Last Wednesday I did a post on the Encyclopedia of Sub-Genres and heard from a lot of you who disagreed with my definitions which I think proves a very, very good point. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Decisions on how a book is categorized or marketed is made by the publisher. It is a marketing decision and what one publisher would call erotic romance another calls erotica. I’ve sold erotic romance that the publisher marketed as paranormal romance and I’ve sold mystery that the publisher decided to call romance. Why? They felt they could better sell the book by marketing in those ways.
There are no exact guidelines to defining sub-genres. There’s no publishing handbook that tells you what these are. They are all fluid and based on how each individual publisher operates and what the market demands. Just two short years ago authors writing fantasy with romance were shelved only in fantasy. Paranormal romances were primarily vampires and other beasts. Now things have changed and we see much less of a distinction between some fantasy and romance. Now it’s really a matter of whether your book is more fantasy or more romance, or who it would appeal to the most.
So why would I bother with the encyclopedia in the first place? To give you a better understanding of what people might be talking about when they use these terms. When I get a “cozy mystery” that features a gory serial killer I know the writer doesn’t know the market and it immediately places doubts about whether she’s ready to be published. Using these guidelines you should better be able to understand where your book might fit, but ultimately it’s up to your agent and publisher to decide exactly who the market is and how to make your book the most successful it can be.
I know that doesn’t help the many of you who are unsure of what to call your book. What do you do then? My advice. Seek out those books that you feel would most appeal to your audience. Will readers of Jennifer Weiner or Elizabeth Berg most likely gravitate toward your book? Are you appealing more to the Christine Feehan audience or Laurell K. Hamilton before she crossed over to the romance market? Where are those books published? That’s how you can define your sub-genre.
The reason for a sub-genre is so the readers (and that includes editors and agents) can more easily find your book in the bookstore and the bookstores know where to put it. So when thinking about how to categorize your book think about where it would best fit. If it doesn’t fit anywhere you might have a problem. If you don’t know where your book should sell how do you think the bookstores are going to feel and how do you think readers will find it?
Sub-genres are a tricky business and all of these definitions could change tomorrow.