Mainstream? Literary? Genre Short Stories? Huh??

What is the difference between Mainstream / Literary and Genre Short Stories?


Editor’s Note: Both MJ Rose and Angela give their opinion on this week’s question.

Angela says:

I bet you’ll find that each editor and writer has a different opinion about the definition of each.

Literary would, in my opinion, be a higher caliber of writing… but usually not preferred by your average reader. Most people like a fast, easy, entertaining read while the minority prefer literary works that use words and phrases to imply meaning to the reader without stating the author’s meaning in clear, easy-to-interpret terms.

Genre short stories can serve either audience depending, of course, on whether the story is literary or not.

There are only a few literary authors I like to read (M.J. Rose is my favorite – and that’s not just because she’s my friend). When an author gets too literary and I find myself interpreting more than reading, I get bored really fast. (Sometimes I joke that literary authors just have bigger thesauruses).

I’m often busy and when I do relax, I get interrupted a LOT. So, I prefer mainstream titles – suspense and romance titles. I can just read them and not really have to think while doing so. I also read children’s historical fiction. When I find a good one, I have our 12- an 14-year-old children read it, too.

Now, there’s more information than you wanted to know!


MJ Says:

I loved Angela’s answer – but even I am not considered “literary.” I’m pretty much the literary end of commercial. Talk about parsing. I don’t read short stories but its pretty much this:

Literary fiction is character driven and conotes a certain attention to the writing itself. Commercial or genre fiction is plot driven and while there is excellent writing in commercial or genre fiction, that’s not its selling point.

It’s a big argument really. A lot of literary writers use plots, a lot of commerical writers can write one helluva georgeous sentence.

Basically, as Angela said, it’s in the eye of the beholder/reader/critic. Get a copy of the New Yorker magazine. Those short stories are literary. Get a copy of Alfred Hitchock magazine. Those are genre.

M.J. Rose ( – Author of THE HALO EFFECT