. They love books that readers can’t get enough of. And that’s what commercial fiction aims to be.

For the seasoned writer, commercial fiction can be a vehicle for reaching a wider audience.

You might have a loyal readership, but imagine expanding it. Imagine reaching readers across different demographics and even national markets. Commercial fiction, with its universal appeal, can help you do that. It can bring your writing to readers who might not have discovered you otherwise.

Commercial fiction can also provide a stable income for writers.

Let’s face it, writing is often a labor of love, but it’s also a job. And like any job, it needs to pay the bills. Commercial fiction, with its high sales potential, can provide that financial stability. It can allow you to focus on your writing, without the constant worry of making ends meet.

Finally, writing commercial fiction can also hone your skills as a writer.

It requires a deep understanding of story structure, character development, and reader psychology. It requires a knack for balancing creativity and marketability. And these are skills that are valuable, regardless of what genre you’re writing in. They’re skills that can elevate your writing, that can take your storytelling to new heights.

So, whether you’re at the start of your writing career or deep in the trenches, commercial fiction can play a crucial role. It can open doors, expand your audience, provide financial stability, and hone your skills.

With all that in mind, why not give writing a commercial fiction book a try? It could change your life for the better.

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.
Liked this post? Share it with friends!

Interested in working with us?

Book a free strategy call with our expert team!