It won't let me comment, so I wrote this here.
I would say as a crude start, one could say, Literature has both a sophisticated seriousness of content and a pleasing style. Popular fiction is simply fun or pleasing to read for a large group.
If one looks at, for instance, Jonathan Franzen, he is somewhere on the borderline, tending towards the popular. The work is well-crafted, absolutely readable, treats issues in the newspapers. However, one feels no really profound meditation over the human condition is present. Nor that the writer is capable of such. If we compare that to great literature, for instance, Yukio Mishima, we find lyrical language, of exceeding luxuriance, giving expression to an unparalleled searching.
The objectivity consists in something like a general agreement, not in taste, but in a good sense recognition of the presence or absence of artistic, read: human, gravitas.
Expressed neatly, pleasure, versus more than pleasure.
The question really presupposes the possibility of higher levels of consciousness concerning the evaluation of a work. In other words, what impresses the average teenager as deep, will not impress a great mind. A claque of cognoscenti forms about the great works, upholding them, as it were. The matter isn't of taste, but rather of existence, or lack of, sound judgment. Whether sound judgment is only of today, of this age, or always and perpetual, is not necessarily in need of an answer for the objectivity. We can know what the judgment was in each age, without considering it as true.
Answers to objections:
""The question really presupposes the possibility of higher levels of consciousness concerning the evaluation of a work" OK, how do you tell the difference between a "higher levels of consciousness" and lesser levels of consciousness?""
General agreement, modified by gigantic power. For instance, MLK is held, largely, to be a man of superior moral gravitas. This is what I mean by, not true, i.e., in some always and ever quantifiable sense, but “objective”, in that we can say, it was held to be so by the human community, largely.
In a legal setting we use the criterion of reasonableness. Anyone outside this bound suffers from “diminished capacity”. In other words, the criterion is objective because the normative is visible, though not true.
- "one feels no really profound meditation over the human condition is present" (1) this may be your personal definition, but the question isn't asking for personal definitions.
How would it be possible that a definition were not "personal"? The question is, in that case, aberrant or irrational. It supposes that the "objective" is not set down by some person.
"(2) Why is this the defining characteristic, as opposed to the infinite other ways someone could use to classify books into categories." Simply because, in experience, this is the way it has been established. That is what is meant by, not true, i.e., not always and ever, but empirical. As it has been to humans. "To humans" means, it is humans that ground the definition of the objective and the subjective. There is no higher agency that descends to humans and hands them such a logos, or way of asserting in words.
"How can you tell when literature contains "profound meditation over the human condition"?" One must ask a really serious human being. I.e., not a teenager impressed by the latest graphic novel. This presupposes that humans consider some other humans more serious, and some less serious. And that, largely, such judgments hold sway, they become powerful, they are real. Again, not true, but what has happened.
The original post said:
"Also is there some objective criteria that demarcates the genre and literary works? Like one is plot driven and the other is character driven."
If this is the rule about what is "objective", have I made a mistake in giving criteria that are so different? Where is the demarcation line? Doesn't one judge, and say, this is "character driven", just as one judges and says, here, just here, we see profound searching? I should like to learn of this, if someone understands it.