Creating Genres

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 26 2011

When I host #askagent sessions on Twitter I get a lot of questions about genre. People ask about the use of the genre term “new adult” or “romantic adventure,” for example. I’ve also been in discussions with authors about the term “romantic thriller.” Now, some agents might disagree with me, but I think using all of these is fine.

The point of genre is to find the reader. In other words, readers who read mystery want to know that a book is a mystery. That’s the genre they read, so knowing ahead of time will help them place the book before seeing if it’s something they’d like to buy. In addition to finding a place in the bookstore, the genre is also, more important, a description. When I say mystery you all know exactly what I’m talking about. The same holds true for romance, fantasy, paranormal romance, memoir, business book, etc. Now, technically romantic thriller isn’t a genre, but I guess you could say that there’s no romantic suspense section in the bookstore either. That’s okay. When I hear “romantic thriller” I know exactly what you’re talking about. The description works. If you tell me, however, that your book is a mystery, romance, and fantasy, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Where would that go in the bookstore? It’s a little of everything, which probably leads to a lot of nothing.

The term “new adult” keeps popping up over and over. I hear it from writers a lot. Oddly I haven’t heard it from any of the editors I’ve been talking to. That being said, it is a term that’s being tossed around so you’re unlikely to shoot yourself in the foot by using it. Unless of course it becomes a trendy term like “chick lit” and one day it’s in, the next is out and you’ve missed the day it left.

So when thinking genre think description, just make sure it’s a description that makes sense and, with anything, if you doubt the term you’re using, then don’t use it.


20 responses to “Creating Genres”

  1. Avatar Todd Smith says:

    Jessica, have you ever heard of Fratire? Wikipedia quote if you haven't

    Fratire – A term used to denote a type of 21st century non-fiction literature written for and marketed to young men in a politically incorrect and overtly masculine fashion.

    I'm just wondering how many agents out there have ever even heard of this new genre.

  2. I think "new adult" is a necessary distinction these days. Especially with the recent WSJ hubub about the darkness of books for young adults. Apparently 12 and 13 year olds are considerd 'young adults.'

    It seems gratuitous on the surface, but the term does separate the Less Than Zero's from the Sweet Valley High's.

  3. Avatar ryan field says:

    "New Adult" sounds interesting. I never heard it before but I like it.

  4. I first heard "new adult" I want to say two years ago. St. Martin's Press announced they were launching an imprint that would tailor to this age range. My understanding was that it was specifically focused (as a category of literature) on people post-college or post high school (could be wrong on the latter) who are attempting to establish their own self-reliance.

    I seem to remember encountering it a couple months ago when I was researching agents and putting together my query list for when I got to that point with my book that's in its final proofread before that stage.

    Thanks for the advice.

  5. Avatar BettyZade says:

    "New adult"? I suppose I could google that to find out what it means. But it sounds pretentious so I'll just continue using the genre descriptions that make sense.

  6. Avatar LupLun says:

    With due respect, I think you're giving bad advice. In fact, this advice is inconsistent with everything I've been hearing on every other Agent Blog that I can recall addressing the issue. What I'm hearing instead is that you need to use established genre terms to define your novel, whether or not it fits 100% into those terms.

    Frankly, this makes a lot more sense to me. Writing is supposed to be communicative, and if you throw an agent or editor a term with which he's not familiar, he won't know what on earth you're talking about. If he doesn't know what you're talking about, he doesn't know if he can sell the book. And since he's got a hundred other queries in the pile and more coming in tommorrow, he'll just toss off a form rejection and move on to the next.

    If what you're trying to say is "don't be afraid to use 'New Adult'", or more broadly, "Don't be afraid to use emerging terms", that makes a little more sense, but encouraging writers to make up their own genre terms is encouraging them to fail repeatedly.

    And the multi-hyphenated approach, which a number turn to, is even worse. Books defined with more than two genres — in some cases, even just two genres — set off warning klaxons in the heads of experienced readers. I know because they set them off in my head. When I read a dustjacket that describes a book as a hybrid of three different genres, my thought is that the author doesn't know how to describe his work, and that the work itself is probably a jumbled mess.

    Lupines and Lunatics

  7. Avatar Stephsco says:

    ^ I think the distinction was made in the OP about not just lumping together a bunch of genres (mystery romance fantasy); you need to choose what best fits. But I think add-ons don't always hurt – like paranormal romance, you could have paranormal mystery. You get the idea.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think it's pretty clear from yesterday that these guys are grasping at straws. Let's run "new adult" by Mort Janklow or Esther Newberg and see what real non-fee charging agents think.

  9. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    For the record, I have heard the "New Adult" term used by more than one editor at a major publishing house.

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    A 24 year old Vassar BFA who's been on the job 18 months?

  11. Avatar Lady Lex says:

    I love the term "New Adult". It's actually a genre I am considering jumping into rather than young adult. Thanks for the post.

  12. "Urban fantasy" is old news, but it was new to me when I started looking into it.

    The right answer is that *someone* has to coin "paranormal romance" or "new adult" or whatever. Although I do wonder if these terms tend to pop up on the critical side of things, first: readers and critics start to notice a cluster, say "aha! these all share conventions, let's call them DARK YA" or whatever.

    By the time that debut authors feel comfortable using them as terms, they've already passed into the vernacular.

  13. Avatar Toyin O. says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. What are they calling "chick lit" nowadays? My daughter's friend just stepped off a plane with one she bought in the airport to read en route. I have heard the term contemporary women's fiction,but that sounds like one of those books that will show you a good example. I am not into good examples. I write love stories. What are we calling them? Besides "Kindled"?

  15. Avatar Megg Jensen says:

    Technically my novels are YA fantasy, but I prefer to call them medieval dystopian. Why? Everyone associates fantasy with wolves & vamps these days. Whatever happened to good old castles & magic? 🙂

    Megg Jensen

  16. Now that we're seeing more and more brick-and-mortar stores overshadowed by the e-revolution, I think New Adult has a great chance of catching on. Actually, as I said in my own blog post today, with ample categorical room online, we should see plenty of genre terms surface. Just a thought. 🙂

  17. Avatar David Klein says:

    Does the book market use the terms "suspense" or "drama" as genre conventions, or do we only hear those in film? Any thoughts?

  18. Avatar Angie says:

    I have a question that I asked on forum and was reamed by other writers. Can a book be marketed as a "Fake Memoir" ?

    This term seems to raise the hair on people's backs, thought it has been around for over 10 years. Class actions have been taken against writers that were 'discovered.'

    But if it is clearly stated at the beginning of the book that the events are true, though the names are changed and the timeline is reduced…

  19. Avatar jfaust says:

    Suspense is definitely a genre.

    Fake memoir would be better as fictionalized memoir

    Chick lit is better called light women's fiction

  20. Avatar Todd Smith says:

    awww no answer for my question. There are several bestsellers that fall under the "Fratire" genre. I was wondering if you have ever heard of it.