Understanding Genre

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 15 2011

I’m trying to determine the genre of a fantasy series I’m working on (fantasy or YA fantasy). I tweeted Jessica in response to a tweet about YA last week. The protagonist of my first novel is 17, and her boyfriend is 20. By the time the series ends, most of the main characters will be in their early twenties.

The first book deals with issues the MC is having with her abusive father. I’m having a lot of difficulty determining the genre for the series. It’s clearly fantasy, but it also deals with YA issues. Because of the ages of the characters, I don’t know if YA is the most appropriate.

Can you offer any advice on this?

My advice is to read the genres. It’s all about voice. There’s no doubt that age makes a difference when it comes to YA, and writing about characters in their 20s is a little difficult if you’re targeting a YA market; however, writing a 16-year-old isn’t going to guarantee that your book is YA if the voice isn’t a YA voice, just like including a romance in your book doesn’t guarantee your book is a romance if you don’t have a romance voice.


17 responses to “Understanding Genre”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Why do people insist on calling YA a "genre"? It's not. It's a marketing category. The "fantasy" aspect is the genre; YA is the target audience.

  2. Even though I know that the word "genre" is generally used to signify everything from audience to setting to storyline, I'm with Anonymous in thinking the terminology would benefit from greater precision.

    We should separate issues of audience from both genre (setting type) and story. A fantasy romance is distinct from a modern realist romance because of the setting, but distinct from a fantasy adventure because of the plot.

    And, distinct from a YA fantasy romance in the target demographic.

  3. Avatar NS Foster says:

    Response makes a lot of sense–look at stories like The Lovely Bones. Written from a 12-yr-old's perspective, clearly NOT a YA book.

  4. Avatar Shell Flower says:

    I love this post. Voice is so important, and this underscores that fact. I'd love to hear more about voice on this blog.

  5. Avatar Norma Jean says:

    I also love this post. I've struggled with whether or not to call my novels 'romance', and reading this, now I know they're not – and also why they're not.

    Thank you!

  6. I had a very hard time coming up with the appropriate genre for my book. Contemporary fantasy is the best fit, and it's written with a voice adults would appreciate more than teenagers.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I "get" what you're saying about voice and grenre.

    But I'm not totally sure I agree that these set rules apply anymore. When Steve Jobs came up with the slogan "Think Different," he took flack for not writing "differently." But he wanted the word to be a noun, not a verb. He changed the world with that slogan.

    As for romance voice, I don't believe there is such a thing. And I think this falls under the category of "this is just my opinion."

  8. I agree that familiarity with the different markets is the key to determining where this book fits. There are plenty of books that have young characters, but are aimed more for adults. Besides THE LOVELY BONES mentioned above, think LORD OF THE FLIES, etc.

    Also, the effects of childhood abuse are long-lasting and certainly wouldn't stop once the child hit a certain age. Abuse often is an issue in YA books, but it's in no way exclusive to them.

    So yes, examine your voice and think about your target audience, and that will help you determine your market here.

    @Anonymous above me: They still apply when one is trying to get traditionally published because the publishers care. People want to categorize things, no matter how much the author tries to break the mold.

  9. Avatar Danielle says:

    I still think Lord of the Flies is considered a book for young readers considering they teach it in school. My brother read it in 8th grade. I -thankfully- never had to read it. (I watched the movie with my family and was almost sick)

    I do think that judging your own voice is probably more difficult than judging someone else's voice.

  10. Avatar Stacy Green says:

    This is an interesting post for me. My book is suspense/romance. I put it that way because it's more suspense than romance, and it's the suspense and conflict that drive the romance. They're tied together. I hesitate to query as romantic suspense because of this, but I'm not sure how agents would accept a query of "suspense with romantic elements."

  11. Avatar Laina says:

    *raises hand* Can we point out, too, please, that there ARE YA fantasy books? It's not an either or thing 😛

    To the writer: I'd suggest you read out If I Stay and Where She Went.

  12. Avatar Elissa M says:

    While I agree with most of these comments, I have to say that just because a book is marketed to young people, or is used in school curricula, does not mean it's actually for children. As already mentioned, a book with a young protagonist is not necessarily for young readers.

    My sister is a middle school librarian, and she has issues with the way many publishers categorize their offerings. Her students are not mature enough for subject matter aimed at highschoolers, and yet are beyond elementary "chapter books" (she utterly HATES that term, btw).

    The biggest problem is that children not only mature at different rates collectively, individually they can, overnight, outgrow the boxes adults have stuffed them into. Fortunately, one is not required to show proof of age before reading a book.

    I don't think it's helpful for a writer to stress over what genre or marketing niche their work represents until that work is complete, revised, and ready to send to agents. All writers should already be reading recently published novels in the genres most similar to what they're writing, as well as a sampling of unrelated genre. They should be reading novels by clients of their "dream" agents as a matter of course. Familiarity with books similar to your own should make it easy to pick a marketing category. And the idea that "nothing is like my book" is a fallacy.

  13. Hannah Moskowitz's take on the MG vs YA issue might also be helpful: https://hannahmosk.blogspot.com/2010/09/mg-vs-ya.html

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    @Kristin Laughtin…I said I "got" it…just don't agree with it. There is a difference.

    Anon above you

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  17. Avatar tazzella says:

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