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Help! My Novel Falls Into Multiple Genres!

You've written a lovely story, edited it, kissed it for good luck and are sitting down to write a query letter to send to literary agents. But wait... what genre is this beautiful new story?

Uh, oh.

First of all, read AQ Crew's wonderful article Genre Descriptions as it alone solves many genre dilemmas.

If that fails to solve your genre issues, you may need to look at your story in broader terms. Here are some things to think about:

What other books/authors do you feel your story is similar to? (What you wish it was like doesn't count.)

If someone were to read your book and wanted to read something similar by another author, what book would you recommend? (If others have read your story, ask them this question.)

If you know what book your story might resemble, but don't know what genre that book is, check online. Online bookstores generally have tags which include genres. More reliably are online library catalogs (public libraries). Look up the book in question and see what genre is listed under its subject listing. The NYPL also has a handy genre search feature where you can browse genres.

Another angle is to daydream about where in the bookstore your book may be housed. (The table at the front doors isn't helpful in this case--think shelves.)

While you are in daydreaming mode, imagine your book's cover. (Some genres have distinctive cover ‘types.’)

Posted Image

But what if your story has vampires, a love story, and a storyline/character issues that would appeal/speak to to women over 65? Is it paranormal (vampires), romance (love story), granny lit (women over 65) or something else entirely?

Good question.

Something to keep in mind: one typical genre element (a love story or a presence of the undead) does not necessarily default your story into into one genre over another.

Ask yourself, who do you see reading your book? If you know the specific audience, that might help you narrow down your genre options. (And no, you can't say everyone.)

But say you are adamant that everyone would enjoy your book (both sexes in the age range of teen to 100). You might have a high concept novel or commercial fiction on your hands. (High concept is like the movie Shrek. It has a wide appeal to all demographics fairly equally. I.e. kids to adults, rich to poor, educated to non-educated, etc.)

If you are still stumped, consider the core of your story. When you strip away all the zombies, spaceships and hot sex, what is the story really about?

Okay, so let’s say through the process of elimination you have narrowed it down to one genre. Excellent, but don’t forget about subgenres which are branches off the genre tree. Romance, for example, has many, many branches (subgenres) including paranormal romance, chick lit, historical romance, and erotica. So even if you have found your genre, keep digging as subgenres can be real time-savers when it comes to whittling down your agents-to-query list. For example, some agents might not represent true romance, but may love paranormal romance.

Remember, you can have a literary novel set in outer space without it being science fiction. It all comes down to the story, how it is told, who it is going to appeal to (who is your market?), and what line the publisher will feel it fits under when they try to find it a home.

Good luck!

Jean Oram is a writer who finds genres and their boundaries to be a good conversation starter when she and her cats seem to have nothing to discuss.


Sep 16 2010 01:35 PM
quick question. What exactly does the paranormal genre include?
That's a good question. IMHO:

Paranormal incudes ghosts, fairies, ETs, etc. that are elements in a human story. Eclipse, etc. is set in current day and the story is about normal and paranormal teen angst. Sherrilyn Kenyon's romances involve human contact with ancient gods in today's world.

Fantasy usually involves a world not our current Earth,often with good vs evil themes.

Hope that helps.
phyllis sweetwater
Mar 10 2011 11:43 AM
I am calling my novel urban contemperary YA distopian adventure. It deals govermant conspiricies and the ablility to shift to different realities, some old western, some in a space ship and some shape shifting into sea creatures. There is also a love interest. I don't want to call it scifi. Even though it deals with advenced technology and cloning. I son't want to call it paranormal even though the characters can shift from different realities and transform into seacreatures. I definetly don't want to call it romance even though there is a love triangle. SOOOooo. I think it is good to avoid mainstream lables.
phyllis sweetwater
Mar 10 2011 11:44 AM
sorry for my horrible spelling!