Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Genre Discrimination

Everyone seems to be using the same word to describe the publishing industry today: Shrinking.  Sales are shrinking, bookstores are shrinking, readership is shrinking.

However, one aspect of the literary world that isn’t in contraction, and in fact seems to be flourishing like never before, is the prevalence of genres.  Brand new writer?  Need a niche?  Just grab a dartboard and some Post Its.  Check out this list for just a “few” examples:

Literary Genres

I acquired this list from just a glancing blow at Wikipedia.  Deeper digging turned up even more genres, sub-genres, and basically just made up genres.  And you know what?

My MS doesn’t fit into any of them.

imagesIt’s easy (and not at all wrong) to be a fan of, say, urban fantasy, or historical romance, or hard science fiction, and decide you want to write in that genre.  You know the rules, the guidelines, and you can craft your MS within the safety of those boundaries.

But what happens when you just write a story?  When you give yourselves over to the characters and let them take you places even you couldn’t have imagined, must less a marketing department at a publishing house?  What happens when your YA tops 100K – by a lot?  Or when you have a novel that’s not quite science fiction, but not quite isn’t?

If you don’t fit neatly into a genre or a word count, people will tell you that your work is not marketable.  Does that mean it’s not good?  Not necessarily.  Traditional publishing is still a business, and the first goal of any business is to make money.  That’s not altogether a bad thing.  The prospect of profit will motivate a publisher to work hard to make your book the best it can be.  It’ll make an agent fight hard to get your MS sold.  On the other hand, it makes agents and publishers less willing to tread unproven ground, which means unless your MS fits neatly into the genre box, you’re less likely to get someone willing to take a chance on it.

I’m seriously considering inventing my own genre.  If there can be a genre called “post-cyberpunk,” then why can’t my characters have their own?

This is just one more reason the siren song of self-publishing is getting louder and louder.  I haven’t given up on the traditional route just yet, though.  Hopefully it won’t give up on me.


  1. I so hear what you are saying here and I've despaired about trying to find a genre label for my manuscript. It has hard science in it (and mathematics) so I thought science fiction. But the protagonist is a teenager so maybe young adult. Then I realized my protagonist is gay (and that has its own genre) but it also has angels in it in an urban setting (so urban fantasy)? Ay carajo...I've no idea where it goes or even if there's a place for it.

  2. You're both making me grateful I write plain old romantic suspense. Just when I think I have stuff pinned down, I discover a new sub-genre that I never heard of before. Do your research and if self-publishing is for you, have at it.

  3. Choose the largest umbrella with the largest audience to peg it as. You don't have to neatly follow the rules. Many of the new books in genres don't. They mix them up. I once played what 'subgenre am I', too. I went to a writers conference found out what sells in the genre and that's the category I pick to sell under.

  4. I know, I feel I need to pigeon-hole my novel. When I first started writing it, I didn't know anything genre or word counts or any writing rules. I just wrote a story.

    Now, after reading and absorbing as much on the craft of writing as I can, I think I broke my ms. It doesn't work any more.

    I'm sure I can fix it; if I just figure out what genre guidelines it needs to follow . . .


  5. Really? You can't fit yours into a genre? Hmm. Some of mine are also a little slippery, but I guess I have it narrowed down to a couple. I think it's perfectly ok to invent or tweak a known genre--go for it! Although when you write your query letter, you'll have to label it SOMEthing. Same with when the publisher wants to market the book--where would they put it? I wouldn't, however, go too far over 100K; I've seen too many agents and editors say noooooo.

  6. Oh, you too? I get the angst.

    I think I've eliminated all genres for my main WIP except for Mainstream or maybe Women's Ficiton. Gag. I don't like that broad brush that makes targeting agents hard.

    OTOH my SciFi is softer and probably fits SciFi Romance. That's a subgenre I like. ; )

  7. Heh. My last three books were vampire/ménage/suspense, paranormal/fantasy/ménage, and paranormal/suspense/action adventure/romance. They were published with three different digital publishers--not because they didn't fit in a genre, but because of contract commitments.

    My next one is a time travel/romance/paranormal/historical...something. Genre is the least of my worries--especially with digital publishers. They are ALWAYS looking for something fresh and new. And right now, almost anything genre-wise will sell.

    Check out the submission guidelines (and take your best guess re: genre for your submission) and go for it. Trust me. There's a publisher out there just looking for your book.

  8. I totally get what you're saying. It's so hard to find homes for our books. Did you check out other avenues ie..self pubbing?

    BTW, I'm hosting Roland D Yeomans today, who self-published his book THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS and is sharing his journey with us as well as a four book giveaway!

  9. I'm in this same boat. My women's fiction isn't 'Sex and the City' enough to be romance.

    My current WIP probably isn't violent/gory enough to be "steampunk" as they're marketing it now- and no zombies. I think it's "Lit-punk" (I made that up this afternoon).

    There has to be a spot for these books- yours and mine- and these characters deserve a voice and they have their valuable worlds to share- even if they don't fit neatly into the boxes people would try to put them in.

    Great post.

  10. There are other science fiction with angels and there is plenty of science fiction aimed at young adults so it's not contradiction. But probably it will affect which agent you submit to.

    But I am glad I don't have this problem. My current WiP is urban fantasy.