Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Genre Do You Write?

By Jill Williamson

When you decide you're going to try and pitch your novel to an editor or agent, the first thing you need to be ready to tell them is the genre. I struggled with genre when I first started out. I was writing for teens, I knew that much. But my first book had "weird" elements, and I wasn't certain how to define them. It was an adventure story... but it was about spies too, which maybe made it a mystery. Yeah. That was it. I was writing a teen mystery. But what about the "weird" part? Did the "weird" make it paranormal or urban fantasy or something?

I didn't know.

And it took me a LONG TIME to figure it out. Granted, I started writing back when internet connections were dial-up and used my phone line, so I wasn't able to jump online and research genres. I just kept on writing my "weird" little book. And when I went to writer's conferences, I struggled over what to say when an editor or agent asked, "So, what genre do you write?"

It got worse when I wrote some other books and they weren't weird teen spy adventure mysteries. I had one science fiction teen cloning one, a teen medieval fantasy, and a contemporary retelling of Anne of Green Gables.

All they had in common was the "weird" thing--except for the Anne story, but we'll pretend that one doesn't exist for now. I'd been reading and hearing a lot of talk about branding, and I was worried that I was WAY TOO RANDOM. For those who know me or have seen me in person, you know that I am, indeed, quite random. But that wasn't going to help me sell my fiction.

Then, one blessed day, I went to a class called, "What is Speculative Fiction" taught by Jeff Gerke. And I found out that everything I had written, with the exception of the Anne story, was speculative. Know why? Because speculative is another word for "weird." Isn't that awesome that "they" had made a genre just for me? I thought so.

So, when people ask me, "What genre do you write?" I can classify it all under spec fiction for teens. And sometimes I say, "I write weird books for teens." Because non-writers don't tend to know what speculative fiction means.

Sadly, that works for branding, but not for telling an agent or editor your genre. Because for them, you need to be super duper specific.

The thing is, there are SO MANY GENRES out there. And the better job you can do of narrowing your genre into a sub genre, the better chance you have of selling your work and having your work stand out as unique in the market. Why?

If you said, "I write contemporary young adult novels." That can mean a WHOLE lot of things. And saying that doesn't tell the editor or agent very much at all.

But if you said, "I write contemporary novels about teen athletes." That's specific.

So specific is the goal. And if I had the chance to answer that question in front of agents or editors with the books I've written, I'd choose the novel I was hoping to pique their interest in and say:

Blood of Kings Trilogy: "I've written a medieval fantasy trilogy for teens that includes telepathy."
Replication: "I've written a science fiction/suspense novel for teens about cloning."
New Recruit: "I've written a young adult spy novel with supernatural elements."
Captives: "I've written a young adult dystopian novel that parallels the Babylonian exile from Jerusalem."

To end on, I thought you might find this interesting. If a publisher was to put a book up for sale on Amazon.com, here is the list of categories under adult fiction. You only get to choose TWO to classify your book under. Kind of seems unfair, huh?

And I posted the one for juvenile fiction as well, but it was SO LONG that it would have taken up a week's worth of space on Go Teen Writers, so I posted in on a hidden page on my website in case you want to see all of it. And note: young adult or teen fiction falls under the category of juvenile fiction for most online stores. Here is the link to the Amazon.com juvenile fiction list.

And below is the adult fiction list of categories.

So, what's your genre? Give it to me like I gave it to you in the end. 
Ex: "I've written a science fiction/suspense novel for teens about cloning."


FICTION
·         General
·         Action & Adventure
·         African American
         General
         Christian
         Contemporary Women
         Erotica
         Historical
         Mystery & Detective
         Romance
         Urban Life
·         Alternative History
·         Anthologies
·         Biographical
·         Christian
         General
         Classic & Allegory
         Fantasy
         Futuristic
         Historical
         Romance
         Short Stories
         Suspense
         Western
·         Classics
·         Coming of Age
·         Contemporary Women
·         Crime
·         Cultural Heritage
·         Erotica
·         Espionage
·         Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
·         Family Life
·         Fantasy
         General
         Contemporary
         Epic
         Historical
         Paranormal
         Short Stories
         Urban Life
·         Gay
·         Ghost
·         Historical
·         Horror
·         Humorous
·         Jewish
·         Legal
·         Lesbian
·         Literary
·         Media Tie-In
·         Medical
·         Men's Adventure
·         Mystery & Detective
         General
         Hard-Boiled
         Historical
         Police Procedural
         Short Stories
         Traditional British
         Women Sleuths
·         Occult & Supernatural
·         Political
·         Psychological
·         Religious
·         Romance
         General
         Adult
         Contemporary
         Fantasy
         Gothic
         Historical
         Paranormal
         Regency
         Short Stories
         Suspense
         Time Travel
         Western
·         Sagas
·         Satire
·         Science Fiction
         General
         Adventure
         High Tech
         Military
         Short Stories
         Space Opera
·         Sea Stories
·         Short Stories
·         Sports
·         Suspense
·         Technological
·         Thrillers
·         Urban Life
·         Visionary & Metaphysical
·         War & Military
·         Westerns

79 comments:

  1. I'm writing a comptemrory fantasy novel for teens that includes time travel.

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    Replies
    1. Cool! What era do they travel to?

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    2. So far she's gone back in time to when parents where in their late twenties (mid ninties?) it's been interesting right about some if the characters where about eighteen years younger!

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    3. *to when her parents
      **interesting to write about some of the characters eighteen years younger

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    4. Allison, that sounds really fun! I dont think there are many books set in the 90s. Are you going to do a lot of research? The 90s make me laugh. I was a little girl- young teen then & I always thought the clothes were awesome & I couldn't wait to wear them when I was older. The big bangs & scrunchies. Hahahaha I grew out of that!
      There is that picture on pinterest "I was a kid of the 90s" that list a bunch of stuff from them, maybe it'll help you.

      Delete
    5. Thanks, Tonya! And yeah, I probably will have to do some research. I might also have my mom proof read the ninties bits since she probably remembers it better than me. :)

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    6. How cool! I'm writing a time travel-ish novel too, except they're coming back to /our/ time. I guess it could be called a science-fiction novel for teens (because of how they can control time) that has hints of a dystopian society thrown in there too.

      Delete
  2. I write a Contempory/science fiction for teens.

    That was a lot harder then I thought it would be! I see what you mean now. Ive always roughly genred my writing, like "I write Science Fiction" or "I write Historical fiction". But I never thought about getting more detailed. Thank you!

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  3. Replies
    1. Stella,
      Both in the same book? Or you write some science fiction books and some fantasy books?

      Delete
  4. I am not really sure. Definately not fantasy. Somewhere along young adult/Christian/Romance I think. I would like to work some mystery/suspense in though.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the post, Mrs. Williamson!

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    2. You're welcome!

      Romantic suspense is a genre that usually has a mystery of some kind and a romance too. It's a pretty big genre, actually.

      (And call me Jill!)

      Delete
  5. I've written a general Christian fiction novella about a girl who discovers that life is more than she ever knew.


    (That was really weak, I know)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Princess,
      You're off to a good start. Let me ask you: How does she discover it? Is this a coming-of-age story? Does she go on a road trip?

      Delete
    2. The state takes her and her brother from her mom. She gets put in a Christian foster home, where she discovers the real meaning of love. Both with her knew forever family and God.

      Delete
  6. I knew from the minute I began what genre I was writing. Christian Historical Romance. Well, yeah. I'm actually writing two books that are Christian Historical Romance. Yay! ^_^

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    Replies
    1. Cool! That's a really popular genre.
      But what era of history are you writing?

      Delete
  7. Ha ha, I just recently went through this EXACT problem with a book! I'm pretty sure I ended up going with "Speculative Contemporary Fantasy"

    Currently I am writing Traditional Fantasy; so I could say, "I write traditional fantasy set in the medieval ages of Europe."
    Go medieval ages! ;) I need to read the Blood of Kings trilogy!

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    Replies
    1. Sarah,

      Nice! Keep in mind that "speculative" is sort of the same as "fantasy." So you don't need to say both. You can say "medieval fantasy" for your medievals, and contemporary fantasy for your contemporaries.

      And, yes! Go have a listen to Blood of Kings. The podcast is free! Here is the link: http://www.jillwilliamson.com/podcasts/

      Delete
  8. Hm. I guess I'm writing a Christian contemporary whodunit for young adults involving abduction, blackmail, forensic science, and police procedure. (Specific enough? :P) I wonder, does "whodunit" actually count as a mystery sub-genre, or do I need a more official term...?

    Once someone is a published author, can they ever change genres? For instance, now that you've published several speculative fiction books, would you be able to sell a historical romance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laurie, I'd call yours teen mystery. Mystery is a big genre.

      And it's very hard to switch genres. I couldn't get away with writing a historical romance unless it involved time travel. Or I changed my name.

      So make sure you love your genre, because it's hard to change it.

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    2. Yeah, "teen mystery" is a lot easier. :D

      Well, most of my ideas are dystopian or fantasy, so maybe I'll just be able to label it all "speculative fiction" like you have. :)

      Thanks!

      Delete
    3. Well, Whodunit SHOULD be a genre. That's an awesome term. :D

      Delete
  9. Well, my last novel{la...}, that-which-must-not-be-named, was a fantasy coming of age romance for young adults with elements from Greek mythology.
    Thanks for this post, Stephanie! I'm bookmarking it for later. :D

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  10. I'm writing a christian fantasy young adult novel involving a tortured prince who must make am epic choice.

    And he's tortured in his mind because he doesn't know what to do! Just to clarify that ;)

    Thanks for the article! I've just discovered this site, and I know I'll find it very helpful.

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    Replies
    1. What era is your fantasy? Medieval? Renaissance? Contemporary? It sounds fun. :-)

      And, welcome! I'm so glad you found us!

      Delete
  11. I'm writing a young adult dystopian novel with fantasy elements.

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  12. I read this post in another blog last night & thought it kinda goes with this one
    http://girlswriteout.blogspot.com/2012/06/writing-what-matters.html

    I'm still trying to really zone in on what I write. I have some things narrowed down but they dont fit perfectly into a genre. That gets hard for because it's nothing that sells right now, I don't think. I know I write contemporary, lighthearted, and girly. So I tend to say chick lit or contemporary YA. My characters are normally teens or twenty something.
    Contemporary ya is very broad. And ive been researching chick lit and it has a bit of a formula like romance does, and I'm not full chick- lit although I have a lot of chick lit elements and likely always will.
    Ive seen some writers say the write "humorous woman's fiction" or "quirky rom-com's". Maybe I'm something like that but I'm still figuring it all out :)
    Does that make sense?

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    Replies
    1. Totally, Tonya. And agents have been saying that chick-lit is dead, but really, they're just saying that the term is dead. So you want to find a way to communicate your story that piques their interest. But the agents really mean that for adult genres more than teen. You could say "humorous teen fiction" or something like, "I write contemporary teen books that make you laugh."

      There is ALWAYS room for books that make people laugh. Just look at Jenny B. Jones. She is so funny--even my mom adores her books. And the Stephanie Plum books are huge. Eighteen novels and a movie later, her readers are begging her to keep going. She has found a way to make humor work. And you can too!

      Delete
  13. I'm in the process of writing a Fantasy/Fairy Tale novel for YA's about a young woman, named Ceana, who must find her identity and purpose in a world full of fantastical creatures, adventure and unique seaside characters.

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    Replies
    1. That sounds cool, Sarah. I love the idea of fantasy and fairy tales. If you were pitching it to an agent or editor, you'd want to try and give a plot point instead of the "find her identity and purpose." What is her story goal?

      Delete
  14. I write science fiction with some suspense and romance.

    Thank you for the post! It definitely helped me see that I needed to narrow down my genre.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "I'm writing a contemporary speculative fiction novel for teens that involves travel between different realities." Hmm. I am tempted to add "and experiences outside the boundaries of science" in there. But I guess it's best to keep it short but specific...? :)

    I was * delighted* to discover the meaning of speculative fiction!! Pretty much all of my stuff has weirdness in it, but a lot of it is not *quite* weird enough to be flat-out SciFi, fantasy or paranormal. I'm planing on doing one or two Alternative Histories, though. In the writing world, does "alternative history" usually involve elements of science fiction/fantasy/supernatural? That's what I assume it to be.

    Thanks for the post!! I really needed this. :)

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  16. Lydia Grace HartJune 5, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    I'm plotting a historical fiction/suspense about a thief and a high society 'dame' in the 40's.

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  17. "I'm writing a fairy tale/romance about a princess who must defeat the king of darkness before he destroys the only love she's ever known."
    Like that? Or is that too much about the plot and less about the genre?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I've written an adventure novel with supernatural elements for teens.

    But I'm plotting an adventure novel with both sci-fi and supernatural elements for teens set in a futuristic society. ^_~

    Thanks for the article! I thought I had it down but when you think about it, it's definitely harder than it looks.

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  19. "I'm currently writing a historical suspense about teens during the Great Depression." Would it be better if I included more about the plot?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not for this example. If someone asks you what genre you write, that's a great answer, Jill. :-)

      Delete
  20. I'm writing fantasy right now, but I'm not sure how to say what kind. The countries I made up do have medieval influence, but (in my opinion) not enough to classify it as medieval fantasy...

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    Replies
    1. Could you call it an ancient fantasy? It's usually the feudal system of government that makes a fantasy medieval.

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  21. Broken Glass King: A dystopian young adult novel about a puppet King living in a house of cameras.

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  22. This was a really good blog! At the moment, I'm writing a Christian action/mystery young adult novel about a teenage girl, a local murder and undercover federal police :) Yeah, that sums it up just about! Hahaha! ;)

    Thanks for the blog, Jill. It was a really good read!

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    Replies
    1. You're very welcome! Your book sounds interesting.

      Delete
  23. I think I'm definitely a fantasy writer. As a homeschooler, who's never actually experienced school or anything that usually ends up in a contemporary (that is the right term isn't it?) YA novel, I struggle to write them.

    My current novel is a Young Adult Fantasy with magic that's performed through song.

    I'm also planning a contemporary Young Adult fantasy (hoping this is the right term) involving Greek Gods turning into teens.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Imogen. Contemporary is current day. So a book about a homeschooled teen could also be contemporary.

      Good job on your genre examples!

      Delete
  24. I've written three medieval fantasy novels (two in a trilogy that is not yet complete and one that's the first of a series).

    I'm writing a historical romance about a headstrong saint and the man determined to save her from the Iconoclastic Fury (Netherlands, 1566).

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  25. I'm writing a contemporary coming-of-age novel about a teenage girl who discovers the need to accept change.
    Like that? Thanks for this post, before I probably would have just said contemporary fiction.
    And it's kind of sad that people get "branded" with a genre and then can't change it. I really love fantasy and I'd like to try it when I finish this novel. But isn't J.K. Rowling switching genres? I don't know much about her new book, but I'm pretty sure it's not fantasy.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, good job!
      Yes, JK Rowling wrote an adult novel, a very adult novel from what I heard. She likely will not 10% as many that she sold on one of her HP books. And that's because she shifted so dramatically. She wrote for kids before. And now she's writing an adult novel that's inappropriate for kids. So... she's certainly earned the right to do what she wants, but it's a bad career move, imo.

      But, she's got plenty of money, so it's not like she needs to worry about keeping her day job. She must have just really wanted to try something completely different.

      Delete
  26. I write epic fantasy fiction... ? LOL that sounds so silly! Okay... in all seriousness...

    I write epic fantasy fiction that includes a bit of romance and lots of magical content.

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  27. Im working on a historical fiction romance about a woman who lost her first husband while he was training for WWII.

    Is that too specific?

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  28. My current series is a mix of epic fantasy with a bit of steam punk I guess. Not really sure. lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds awesome, RJ. Seriously. Nice mix.

      Delete
  29. Great post. I'm currently writing a historical fiction novel set in the 1960s about a teenage girl who is recruited into a secret spy organization. By the way, in the list of genres, what is a media tie-in? Can teens write one?

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    Replies
    1. That's when a book happens to release in time with something happening in the world. A good example is a book called Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein. It came out right before this last Summer Olympics, so it matched something happening in the world, which can get the book more publicity.

      Teens can write anything they want. :-)

      Delete
  30. Mine would be a general Fantasy/action-adventure that fights mythical stereotypes. Does that make any sense?

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    Replies
    1. Sort of. I'm confused as to whether the plot is so different that it's not stereotypical or if the characters fight against stereotypical creatures.

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  31. I'm writing a teens' historical fiction novel set in World War II Poland told through the perspective of a young soldier of the Polish Home Army, with some romance included. Too specific?

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    Replies
    1. I'd say: Historical YA romance set in WWII Poland.

      Delete
  32. Christian teen contemprorary fiction with soccer and dealing with self-image, an absent parent, an overly expective parent, and boyfriends
    Is that too specific?

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    Replies
    1. I'd say Christian contemporary YA sports fiction. Those other things are plot and character elements more than genre.

      Delete
  33. One is a high (epic) fantasy, not sure how to describe it, lol. One i want to start is a cyberpunk. The only reason i know the names of these things is because i read your blog entry thing about spec fiction subgenres :)

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  34. I have one that I'm working on that is....hm. Maybe a good way to describe it would be a cyberpunk Hunger Games. But less violent. It's more about being the smartest than killing other people.

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  35. "I'm writing Science-fiction/Adventure which includes high-tech."
    Does that work? I'm no where near pitching, but I like to be prepared.

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  36. I've written a paranormal contemporary novel with a dead character as a narrator (not sure if this works but oh well), and right now I'm planning out an urban fantasy novel which involves immortals (this probably sucks too. Eh, I'll work on it.).

    ReplyDelete
  37. I'm writing a contemporary fantasy with magic elements
    So glad to finally classify my book

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  38. I'm not so decided on my writing style, but I do know that I love taking cliches and overused plots and reworking them.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I'm writing a Christian Fantasy for teens and young adults who still love fairy tales.

    ReplyDelete

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