The unstoppable allure of commercial fiction
Some novels win the Booker Prize. Some feature on university reading lists. Others get thrust into your hands for discussion over a box of Blossom Hill at your next ‘book club’. And then there are books people actually read.
Before you clutch your literary pearls, let me clarify. I admire precise, adventurous just as much as the next reader, but these are not the books climbing best-seller lists.
Remember how everyone couldn’t wait to have a pop at E.L. James and point out just how many ‘rules’ she broke with fifty shades of cultural debate? Her edgy Twilight fanfic sold like hotcakes, stepping into shoes previously worn by Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon, currently sitting in Colleen Hoover’s closet.
If you haven’t heard of James or Hoover, chances are you spent the pandemic and years since under a rock wearing a mask, stockpiling hand-wash, and writing long-form essays dissecting the subtext of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’
Commercial fiction features relatable people
Hoover cracked the BookTok code and made it big. Time magazine named her as one of the most influential people of 2023, and she’s fuelled by one thing – readers. Millions of readers. Pick one up, and (if you can get over yourself) you’ll be drawn in. She writes relatable stories about relatable people. People who struggle, falter, stumble and fall … before they rise, lifted by willpower and the love of a good man/woman/nonby.
Hoover’s books don’t feature people jetting off to Monte Carlo or stalking the male-dominated corridors of power. She writes instead about personal growth.
When you first decide to write, and if you then choose to sign up for a writing class, you’ll be told the difference between literary and genre fiction. Literary explores the human condition; genre follows specific thematic rules and conventions. Executed well, genre fiction may sell millions of copies. Literary fiction appeals to a smaller, more specialised readership looking for thought-provoking or challenging reads.
Commercial novels feature characters – often women – navigating the complexities of life and coming out the other side stronger, wiser, and more in touch with who they are.
Gone are the days when readers yearned to escape into a world they could never inhabit. It’s about seeing pieces of ourselves on the pages we read. Hoover’s triumph lies in offering a fantasy that isn’t an outlandish dream but an emotional possibility.
Why does this matter? We live in an era where the zeitgeist is shifting from glitz and glamour to raw emotional landscapes, often mired in struggle but tinged with hope. It’s why my latest book, “Ghosted,” delves into the lives of two older people navigating the oddball setting of a gay cruise ship. It’s a story that speaks to the complexities of life, love, and the human condition.
So, as you turn the pages of a Hoover novel—or perhaps even a Fanning Original—embrace the emotional terrain. Get lost in it. Let it pull at your heartstrings. Because these stories aren’t just stories; they’re reflections of our untidy, complicated, yet deeply meaningful lives.