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August 17, 2022

            Since many of you are in the agent query process, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this 2011 article, tweaked and updated, of course!

            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 used to go to Barnes & Noble and look at the bookshelves. Of course, there were the romances, the mysteries, the westerns and the science fiction. However, everything else was for a while bundled into general fiction. No longer were 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!

Since this article came out, Barnes & Noble changed their tune. Genre fiction is a bit better categorized. Even icky bug has their own horror section.


            There’s 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’s 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 all of them. I’ll tell you that there are the biggies like mystery, thrillers, romance, science fiction, fantasy, western, etc. However, there are now so many sub-genres of each genre it would take me days to research them all and I’d still probably miss a few. When you sit down to write your literary masterpiece, you should at least have an idea. My only advice is to make sure there’s an audience out there for it because that’s one of the first questions an agent will ask you (if they don’t still ask about the shelf). That’ll also be your biggest problem when you go online to seek out an agent. Most list specific genres they’re 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’re 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’s something that won’t sell because it doesn’t follow enough of the rules of the genre. You have to know your genre so do the research! There’s 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’s 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.


            It doesn’t matter whether you go for a conventional publisher or self-publish. You still have to know how to categorize your book, so people have some idea of what they’re buying. Even if you go the self-publishing route and want to post the book on Amazon, they require some kind of set category.

            Some thoughts to contemplate.

            Happy writing!

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