It is a fact of fiction publishing that you will regularly find yourself in a conversation about literary versus commercial fiction or literary versus genre (commercial) fiction. These are artificial and extremely unhelpful terms, the theory of having two islands, one for the nobles and one for the peasants. The idea is ingrained that the fiction for the nobles (literary) is poorly understood by the peasants and doesn’t sell well, and the fiction for the peasants (commercial, genre,) sells wonderfully.
And it often does. But many “commercial” titles don’t sell well at all. And the exact same pyramid pattern occurs with titles that are sold as literary and/or considered literary by media, etc. Because the term literary in the marketplace is a marketing term meaning certain marketing channels will be used for promotion, and not a reliable predictor of sales or just about anything else. (And it has nothing to do with arguments in academia either.) Over on his blog: nihilistic kid, Nick Mamatas, as tired of the two islands mythology as many others who can pay attention to a bestsellers list, got irritated by reports of novelist’s Lee Child’s assertion of superior commercial sales power over acclaimed writers like Martin Amis and Ian McEwan in an interview:
Mamatas ran the numbers and discovered that McEwan is selling more than Child. Both McEwan and Child sell well, as does Amis. And that’s the point. Maybe hard figures will put the two island mythology to rest, but I doubt it.