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KNOW YOUR GENRE

November 9, 2011

            Whenever I’d query to agents or talk to them at conferences, it used to be pounded into me that I needed to know my specific genre. It was the kiss of death to fumble around if the agent asked you your genre and you couldn’t answer them. Nowadays, it is not necessarily always the case but I still believe the prejudice holds for most of the agents out there. The reasoning for that is the agents want to know which shelf the book belongs on. The big problem with that is when I go to Barnes & Noble and look at the bookshelves. Of course, there are the romances, the mysteries, the westerns and the science fiction. However, everything else is now bundled into general fiction. No longer are there shelves for icky bug (horror), thrillers, steampunk, what have you. Where did those shelves all go? They went out of business with Borders and all the mom and pop bookstores!

            There is another very important reason to know your genre. If you don’t, how are you going to know your audience? Forget about what shelf it goes on. The agent is going to want to know who you expect to sell your book to.

            There is nothing wrong with going your own way. However, if you do, make sure your story makes sense and has a hook that people can follow. If your story is about something nobody is interested in, well… you see my point?

            I would list all the genres and subgenres there are, but to tell the truth, I don’t know them. I’m also too lazy to do the research! I will tell you that there are the biggies like mystery, thrillers, romance, science fiction, fantasy, western, etc. However, there are now so many sub-genres it would take me days to research them all and I would still probably miss a few. When you sit down to write your literary masterpiece, you should have an idea. My only advice is make sure there is an audience out there for it because that is one of the first questions an agent will ask you (if they don’t still ask about the shelf). That will also be your biggest problem when you go on line to seek out an agent. Most list specific genres they are interested in. Make sure you pay attention to that before you waste their and your time.

            Know your genre! Research it so you know what you are getting yourself into. You could take the approach that you want to write say, a fantasy. You decide you don’t want to be corrupted by what is out there so you write it completely on your own based on what you think fantasy is, or should be. Once done, you start pitching your “uncorrupted” fantasy to agents. One takes a look at it and tells you, honestly, that you don’t have a clue what the genre is all about. You have all the “facts” wrong. Back to the drawing board. In a way, you may have invented an entirely new genre, but it is something that will not sell because it doesn’t follow enough of the rules of the genre. You have to know your genre so do the research! There is nothing wrong with bending a genre, but you have to know the genre to know what to bend.

            In the case of a story that is out of the blue and doesn’t fit any genre, such as general fiction, you will have a much tougher sell. Which agent are you going to pitch it to? Which audience are you going to go for? These are things you have to think about before you dive in and start writing. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying you might want to think about it before you take the plunge. I’m all for creating new genres. I’d just hate to see a new writer get frustrated right off the get-go without having a success under their belt before they go off the deep end.

            Some thoughts to contemplate.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Marquez permalink
    November 10, 2011 5:07 pm

    One of my “bright ideas” for that conference I was ‘once upon a time’ involved in planning, was to end the conference with a “genre meet up.” I planned to supply the attendees with lanyards and name tags that also designated the writer’s genre. This way writers would be encouraged to learn about and to identify their genre and over the course of the conference they could spot other writers in their genre, giving them the opportunity to meet and share contact info.

    I was told this would not work because most writers don’t understand what genre means. ???? MY point!! What better opportunity to make this a fun learning experience? (I still love my idea and still hope to have the chance to use it some day.)

    Good post, Fred. Good for preparing (giving a heads up to) writers about the need to understand their genre before approaching agents.

    • November 11, 2011 2:45 am

      Annie,

      Great comments! I have seen it time and time again. I’ll ask a writer what their story is about, what genre it is, and they’ll stumble about and can’t tell me. If they have that much trouble telling a fellow writer in casual conversation, they’ll never get anywhere with an agent.

      Thanks Annie!

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