In publishing, literary fiction novels are regarded as having more literary merit than most commercial or "genre" fiction. All the same, a number of major literary figures have also written genre fiction, for example, John Banville publishes crime novels as Benjamin Black, and both Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood have written science fiction. Furthermore, Nobel laureate André Gide stated that Georges Simenon, best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret, was "the most novelistic of novelists in French literature".
Neal Stephenson has suggested that, while any definition will be simplistic, there is today a general cultural difference between literary and genre fiction. On the one hand, literary authors are frequently supported by patronage, with employment at a university or a similar institution, and with the continuation of such positions determined not by book sales but by critical acclaim by other established literary authors and critics. On the other hand, Stephenson suggests, genre fiction writers tend to support themselves by book sales.
However, the distinction is becoming blurred with major writers of literary fiction, like Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, as well as Margaret Atwood, writing science fiction. Doris Lessing described science fiction as "some of the best social fiction of our time", and called Greg Bear, author of Blood Music, "a great writer". Also Georges Simenon, the creator of the Maigret detective novels, has been described by American composer and writer Ned Rorem as "one of the five greatest French writers of our century". Rorem placed Simenon in the company of Proust, Gide, Cocteau, and Sartre.
In an interview, John Updike lamented that "the category of 'literary fiction' has sprung up recently to torment people like me who just set out to write books, and if anybody wanted to read them, terrific, the more the merrier. ... I'm a genre writer of a sort. I write literary fiction, which is like spy fiction or chick lit". Likewise, on The Charlie Rose Show, Updike argued that this term, when applied to his work, greatly limited him and his expectations of what might come of his writing, so he does not really like it. He suggested that all his works are literary, simply because "they are written in words".
Characteristics of literary fiction generally include one or more of the following: