Know Thy Genre

From reading your blogs and comments, it seems most of you understand the importance of knowing your genre.

But it's also important to choose the right "label". Suspense with romantic elements? Or romantic suspense? There are huge differences.

I'm judging a contest right now. Have five entries, judged four. Of those four, only one really, really fits the genre. Two don't fit at all, at least not in the first forty pages. One somewhat fits, but the tone and setting is so different that it isn't quite what I expected.

That's why we need to choose with care what our genre will be. We know there are reader expectations and I think if a book were marketed the wrong way, it could spell The End.

What do you think? If a book is marketed in a genre in which it doesn't quite fit, do you think it will still be successful? And do you know for sure what genre your book is (I know most of you do)?


Jody Hedlund said…
Wow, your comments about the entries really surprise me! I would never enter a contest unless I knew which category to send to. In fact, before entering the Genesis, I emailed the contest coordinator to find out if mine would fit more into Historical or Historical Romance.

I suppose in some ways you're getting a taste of what agents deal with on a daily basis--writers not taking the time to research what is acceptable in today's market.
I'm pretty sure mines Inspirational Contemporary Romance. It can't really be anything else, so by process of elimination, yeah, it's that.

Getting it wrong would definitely slow the submission process. You'd be targetting all the wrong places first, have to wait for them to tell you you've got it wrong, if one takes the time to do so, and then go in search of who to really send it to all over again. Yeah, that could be a real pain.
Hi Jody,
Yeah, I'm not sure what happened. It seemed more like they didn't know the "rules" for that particular genre, and what kind of plots make that genre. It's a mixed one though, two genres together, so that could've been why. This is my fourth contest I've judged and the first time I've seen this, so I'm chalking it up to newbieness. :-)
LOL Eileen. Mine is the same. Not much to mix up there.
I hadn't even thought about the subbing process, but you're so right.
Unknown said…
I'm actually horrible with genres. I still don't know what to classify my MS as!
Terri Tiffany said…
My first two books are definitly inspirational contemporary romance but this third one, I'm having trouble with. I think it is contemporary women's fiction even though there is a romance in it but that doesn't seem to be the main plot.
Get on it MaryBeth! LOL I'm sure you have time, but you might want to at least have an idea of where it will fit. :-)
If it's about her growth as a woman rather than the growth of a romantic relationship than it would be WF. Maybe you can use WF with romantic elements? :-)
i totally see the importance of making sure you fit. i had questions about my own genesis entries...women fiction or contemporary romance? romantic suspense or suspense with romantic elements? i think books can be successful when not in the right happens. saw it on the shelf in borders yesterday. and then genres in contests don't always match descriptions on the shelves. in borders yesterday, i didn't see a women's fiction shelf. all the "chick lit" type books (in ABA) were under literature. so...not sure what that means, actually. :)
LOL It means the shelvers didn't know where to put them. (I'm guessing, lol)
Thanks for your input! I was curious about it. The bad thing about contests is that we judge according to the scoresheet so if your entry is fitting with the questions, you might get a lower score. You and Jody are smart to double think about where your entry should go. And even ask. That's smart.
Katie Ganshert said…
This is a timely post because I never know if I should lable my stories: women's fiction with strong romantic thread, OR contemp romance.
Warren Baldwin said…
I've bought a couple of books through amazon that was not the genre I thought it was. The books may be fine for someone else, but they were definitely not what I wanted and not what I would have knowingly spend my money on. I was not happy! So, I think proper genre identification does matter for the person forking out the money.
Genny said…
Hard to imagine that only one book in the contest fits the genre! I think that is so key.

Have a great Friday! You're more than welcome for the mention over at my blog. :)
Katie Salidas said…
Sometimes figuring out the genre is a tough one. I remember going back and forth on my book, is it Urban fantasy, Dark fantasy, Paranormal romance? It was rough pinpointing the exact genre to label it. I still wonder sometimes if I couldn't call it something else.

It seems to me, a lot of stories are blurring the genre lines and that makes it even harder.
If the contest is for romantic suspense, then that's where the problem lies. R/S is all over the place. You can have a light r/s that starts more with the romance and then slowly gets into the suspense; a story that begins with a murder; a humorousm romantic first chapter that gets turned upside down with some sort of suspenseful twist; and they are all classified as r/s. If your expectation is high suspense from the get go, that's not what's expected from publishers of r/s. They're the ones who classify these very different styles as r/s. If your judging on 40 pages alone, then I'd say it's fair to expect some hint of suspense and/or romance by now, but nobody has to be running for their lives. No, I didn't enter this contest (or any other). I just wanted you and the readers here to be aware that r/s isn't as black and white as one might think. That's what I read, write, eat, and sleep.

Lynnette Labelle
Dara said…
I know my one novel is historical fiction. The new one, not sure...I call it "paranormal historical" but it could also be historical fantasy (which I doubt...) or just straight paranormal. I'll have to research it more.
Stephanie Faris said…
I used to judge romance writing contests all the time and it always amazed me how many people seemed to be writing things that would only fit in mainstream. They didn't fit in any set genre. People, especially newbie writers, just seem to want to do their own thing and not conform to any standards. Which can be good if you've got a J.K. Rowling-level idea, but how many J.K. Rowlings are there out there? The rest of us have to figure out where we "fit" and read as many books in that genre as possible to get a feel for what they're wanting.
Deb Shucka said…
I think a clear knowledge of your genre reflects the level of research you've done and your level of professionalism. Everything I've read tells me that matters to agents and editors.
No, I don't think a book can really be successful unless it's listed in the correct genre. BTW, I love that word, genre. Makes me feel so intelligent to say it!!!

I think I know my genre: inspirational non-fiction with nutty overtones. What do you think?

Love this post,
Jen, Audience of ONE
Hi Katie,
And they'd be shelved in different spots, right? Depending on the label? Thank goodness publishers are in it for the money. :-) Makes me think they'll choose the best label to sell your work. :-)
That's funny Warren! I feel for you though. My mom had a book that she described to me and I thought it was one genre, which she would never read, but it ended up being markeded under a different one, which she does read. So the book shocked her in some places because she wasn't expecting certain scenes. LOL.
True about forking out money! Heehee
Thanks for stopping by Genny. :-)

Katie, very true. Only the one seemed to blur the lines, so I didn't take off at all for not fitting into what I presumed the genre to be, but the other ones were lacking a bit, I thought. Good luck finding your perfect fit. :-) After an editor buys it they'll change it to whatever they think will be the most successful anyways. (I think, lol)
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing about RS. I didn't realize there were all those components to it as I don't write it. Though I love to read it! LOL Anyways, very informative. Thank you. :)
Hi Dara,
Have fun. :-) Those are all so different, too.
Stephanie and Deb,

You both make a good point. The entries that didn't fit were less professional and seemed newbiesh. Which is fine. We've all been there. But eventually we do need to figure out our fit as best as possible.
LOL Jen! I think you're pretty funny. :-) The nutty overtones made me think of a description of wine. You know how they do that on the back label?
Genre is fun to say, isn't it? :-)
Jill Kemerer said…
This is such an important topic. Agents and editors need us to be specific about what genre our book fits into. They do not want it described in three different genres. Be specific!! And if we don't know, we need to find out.

Thanks for a great post!
Ahhh, specificity. (is that a word? lol) Anyways, you're right. They want us to know and as some pointed out, it's professional for us to know.
Thanks for commenting Jill!
I hope I know what the genre of my book is. Actually, when I first started writing it I wanted it to be a romance, but when there was no HEA at the end I switched it to urban fantasy. I think there are sometimes when books can straddle two different genres, making it more difficult to know exactly where they should fit.
No HEA!!!!!

LOL, that hurt to read. Very true, but you were smart. Without a HEA, it's definitely not any kind of romance. I love the little tag "with romantic elements". You can just stick it on to your main genre, and voila!
Tana said…
You are correct to know thy genre! But...I wonder if there are a few cross categories yet to be discovered. I'd love to blaze a trail but not at the expense of my novels.
Oh yeah, I really think there are new genres that will pop up, maybe cross genres... Ever heard of steampunk? That's supposedly a new YA genre cropping up, though I'm not sure exactly what it means. :-)
Hi Jess -

This question stumped me for awhile. Was my book Mystery or Suspense? Thanks to Christina Berry, I've narrowed it down to Suspense.

If you don't know your genre, how do you give examples of similar titles in your proposal?

Susan :)
I think it could still be successful. Although it is classified in the wrong genre, if the material is good then does it really matter that it was marketed wrong?

denise petrovich said…
Yes, I think if the genre is wrong it could definately add to sales problems. I look for books in the genre I like to read and if it is marketed wrong I may not pick up that book and miss a good read. Very good point Jessie, to know your genre well. Thanks for the post. Love Mom
Danyelle L. said…
I'm not sure. That being said, as a reader, I would be a little urked at feeling misled.

I'm pretty sure where I fit in. Kind of. Protags age and story fit YA, although since it reads a bit like some MG books I love, it could fit there too. >.<
Hi Susan! Interesting point. LOL Hadn't even thought of the proposal part. I really love a good suspense! Can't wait to see yours someday. :-)
Hi Larie,
It's not that it couldn't be successful, only that if it's marketed wrong, some readers will miss out because they're looking in one place and the book is in another. But then again, if the book is stellar, it could pick up a new audience... :-)
Hi Mom,
Guess I get it from you. :-) If the book isn't in a certain section of the store or library, I'll never see it.
Hi Danyelle,
I haven't read MG in forever. Since high school probably. I'll bet there's some cool stuff out there. Maybe you'll come across an agent who does both YA and MG and she/he will know where it fits?
Victoria Dixon said…
I'm with Dara on this one. One person will tell me my novel set in 220 A.D. China is obviously historical except it's got ghosts in it. So does that make it historical paranormal or fantasy? Also, many agents seem to look at the word "historical" and assume you mean "romance". There's not a hint of that in my book, so I'm mislabeling myself. Where ARE the rules for how to tell?
Hmmm, good question. My friend writes historicals with ghostly things, but hers are more fantasy. I believe the difference has to do with the level worldbuilding. I don't know where the rules are. LOL! Good luck with that. :-)

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