Episode 48: Should You Pick a Genre, or Let the Genre Pick you?
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Episode 48 Transcript
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00:00 [JT Pledger] One of the big hang-ups when it comes to novel writing is knowing what genre you are writing in. If you submit a query letter or a synopsis, you need to know. The problem with this is that your book may fall into more than one category. What do you do then? Should you hyphenate, pick only one, quit writing and become a stripper? Today we will tackle the genre conundrum, so stick around, it should be a lot of fun.
01:03 [JT] Before we begin, I want to make it clear that we are talking about style genres in this episode, not literary genres like description, exposition, poetry, fiction. No, we are covering the categorical sections of writing, like romance, horror, true crime, etc.
How Many Genre’s are There to Choose From?
01:26 Now that we have that straight, let me ask you a question: how many genre’s can you name? Go ahead, I’ll wait. Since I’ve already given you three, you better get at least 6 or more on your own. (pause) How many did you get? 4? 5? 10? Currently (and depending on who you ask) there are at least 35 different types of literary fiction genres available.
02:00 Yeah, shocked me, too. Of course, there are the bread and butter genres we all know and love, such as horror, romance, sci-fi, crime, western, suspense, and comedy. But we can’t forget the sub-genre’s and the cross-genre’s either, romantic comedies, for example, or speculative fiction. Then we have political fiction, philosophical, noir, dystopia, utopia, and many more.
02:34 Because there are so many branches of fiction and non-fiction genre, it can be difficult to place your book or novel in a specific space. Just because you have your main character leave the atmosphere doesn’t mean it becomes a sci-fi. Likewise, if one of your characters gets captured and tortured doesn’t mean it becomes a horror book, either.
Pick One and Stick With it
03:00 What are we to do? If you send a query letter to an agent it is required that you state the genre. Hell, when you are shopping for an agent you want to find one that specializes in your genre. However, if you are anything like me, when you sit down to write you don’t have a genre in mind. Instead you have a story to tell, or a character to write about. Genre is probably the last thing on your mind. Until you are asked.
03:35 For me, when I am asked, I have found it easier to say “I write suspense.” Which I do. But I also write horror, and crime and paranormal thrillers. Each one of my novels, though, fits into the suspense category in some way. So, it isn’t a lie. Even if you read my gore-horror novel, it will be suspenseful.
04:06 With any luck, your novel will fit perfectly well in one of the major genre categories. With that, I say write it down, stick with it and just go along for the ride. We, as writer’s really shouldn’t worry too much about the genre our book will be pigeonholed into by the publishers. That is there game, we just get to tag along.
The How is Harder Than the Why
04:36 However, it is important to figure out. As I have mentioned, you will need to categorize your novel for a prospective agent, who in turn needs to be able to sell that genre to a publisher. Since genre’s peak at different times of the year, this can be the difference between a sale and a pass.
05:00 Alright, so you have your novel and you are shopping around for an agent or a publisher. How then, do you decide where to stick your book? If you don’t fit into the “big 8” or you are a multi-genre novelist, what do you do? How do you pick, and more importantly, how do you know your pick is the right one?
05:27 The short answer is that you just pick one. In about 90% of the cases the problem isn’t picking the genre it is over-thinking about picking the genre. To be quite blunt, if your book is good enough, the agent will tell you “hey, I know you said this was a sci-fi, but I think we need to market it as a thriller.” Just because you may have chosen a different label, doesn’t mean you will get turned down by an agent.
05:57 Publishers, though, are a bit more strict. This is partly due to their release schedule, the types of books they are already publishing and other industry factors. Choosing the right genre can help avoid some of these instances, though, and this is where an agent will come in handy.
Where Does Your Book Fit?
06:20 The first thing you need to do is determine where your book falls. This seems simple, but it can become difficult. Your target audience may be able to tell you. If you are writing for and about teenagers, for example, you might have yourself a young adult novel on your hands. Likewise, if you are writing for preschool kids, then you have a children’s book.
06:47 The characters you create can also dictate the book style. If your main character is an alien from another planet and your book takes place on that planet or in space, then you have a sci-fi novel. Are your characters magic? Can they summon spells and demons to thwart the antagonist? Then science fiction is your genre, too.
How to Find Your Genre
07:12 Some are not as easy to decipher though. If you have a spellbinding mystery but it involves a lot of police or investigative scenes, is it a mystery or a crime? Depending on the antagonist threats or goals, it might even be a thriller.
07:32 The best way to tell is to tell your story. I’m not talking about just writing it but actually telling it. Tell the plot to someone, say it out loud, even if you have to talk to the mirror. Listen to the story you are telling. When you give someone the 5-minute plot of your book, what elements are you focusing on?
07:56 In our mystery/crime/thriller example, if you spend most of the time talking about the evil villain and how he constantly one-ups everyone, you most likely have a thriller on your hands. Likewise, if you say your story out loud and constantly harp on the police and investigative twists and turns, you have yourself a crime novel.
Choose One or Many?
08:23 Choosing a single genre to focus on for your synopses and queries is a wise idea. Unless your book is 50% one genre and 50% a second genre, it is much easier to focus on a single genre to market your book as.
08:40 This may change over time, and that’s okay. Our stories develop and change with each draft. So, too, can the genre the book takes on. You may start with a crime drama, but end up with a mystery or thriller. There is nothing wrong with this.
08:59 There is also nothing wrong with continuing to call it a crime drama through all the drafts and then using mystery on your query letter.
09:09 The biggest mistake you can make is to spend too much time worrying about what type of book you have. Call a friend, tell them the 5-minute plot and listen to the genre that creeps out through your words.
09:28 Once you have your genre selected, forget about it, finish the novel and start pushing it out into the world. It doesn’t need to be any more difficult than that. As a writer, you have enough things to worry about and stress on. Finding the Cinderella shoe that fits your story type doesn’t need to be one of them.
09:51 With that being said, I would love to know what genre book you are working on. Find the podcast at podcast.extradraft.com, search for episode 48 and comment there. If you are still unsure what type of genre to use, post your 5-minute pitch and I will help you find the perfect fit.
10:17 Until next week, kids, have fun; write words.