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Classifying Your Novel

My novel is about a collage age student on a journey of self discovery. There are paranormal events, some sci fi components, romance, but ultimately it is about the main character finding herself and accepting all that she is. So here’s my question, where would my story fit? I have tried representing it in different ways, but some agents suggest different catagories. I even had it classified as New Adult, but is that the best place? Any resources or help would be greatly appriciated. :-)My goal is to reach a larger audience, but if I classify my novel as New Adult, would these other components be okay as cross genres?

It’s really hard for me to tell you where your story will fit without reading it. My question to you would be who will read your book? What else are they reading? Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “new adult.” I think it’s silly and, yes, I could easily be proven wrong and it could become a new genre, but in my mind it’s a trendy term that’s going to be gone tomorrow. Besides that, at what point do people go to the bookstore or log into their ereaders and ask for the “new adult” section. There’s YA, there’s mystery, there’s SF (not Sci Fi, by the way), there’s romance, etc., but I’ve never seen new adult. When all else fails, label it fiction, but it sounds like you’re writing a genre that needs a genre home. You need to find which home.

One thought, the one authors hate most to hear, is maybe it doesn’t fit anywhere. Maybe you’ve tried to make your book into something it can’t be and you need to go back in and strengthen certain areas of your book so that it is something.

Now, before someone named “anonymous” jumps in to tell me that this is the problem with publishing and all of us who work in it, that we have no imagination and need everything to be the same, let me point out that in the advent of ereaders we’re seeing a real strength in proper categorization. Generally labeled books are not doing as well as genre labeled books. People are finding it easier to go into a section in their ereader bookstore to buy a book than they are sifting through a fiction section where some books might fit their interests while a lot do not. That does not mean that you slap any label on a book. Your label needs to fit the expectations of the readers.


Category: Blog



  1. This is the problem with publishing and all of you who work in it, that you have no imagination and need everything to be the same.

  2. I'm still trying to learn the proper use of tag lines, but you've made a neat point IMHO (not necessarily the one I should have been looking at, but…)–as more readers move away from the traditional brick and mortar stores (mainly because so many of the stores have "moved away" from readers)those tag lines become more important. They open our books to entirely new audiences as long as we tag them properly, something that couldn't be done in brick and mortar stores.

    My Wolf Tales series (erotic paranormal romance) were often shelved under "women's studies" because of their eroticism, or in the "erotic literature" part of the store, when they are essentially just very explicit romances. It was not always easy for readers to find them. The use of proper tags means our books can reach the readers they're intended for.

  3. What do you have to say about the much-remarked-upon recent trend of literary writers (like Jonathan Lethem, Lev Grossman, Tom Perrotta, George Saunders, Cormac McCarthy, Kelly Link, and Colson Whitehead, among many others) using elements of genre to create work that defies easy classification? Their books have been attracting a lot of critical attention and enthusiasm. And what about popular novels like The Time Traveler's Wife, The Dogs of Babel, and The Lovely Bones that attract an audience of primarily non-genre readers but nevertheless use paranormal or SF elements? These books "don't fit anywhere" — except on the NY Times bestseller list?

  4. Chawmonger– you find those in the literature section, I believe (a lot of stores just label it 'fiction' or sometimes 'literary fiction'). Beloved, by Toni Morrison– full of ghosts, but the overriding factor is the literary style, so it's in literature and not horror. I used to find Christopher Moore in fantasy, but now he's graduated to literature, too, I suppose because every novel is a different genre and just linked by his humorous style.

    It's not that one genre and only one genre can be informing the work– but something has to be dominant enough for readers to recognize it as something they like.

  5. I think the key is labeling the genre based on who will be interested in reading the book. If your book takes off and sells a millions copies, it won't matter as much. But until then, market so that the best potential readers can find it.

  6. This reminds me a bit of discussions about titles, specifically painting titles. (I used to manage a couple of co-operative galleries for myself and fellow artists). It turns out that a painting with a descriptive title, such as "Reflections in Blue", will sell faster than "Untitled #12". This holds especially true for nonrepresentational works. Those artists who didn't want their art "categorized" and refused to provide titles or any description about their work, rarely sold anything.

    A viewer can observe a painting in its entirety within moments (though great art makes us linger), and yet titles make a huge impact on sales. A novel can only be absorbed page by page. You can't "see" if a novel will interest you with a glance. This makes me think that proper labeling is even more important for novels than we writers may think.

    The comparison I'm making isn't perfect, but the point is, buyers really do want to know what they're buying, and most of them need to be told. Putting a label on your work doesn't diminish it. Rather, it's like holding a door open and inviting people inside.

  7. My book "Redemption for the Hypnotist" doesn't exact fit neatly into any genre either. It's a romance from a man's point of view, and it's a story of personal growth. But I ultimately settled on classifying it as an erotic novel because of the explicit sexual descriptions. I might not reach all of my potential audience, but I won't shock anyone with the content.

  8. Ah–positioning! Those who try to sell a product must "position" it, i.e. tell the audience what to expect so the audience can decide whether that sounds like something they'd enjoy.

    Positioning probably made Margaret Atwood's career. If The Handmaid's Tale had been shelved in science fiction, she'd still be adulated by her fans, but there'd be fewer of them, and would she still be recognized as one of the best writers in the world?

    She was positioned to appeal to the largest group of people who would "get" her writing–those who read literary fiction. Audrey Niffenegger and Christopher Moore are benefiting from similar positioning.

    I am an SFF writer, and I hate that my genre is a ghetto, but I have to admit it was a smart decision for Ms. Atwood to resist being classified as a science fiction writer.

  9. I think multiple tag lines are more important that specific genres with e-books. No one knows what genres are anymore. At least not the readers. They type in broad tag lines, do a search, and look until they find something they like.

  10. Thanks for writing about this subject. I can certainly relate to where a story may fit, as well as search genre specifics in online bookstores, instead of going to a bookstore, enduring pain, trying to find a book, that could have easily been found online, then go to that bookstore and pick it up. I like the order online, pick up in store feature. 🙂

    Thanks again Jessica you're Awesome.

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