The Blurring of Genres

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 16 2008

With all of the blurring of genres lately, how does an author know when to query an agent calling their novel Contemporary Romance or Women’s Fiction With Romance?

A great question because in truth, with the blurring of genres these days, how does one know when to call their book anything? Is it a paranormal romance or a fantasy, women’s fiction or contemporary fiction, mystery or suspense? If you thought it was difficult to define your book five years ago, try doing so now, and the tough thing is many of these different genres require different agents. The good thing is, it also means you can target more agents than ever before.

Do you want to know what I would do and what I have done when sending out submissions? I would make the decision based on who you are submitting to and what you really want. When writing, who was your inspiration? Was it Nora Roberts or Nora Efron? Nora Roberts is contemporary romance, Nora Efron, women’s fiction (okay, not really, but you get what I’m saying). Did you just read here that I’m actively seeking women’s fiction, but I said nothing about contemporary romance? Call it women’s fiction.

Now, all that being said, ignore it. Because there are slight differences between all of the genres I mentioned above. There does tend to be a difference between paranormal romance and fantasy, and contemporary romance and women’s fiction, etc. Read the books and know the differences. If you tend to read a lot of one genre over another, then just call your book the genre you know it fits best. And in the end, let the agent or publisher decide. So frequently, books are sold as one thing and published as another. I know many romances that were published as fantasy and even mysteries that were published as romance. Don’t get too caught up in naming your book and don’t try to name it everything. Call women’s fiction, women’s fiction. No need to add the “with romance” part. Almost every book in every genre has a romance. So don’t try to muddy it more than it can already be muddied.

Keep it simple and don’t worry about it too much, unless you’ve decided it doesn’t fit anywhere. Then you might be in trouble.


11 responses to “The Blurring of Genres”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Here’s the issue I have with genre classifications: the books on the shelf at Barnes and Noble don’t come with genre category.

    Yeah, some are shelved in Romance, but women’s fiction is in with the general fiction and literature. For example, I’ve heard Jodi Picoult described as women’s fiction, literary, commercial. It seems to depend on the day of the week.

    I know what I like to read and where it sits on the bookstore shelf, but I’m not always sure how the publishing business would classify a particular novel.

    Say Anne Tyler’s books, are they literary fiction? Sara Gruen, commercial? Anita Shreve?

  2. Avatar Kimber An says:

    “Keep it simple and don’t worry about it too much, unless you’ve decided it doesn’t fit anywhere. Then you might be in trouble.”

    I’m in trouble. Well, okay, I nailed it down as YA Time Travel, but who’s buying that these days?

  3. Avatar Kimber An says:

    P.S. I love cross-genre stories! Obviously. I know they can be a headache for bookstores, but do they want to make money or not?

  4. Avatar Susan says:

    Thanks for this post: I enjoy reading books that don’t fit the typical molds, and now I’m writing one. Flipping through the market guides is daunting when you can tag two–or even three–genres onto the work, especially when they’re genres that don’t appear together very often in the listings.

    ‘Keep it simple’… Thanks for that!

  5. Avatar Amy Nathan says:

    It’s really a fine line.

    I once told my daughter (who is 13) when we were in a book store, that I just wanted to browse in the regular book section. Now if only there was one!

    She delights most of all in showing me all of the books in large print, but that’s another story.

  6. So I guess I should change my historical, mystery, suspense, epic fantasy fictional novel with humorous overtones (TM)to something else?

    Ok, seriously, I am so glad epic fantasy is all I have to worry about. Worrying about what to call your book really can be a pain.

    I finally decided my first novel about mystery solving rodeo cowboys was a suspense. I’m still not 100% sure about that, but it was close enough

  7. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I was at a conference over the weekend and one of the workshops was called something like What Genre Are You Writing? Several writers in the audience told a little about their stories and the panel had to determine what genre it was. Talk about confusing. One woman had what she called a historical medical mystery, but when she described it, it turned out it was set in the future and actually a thriller, so it was redefined as medical thriller.

    Someone else had a historical thriller dealing with UFOs in an alternate history setting.

    I think the first question you have to ask yourself is who your audience is. People who enjoy historical fiction may not appreciate one that messes with a real timeline and adds aliens of the ET variety. So the market is even more narrow. The object is to broaden your audience, not minimize it.

    I write and read urban fantasy, but I don’t like political thrillers or military fiction, so if a book had all these elements, it wouldn’t appeal to me as a reader. One thing that really annoys me is the fuzzy line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Some writers try to make them interchangeable, but they’re not. A lot of hardcore UF fans detest a strong romance in the fiction they read and will go out of their way to avoid it. The broader UF market are the readers who enjoy UF with romantic elements that don’t hit you over the head.

  8. Avatar Diana says:

    At the library, we try to put the book wherever we think it will check out more. If it can go into a genre instead of fiction (our library has individual sections for romance, westerns, inspirational, science fiction/fantasy and mysteries) we would rather shelve it there, because it’s more likely to check out. These are shelves that are heavily browsed regardless of how old the books are. Fiction (at least in our library) is most heavily browsed when the books are still in the “new books” display.

    I think about this when I think about how to classify what I’m writing.

  9. Avatar stevent says:

    I’m curious as to what types of novels you would classify as “historical fantasy?” How would you best to define this term?

  10. This is something I wonder about because I both like and write my historical romance heavy on the history. For the moment, I’ve termed my books a historical romance/historical fiction hybrid, in that it does have a HEA for my h/h, and the book is carried by their romance, but the focus of the book doesn’t narrow solely upon it. When it comes to my agent search, I’m apprehensive over the odds of an agent telling me the book isn’t “romancy” enough for the genre. :/

  11. Avatar AstonWest says:

    Trouble comes when agents have no idea what you mean when you list the sub-genre you’re in…