Back on the Chain Gang: Genres

My Blog Chain Gang is back at it again and our new topic is Genres. We’ve had to skip over one blogger who’s moving, so the previous post from Elana Johnson is here.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that Genre has been a hot topic over here on Trying to Do the Write Thing. I had a heck of a time deciding what genre in which to market my novel. One of the more amusing discussions of this is listed in my Blog Hall of Fame in the sidebar: Genre Crossing and The Edge of Memory.

I read all sorts of genres, and so influences of several genres found their way into my novel. It’s a mystery, but not a whodunnit. It’s suspense/thriller, but personal. It prominently features romance, but it isn’t a romance novel. It has paranormal elements, but they’re subtle and late in the novel.

This might suggest a feeling of “something for everyone” but conventional publishing wisdom states this is not a desirable place to be. Publishers and editors (and therefore agents) need to know where your book will be shelved and how it will be marketed. Simpler is better. Which does leave a more complicated book a bit nowhere.

Based on my research, it seems that a book with elements of multiple genres would be classified as mainstream fiction. This might lead you to wonder how I came to be marketing in Upmarket Women’s Fiction.

When I first prepared to market my novel, I had a hard time finding a good definition of “women’s fiction”, other than that women ought to like it. Women make up the majority of readers anyway. My novel was long on romance, so that suggests a female audience. I sent a survey to my test readers asking them to write in what shelf they would expect to find my novel on, and got a wide variety of responses ranging from “Psychological Thriller” to “Family Saga” to “Mystery” to “Romantic Suspense” to “Whatever shelf Jodi Picoult is on.”

If I had paid more attention to that last suggestion, I would have been on the right track sooner.

In that same survey, I asked if there was an author or a novel that my test readers considered my novel similar to in style or audience. I received a number of flattering responses, including Fannie Flagg, Nancy Pickard, Maeve Binchy, Anita Shreve, and most frequently Jodi Picoult. After a little research, I realized these awesome authors are categorized as “women’s fiction” when they’re not over on the “Bestsellers” shelf.

At long last, I found a clear definition of women’s fiction from the FWA:

Women’s Fiction: Fiction which includes subjects and themes that range far beyond romance. The woman is the star of the story and her changes and emotional developments are the subject. Relationships are at the core of the plot. Could involve relationships with siblings, parents, friends and not necessarily just a lover. Doesn’t have to have the standard “happy ending” but there is a life-affirming resolution to the story. Focuses on the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women. (Examples: “Shellseekers” Rosamonde Pilcher, “Fortunes Rocks” Anita Shreve, novels by Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg.)

YES! That’s The Edge of Memory, absolutely.

So, why upmarket? Well, this part I’m actually less certain of, as it seems that not all agents have embraced this particular term which I am given to understand means a novel bridging from commercial to literary fiction: a book club sort of novel. My novel does use symbolism, echoes, and allusion, but not in a way that is distracting to the story.

My second option for genre would be suspenseful women’s fiction. When I get farther into the query process, I may find that fits better. This whole publishing thing is a learning process, after all.

So Take Home Tips from what I’ve learned on Genres:

  1. It’s important in marketing your project to identify the best fit for genre category. This gives agents, editors, publishers the most efficient way to pitch your book up the chain.
  2. There are different expected book lengths by genre, so bear that in mind when marketing. I posted about wordcounts here and included Colleen Lindsay’s wordcount breakdown by genre.
  3. Once you’ve identified your genre, read the current releases in your category to get a feel for the current market.
  4. Although important, genres can be flexible, too. I’ve seen agents posting that they market a cross-genre book in either category, depending on the pitch-recipient.

Okay, Chain-gangers, Kiddoc out. Next up, I believe is the lovely and talented Mary Lindsay.

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3 Responses

  1. You are sooo smart. Mine was a rambling about what I like, yours was informational and insightful. I knew there was a reason I jumped in the chain when you signed up…great job Heather!

  2. What a great post – I love how you talk about the process of finding what genre your own book fits within!

  3. Wow, I think it’s so cool you have such insightful readers, too! As Elana said, wonderful, educational, and insightful post!

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