One thing that I have noticed over these past few years is the snark coming from both sides of the literary (Bestsellers are hackneyed drivel that I can't bear to read) vs. bestseller (Literary fiction is suckitudunous fiction) divide. I will confess that I was in the literary fiction sucks camp for awhile, but after contemplation on the subject I've changed my stance. It's interesting because both sides are right and both sides are wrong.
Bestselling fiction tends to be short, sweet, and to the point. Literary fiction tends to let the story unfold with a bit more exposition and exploration of words and expressions. Bestselling fiction focuses more on what is said and literary fiction on how it is said. Where the reader's interest lays determines which kind they will prefer.
People read and think differently. Some people need more words in an explanation. Some people need fewer words in an explanation. Some people would prefer a picture to a verbal explanation. And because of that, they're preference in reading will lean more towards one than the other. Here are a couple of examples from my personal experience to illustrate this point.
Years ago I worked in a research lab. Among my other duties was data collection and analysis. I would take the data and draw these beautiful graphs for the research papers which my boss was writing. To me, it was obvious what the graphs meant. I had everything labeled. There were no ambiguities in the presentation. I would take them in and lay them on the edge of my boss's desk while she was working. I would not get to the door, before she was calling after me: "Diana, get back here and explain these to me." Needless to say she wasn't a "math" person. She wasn't stupid either as she went to an Ivy League Medical School.
More recently in a discussion with my brother, he interrupted me and went tearing off on a tangent. I stopped him with, "You know what I meant." He stopped, thought about it for a minute, then said, "No, I don't know what you meant." See, he needed more words in my explanation. I think one of the reasons we get frustrated with each other when having a conversation is because I think he's too long-winded and apparently, I don't explain things well enough for him. Even though it is my job as his sister to tell him when he says something stupid, he really isn't. He's actually quite brilliant when it comes to law and politics.
So three different people, three different ways of taking in information. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. It's personal preference and inclination.
I have come to the following conclusions:
If you want to write bestselling fiction, then get beta-readers and editors who prefer reading bestselling fiction. They're going to tell you where the story lags, where it's too fast, where they got lost, and all the other marks of bestselling fiction.
If you want to write literary fiction, then get beta-readers who prefer reading literary fiction. They'll tell you where the writing is "hackneyed", where there is a preponderance of purple prose, what needs more explanation, and all the other characteristics of literary fiction.
What brought this one was a post by K C Shaw linking to this blog post by Harry Connolly about the cancellation of his series Twenty Palaces. Specifically the section where he talks about the reviews he got from readers who bought his books. Based on those reviews, I would guess that there weren't many people who prefer reading bestsellers in the review and editing chain for his books. If there had been, then they would have caught those things and he could have edited the stories into a bestseller.
His blog post is heartbreaking to read, and I think it could have been prevented with editing and review from people who prefer reading bestsellers.
ETA: Many of the traditionally published fantasy novels tend to be more literary in style than bestselling. While technically they aren't literary novels, in style they fit more in the literary camp than the bestselling camp.