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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Know Your Genre: Tips and Secrets from the Experts for Writing Bestselling Genre Fiction

by Ruth Harris

Romance with a side of horror? 

Happens in real life—oy!—but not such a hot idea in fiction.

Cozy mystery with a soupçon of blood and gore? 

 Only if you want readers coming after you with shoulder-fired missiles.

Sci-fi in a gauzy, vintage-y mood? 

Not unless you want to find an IED in your driveway.

Genres come with rules that create guidelines for writers—and set up expectations in readers. Break those rules, disappoint those expectations and the reaction will be a polar vortex of one-star reviews.

You can’t build a house without a solid foundation, so before you start playing around with wildly inventive and creative genre mash-ups, you first need to learn to stick the landing. 

  • Romance can be contemporary or historical, steamy or sweet, Gothic or Regency. The characters can be pirates, soldiers, doctors, knights, noblemen or, of course, billionaires. No matter the tone or the period, though, romance requires a Happily Ever After (HEA) ending or, at the very least, a Happy For Now (HFN) ending. Period!
  • Women’s Fiction. If the heroine decides she’d rather take a job at an archaeological dig in Kyrgystan than settle down with the boy next door, you’ve left romance territory and entered the world of Women’s Fiction. 
  • Horror requires scaring the cr*p out of the reader.
  • Chick Lit/Rom-Com needs humor and a light-as-meringue style (and shoes).
  • Thrillers must have a hero-heroine and a vile villain. Thrillers can focus on the CIA, the NSA or even the NRA. The backgrounds can be military, medical, political, legal or psychological.
  • Mysteries better have a crime that needs to be solved and a detective to solve them.

Julie Ann Lawson provides an excellent overview of genre—Julie calls it a cheat sheet—defining the do’s and don’ts of genres and sub-genres ranging from Survival Horror and Christian Fiction to Gothic Punk and Urban Fantasy.

Note from Anne: The terms YA (Young Adult, age 12-18) MG (Middle Grade age 8-12) and to a certain extent, NA (New Adult, age 18-25) define demographics, not genres. Almost all these genres can also be written for specific age groups (Although I wouldn't recommend MG Romance.) For more on the New Adult category see Chuck Sambuchino's piece for Writer's Digest.

Here's a list of some of the most popular genres with links to expert advice on how to write them:


Over half the books sold in the US are categorized as Romance. It’s the Big Mama of genres, competitive and potentially lucrative.

Romance University is Harvard for romance, useful to beginners and advanced students alive. Professors (successful romance writers and editors) tell all about how to write and how to market romance. (And it's FREE!...Anne)

We’ll stay in the Ivy league with Everybody Needs A Little Romance, a group blog written by romance writers who share their opinions and insights, their triumphs and—sometimes—their tribulations. Romance writers, it turns out, are just like us.

Contemporary Romance, a chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) is devoted to the writing and marketing of contemporary (as opposed to historical) romance. Pros who write in genres and sub-genres ranging from “spicy to inspirational to young adult to adult” keep readers and writers informed and up to date via discussion forums and workshops. (This site requires RWA membership, but if you're a Romance writer, RWA membership is well worth the price...Anne)

Have a good time and learn at Romance Divas an award winning, website and discussion forum dedicated to romance.

Romantic Suspense

The suspense must add to the romance and the romance must add to the suspense. Nora Roberts lists some of her favorite Romantic Suspense authors—Mary Stewart, Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George (among others)—and explains the necessary balance between romance and suspense.

New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Gardner, lists 7 Tips for writing Romantic Suspense ranging from setting and research to character and plot.

Patience Bloom, senior editor of Harlequin Romantic Suspense, shares 5 Secrets for creating compelling Romantic Suspense.


As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said you "know it when you see it." But the line between erotica and erotic romance has blurred in recent years. It can be a, ahem, "Gray" area. Here's a piece (complete with infographic) on the difference between erotica and erotic romance from Sorcha Grace in the HuffPo. Got more than two people in the scene and there's no HEA? It's erotica.

Women’s Fiction

Anna Quindlen, Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult are among the stars in a genre that can also merge/morph into Mainstream Fiction or Literary Fiction.

Author and blogger, Amy Sue Nathan, who hosts Women’s Fiction Writers, defines this not-always-easy-to-define genre.

RITA Award finalist and former journalist, Wendy Wax, talks about the impact of headline news and real life on women’s fiction.

Screenwriter and novelist, Paul FitzSimons, states that of all the major genres of fiction-writing, crime, fantasy, literary, comedy, sci-fi, erotica (thank you EL James for making it okay to include that last one) – the most popular and successful is women’s fiction. Paul has pulled together a list of useful links for women’s fiction  authors.

Chick Lit (aka Rom-Com)

Think Bridget Jones Diary, Sex And The City and The Devil Wears Prada. Chick Lit, breezy and humorous, is written in the first person and is about 20- and 30- something women living in a big city. A Chick Lit novel is about relationships—romantic and otherwise—as the heroine searches for a job, a boyfriend, an identity.

Editors at Ballentine and Harlequin discuss what makes Chick Lit tick.

Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel, by an author of chick lit, offers advice and a step-by-step method for writing the savvy and sassy chick lit novel.

While a romance novel usually ends with a wedding or a promise of one, a chick lit novel can end with the heroine having pink drinks with her girlfriends, dissing Mr. Wrong.

Note from Anne: Chick Lit is a bestselling genre that has found new popularity in the age of ebooks, but it was out of fashion for a few years. I see that Publisher's Lunch calls it "Rom-Com" rather than "Chick Lit" when talking about book dealsshort for "Romantic-Comedy." So if you're querying Chick Lit, you might want to call it "Rom-Com" unless the agent specifically asks for Chick Lit.

Literary Fiction

Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje come to mind as authors of literary fiction. Literary Fiction tends to focus more on character than plot although—because characters interact and events take place—LitFic does have plot.

The prose in LitFic possesses aesthetic value, and the theme(s) and emotions are layered, complex and serious.

Like other genres, Literary Fiction defines itself through cover design, titles, book formats and shelving. In addition, there are four characteristics that make Literary Fiction a distinct genre.

Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

Think Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer, Dead until Dark and Twilight. Think noir, paranormal and magic.

At Heroes And Heartbreakers, Larissa Benoliel defines the difference between these two popular genres.

Here’s a questionnaire that will also help distinguish between ParaNormal Romance (PNR) and Urban Fantasy (UF)

Award-winning author Jami Gold is a go-to guru in PNR and UF. She conducts workshops and offers tips, tricks and tools for writers. Jami mixes in “elements of suspense and women’s fiction to create ‘Beach Reads with Bite.’ Her stories range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply.” (And she's going to be our guest in August!...Anne.) 

Dystopian (Especially YA)

From Hunger Games to Divergent and Susanne Collins to Veronica Roth, this is a hotter-than-than-hot genre. In YA Dystopian fiction you’ll find reading lists, reviews and expert analysis.

Here’s pro advice from YA authors Lauren DeStefano and Moira Young on writing dystopian fiction and 5 more tips from "Miss Literati" about pushing the envelope in this wildly popular genre.


Bestselling author P. D. James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL, is an English crime writer and creator of policeman and poet, Adam Dalgliesh. Baroness James has learned from writers like Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L Sayers, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Here are her 8 suggestions for writing a mystery.

Ron Lovell, author of The Martindale Mystery Series, sweats blood. Not really but sort of, as he tells how to write a mystery.

Susan Spann, an attorney and author of the Shinobi Mystery series, says that “mystery novels work a lot like any other genre, except that mystery writers murder their imaginary friends.” Susan lists 25 things you need to know about writing mysteries.

Ginny Wiehardt, editor and writing teacher, offers 10 rules for writing mystery.

Cozy Mystery

The author Agatha Christie and TV’s Murder, She Wrote mean “cozy” to millions of fans who are looking for mystery sans graphic sex, profanity and violence.

Lynn Farris delves into the specifics that distinguish a cozy mystery from a classic mystery. Find out everything a writer needs to know about this popular genre as Lynn analyzes elements including cover, protagonist, audience, setting, and plot.

Author Stephen D. Rogers has written a useful run-down of characters, plots, setting and the exceptions that define the cozy mystery. Stephen also adds a list of resources and markets relevant to authors of cozies.

The Cozy Mystery List adds to the information about the genre and recommends books, DVDs in this increasingly hot genre.


We’re in James Bond territory here. The thriller revolves around around anticipation and suspense, action and excitement. Unlike a mystery in which a crime must be solved, in a thriller the hero/heroine must prevent the crime from being committed or the dastardly plot from going forward.

Top thriller writers from Daniel Silva to Edgar Award-winner John Hart give advice about writing the can’t-put-it-down thriller.

Ian Fleming discusses the line between fact and fiction in a thriller and describes the nuts-and-bolts of his writing process.

Police Procedural

The police procedural ranges from Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

Mystery novelist and college professor Margot Kinberg discusses the wide range of this genre, its diversity, history and current status on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Writer.

Christian Fiction

Targeted to a large audience, Christian Fiction offers inspiration, positive uplift and points the way for relatable characters to resolve their real-life dilemmas via faith. Christian Fiction encompasses numerous sub-genres including mystery, sci-fi, romance, women’s fiction, historical and more.

CrossBooks, a publisher of Christian Fiction, reaches out to authors and lays out guidelines for writing Christian Fiction with realistic characters confronting gritty issues like abuse and alcoholism.

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) is a professional authors’ association similar to Romance Writers of America (RWA) and/or Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The goal of ACFW is “developing the skills of its authors, educating them in the market, and serving as an advocate in the Christian Fiction publishing industry.”


Horror comes in a variety of flavors. There’s creepy, gross-out, and just plain evil. There’s H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub and Stephen King. Don’t forget slime, monsters, vampires and locked rooms. Horror, like all fiction, isn’t easy to write but here’s Ramsey Campbell’s guide to avoiding the clichés.

Stephen King shares some thoughts about the craft of writing horror.

Novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, Chuck Wendig, lists 25 things you should know about writing horror including severed heads and septic fear.

At Hellnotes, Robert Gray suggests 13 tips about writing horror fiction.


Cowboys and Indians, sheriffs and outlaws, gunslingers and schoolmarms—we’re talking Westerns. Louis L’Amour, Tony Hillerman, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard are among the masters of the form. Western Writers of America, sponsors of the annual Spur Award, represents professional authors of Western literature.

Popular sub-genres include Western Romance and Western Historical Romance.

R.L. Coffield offers these guidelines for writing a Western and Adrienne deWolf’s writing resources for writing a Western offers tips and research help.

The NaNoWriMo site has interesting facts about iconic Western towns like Tombstone and the dangerous perils of six-shooters plus more tips for writing a Western.

Lyn Horner, bestselling author of Western Romance, shares tips and techniques for writing a Western Romance.


Noted sci-fi/fantasy author and teacher, Jeffrey A. Carver, a Nebula Award finalist and developer and host of the educational TV series, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, has created an on-line course, how to write sci fi/fantasy. “There are no rules, exactly,” says Jeff. “But we do have what you might call guidelines. And that's to have fun writing!”

Award-winning sci-fi author, Massimo Marino, takes a scientist’s approach to sci-fi. Massimo, who worked at CERN—an international lab for particle physics research near Geneva, Switzerland—then at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as well as with Apple Inc., and the World Economic Forum, has created a useful and entertaining Guide For Down-And-Dirty Hairy-Knuckled Sci-Fi Writers.

Roz Morris, author, editor, bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor, shares 3 tips for writing watertight fantasy, science fiction and time travel stories. Roz talks about the roles of logic and magic and illustrates her points by discussing mistakes she herself made and how she corrected them.

Author and editor, Charlie Jane Anders contemplates 10 “Rules” scifi/fantasy authors should break. Charlie offers insights into portal fantasies, when it’s better to tell, not show, and the possibilities of faster-than-light space travel.

There are dozens of subcategories of SciFi/Fantasy, too many to go into here. Some are: Steampunk (The Anubis Gates, Homunculus) Space Opera (Dune, the Foundation Trilogy), Hard SciFi (I, Robot), Epic Fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), Cyberpunk (Neuromancer), Speculative Fiction (A Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World) and Time Travel (The Time Machine—not to be confused with Time Travel Romance like Somewhere in Time or Time Travel Women's Fiction like The Time Traveller's Wife.) 

Genres and sub-genres help readers find books and writers need to understand the conventions of his/her chosen genre to write satisfying fiction. Ignore the rules of genre at your own peril! 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you set out to write in a particular genre, or do you write books first and ask questions about genre afterward? Do you write cross-genre work that you find hard to place in traditional publishing categories? Have you ever set out to write in one genre and had the book turn out to be another?


A Kiss at Kihali--sweet romance set against the backdrop of African animal rescue
A must-read for animal lovers.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA 

Beautiful and inspirational, A KISS AT KIHALI draws on the power of human-animal relationships, the heroic accomplishments of African animal orphanages, and the people, foreign and Kenyan, drawn to careers involving the care and conservation of wild animals. Filled with drama and danger that lead to a happy ending, A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love tender romance and who have personally experienced the intense, mystical bond between humans and animals.

"A must-read for anyone who cares about animals and the environment, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves”... bestselling author Sibel Hodge

Coming up on the blog

June 1st: Anne will talk about how to launch a new book in the digital age.

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, ChildKveller, and the HuffPo. Nina will talk about what happens when you realize you like blogging more than working on your novel.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.


BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST  $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for all the links to writing science fiction!
I knew my main category, but I'd never heard the term space opera until I started querying. Now I know that's my niche.

May 25, 2014 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Wow - there's a thorough look at genres. Thanks for the all helpful links & insightful commentary. Maybe I should scrap those plans for that romancy punk muskrat sci-fi political thriller I just outlined, eh?

May 25, 2014 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex—I was astonished as I wrote this post and realized just how many sub-genres there are! Results in a dynamic playing field that will help writers focus their work and readers find just the kinds of books they are searching for.

May 25, 2014 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

CS—Thanks for the kind words. Maybe you *should* scrap those plans…or maybe you're on your way to creating a whole new sub-genre! ;-)

May 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger P V Ariel said...

Great Tips here, and wonderful links here,
I am here via Alex's G+ notification
Thanks for sharing these links and post
Philip Ariel

May 25, 2014 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I took a genre class, and it was eye-opening experience. I found that I had to be careful because what I looked for as a reader, was not not necessarily the top of the genre requirements. I look for characterization, and in some genres like fantasy, people come to it for the setting first, which I wasn't paying enough attention to. I do multiple genres. At the moment, I'm working on a cozy mystery, but I've done fantasy and science fiction. I might also play with noir.

May 25, 2014 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Melodie Campbell said...

A terrific list! Thank you, Ruth. I teach Writing Popular Fiction at college, and there are some things here - particularly great lists - that even I didn't know about.

May 25, 2014 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Philip—We're delighted to see you! Thanks for taking the time to comment—and for your kind words. Hope the post helped clarify all the questions re genre.

May 25, 2014 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger David Rheem Jarrett said...

With all due respect, I believe the lines can still be blurred among the genres of thriller, crime, and mystery. A story can embody elements from all these genres as long as the reader:

1) Is thrilled.
2) Is captivated by the crime.
3) Enjoys trying to solve the mystery before the author does.

And, as a sideline, romance can be introduced into any of these genres without detracting from any of them.

May 25, 2014 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Linda—Glad the post helped. You're right, what one individual might look for in genre isn't necessarily what "most" readers of that genre expect! Good luck with your books!

May 25, 2014 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Melodie—Hi and thanks. :-)

I've been in publishing for decades and writing this post taught me things I didn't know! Genre is a huge subject and ever changing as genres morph and go into and out of style.

May 25, 2014 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...


First book that I landed with a publisher was a mixture of erotica (lead character is an adult movie actress) with fantasy/paranormal (her sister is a symbiont).

Suffice to say, I call my stuff "Quirky", especially since the other stuff I got on deck is roughly in the same universe as paranormal and fantasy.

Father Nature's Corner

May 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

David—Thanks for taking the time to comment. Couldn't agree more. Genre is about guidelines—it is not a set of rigid "rules." Books that skillfully blur genres are compelling & complex but IMO not for beginners. As I said, writers first need to learn to stick the landing.

Once secure in craft, comes the time to branch out & get creative!

May 25, 2014 at 12:47 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Hi, Ruth, What a wonderful fact-packed post on knowing your genre. God, it's great. I remember when I first began my gay historical romance series I had to ask my publisher, JMS Books, what I was writing. I was that clueless. After reading your post today and rethinking a bit, I may add romantic suspense as well since each of the installments in the novella series are also mysteries with something nefarious going on. So now I'm writing "gay historical romantic suspense." Yikes. Whodathunk? Thanks so very much for these words of wisdom. I know I'll come back many a time and check out the links as well as reread the genre descriptions. :) Paul

May 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

G.B.—Thanks for stopping by! Maybe we will need to add a new genre: "quirky."
How would you define it? (serious question)

May 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Virginia Vayna said...

I always find great information on this blog. Thanks for posting and sharing! Now I have a better understanding about paranormal romance vs. paranormal fiction/ urban fantasy vs. Fantasy. Cheers!

May 25, 2014 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

David--I want to second what Ruth says. It's always best to know the rules before you break them. :-)

And as for romance--yes, any genre can have romantic elements--I prefer books that do--but don't call it "a Romance" if it doesn't follow genre guidelines and have a HEA or you're going to have a lot of angry readers. Crafting romance is like writing a sonnet. You have to be creative, but inside a very strict format.

May 25, 2014 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Paul—Hi and thanks! Yeah, clueless. Been-there-done-that. lol

"Gay historical romantic suspense" sounds great. Will certainly help broaden your readership.

May 25, 2014 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Virginia—Thanks for the kind words. Pleased to help clarify your understanding of genres that can be sort of confusing. Just remember, these are guidelines; not rigid rules!

May 25, 2014 at 1:04 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Thanks, Ruth.

May 25, 2014 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Sasha A. Palmer said...

Thank you, Anne. This is really helpful. I've only checked out one link so far - the literary fiction link - but I'm going to explore all of them.
I like the idea that anything goes (as long as it works) in literary fiction. The idea of stretching the boundaries of a genre and breaking the rules. This sometimes results in wonderfully different magical writing. Of course one's got to be, for instance, Bradbury to get away with it...

May 25, 2014 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Molly Greene said...

Oh my gosh, Ruth. This is a fantastic resource, and you definitely made me think about what I write. I'd recently defined myself as a "Women's Fiction/Mystery" writer , but after reading your links I think I fall under the "cozy mystery" umbrella. Yay! Thanks so much for your hard work on this!

May 25, 2014 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Sasha A. Palmer said...

Ruth, I apologize - I called you "Anne."

May 25, 2014 at 1:20 PM  
OpenID mishaburnett said...

Yep, I published my second and am almost finished with my third, and I still don't have an "official" genre. I usually define my work as New Wave Science Fiction, but then I have to explain what that means.

May 25, 2014 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sasha—No apology needed! In fact, I'm flattered! :-)

Pleased to hear the post was helpful. Genre is a huge—and at times—confusing subject.

May 25, 2014 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Molly—Ooooh, that's interesting! You'll need to experiment to see which genre works better for you. The corrects categories combined with keywords (if you're selfpubbing) can be a powerful way for readers to find you. If you're querying, you can expand the number of agents to approach. Win-win!

May 25, 2014 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Misha—If you're querying agents, you'll need to decide on an "official" genre. I love "New Wave Science Fiction"—certainly intriguing!

May 25, 2014 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger Cat Lumb said...

This is a great, comprehensive list Ruth, but I am left with one question: what defines Mainstream Fiction?
It is mentioned above, but isn't listed as a genre in it's own right here. Is that because we shouldn't be using it, or because if our novel doesn't fall into one of the other genres it's got to be mainstream?
I ask because of all the genres you describe above I believe I might be writing a literary novel, yet the emphasis is not on prose and I don't think my theme is as complex as it should be for such a genre.
This is where I always become confused - because I want to say I'm writing Mainstream Fiction, but when it comes to genre this is always missed off the list! Help!?!

May 25, 2014 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Tam Francis said...

Thanks for the list. I know we were talking about Chick-Lit vs. Women's Fiction on google+ and this list is FANTASTIC!

Now, what's a gal to do if she has a parallel narrative (two stories, two main characters), and one gets the happy ending and the other is more vague, i.e. one Romance ending, one Women's Fiction ending. Hmmmmm. This link helped me a little: http://agencygatekeeper.blogspot.com/2010/07/romance-womens-fiction-or-chick-lit.html

May 25, 2014 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Cat—Excellent & tough-to-answer question but I think of mainstream fiction as fiction that appeals to the widest possible readership. For example, Stephen King writes horror but draws a readership that doesn't necessarily read genre horror. Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park et al) writes sci fi but also draws a wider readership not just limited to sci fi aficionados. Djitto Nora Roberts, known primarily for romance, but with a much wider fan base. Also writers like Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, James Patterson who write genre but with a wide mainstream appeal.

In a way Mainstream can be thought of almost as a modifier: Mainstream Women's Fiction, Mainstream Thriller, Mainstream Sci Fi etc. That way, the basic genre is accounted for but so also is the fact that the book has wide mainstream approval.

Hope this makes sense. :-)


May 25, 2014 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Tam—Thanks for the link! Would Romantic Women's Fiction work for you?

May 25, 2014 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger M. A. McRae said...

'Genre' to me is the same as cage bars. There needs to be some category other than 'lit fic' for books written by authors who do not choose to don the iron corset of being a genre writer.

May 25, 2014 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger florence cronin said...

Ruth, thanks so much for this list. I loved the articles, especially those for the genre which I love to write the most ... mystery. A little help from our friends goes a long way. This is a true keeper :)

May 25, 2014 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Tam Francis said...

Cool! I like it. Thanks.

May 25, 2014 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Marj--I'm sure Ruth will tell you that mainstream doesn't really exist as a category any more. Gone are the days of Michener sagas and Peyton Place and The Thornbirds.

But you can play around with genre a lot. I called my books mysteries sometimes when I queried agents, and sometimes romantic suspense or chick lit mysteries.

And Amazon has different genres from trad publishing. They allow books to be called "humor", which is my true genre. So keep things fluid and play around with labels. If you self-publish, the Zon may have just the right one for your niche. Ruth has a really helpful post from last month on Zon categories that may help. "How to Make the Bestseller Lists: Why Categories Matter." http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2014_04_01_archive.html

May 25, 2014 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

As usual, this blog has the best and most helpful tips for writers on the whole web!! I feel as if the post was written just for me as I'm trying an unfamiliar genre atm. The links were fantastic. Thanks so much!!

May 25, 2014 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger ED Martin said...

Thanks for the definitions! My issue doesn't seem to be so much mixing genres within a story, but writing those stories across the spectrum. My first novel was women's fiction, the next is magical realism, and then the one after that is steampunk. My short stories range from contemporary general fiction to horror and paranormal.

My solution is to focus on the same theme rather than genre. I say that I writer "stories of love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption," so that no matter the genre, my readers know what they're getting.

May 25, 2014 at 10:21 PM  
OpenID governingana said...

Wow, what a fantastic resource! I think almost every writer has struggled with not quite fitting into any category (unless the writer specifically sets out to write for that category). The biggest problem with not meeting genre expectations is that it's hard to get the book reviewed and reviewed appropriately (meaning not getting panned for failing to follow expected norms).

BUT...we also have readers who are tired of the same types of story. Take LGBT, for example, that doesn't always fit into these categories. Sure, we can have LGBT romance, but these stories are marginalized within a m/f-dominated market.

May 26, 2014 at 1:26 AM  
OpenID governingana said...

Sorry, I always forget that my wordpress ID doesn't show my name. I'm Anastasia Vitsky. :)

May 26, 2014 at 1:27 AM  
Blogger Luccia Gray said...

Hi Anne! Thanks for this informative post.
I'm not keen on categories which limit an author, but on the other hand when someone asks you which genre you write, you need to answer the question ('I'm not sure' sounds terribly weak!). Granted that most novels fit into more than one genre, but that's enriching, so mention them all! I've just added a link to this post on one of my pages because I think it's helpful for author's to be able to 'classify' or 'cross-classify' what we're writing! What about adding 'elements'/'aspects'? Say, 'I'm writing neo- Victorian historical fiction with romance, gothic, and suspense elements.' Anything is better than 'I'm not sure'!

May 26, 2014 at 2:17 AM  
Blogger Luccia Gray said...

Sorry, I forgot to add my Blog, http://lucciagray.wordpress.com/

May 26, 2014 at 2:22 AM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Ruth, this is an excellent post, very comprehensive and informative, but I do think there are two things missing:
(1) a new genre that is allied to science fiction but is NOT science fiction, and that is climate fiction of "cli fi" for short: it's not sci-fi because it deals with a very plausible near-future, it's dystopia-now and not on some other, unfamiliar world (eg. Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow); and
(2) there's one demographic not mentioned here, baby boomers yet there are some 77 million of them in the US alone, and they enjoy a "boomer lit" twist in their reads - there is a group of Goodreads that gathers Boomer Lit titles, and the group is still growing (even if I am no longer active - I've gone into...cli fi with my latest book!)

May 26, 2014 at 2:22 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Claude—Thanks for the flattering words—and for the addition of "cli fi," a term I'm unfamiliar with. Dystopia-now is an excellent descriptive.

Thanks, too, for the reminder about boomer lit: definitely include me in!

May 26, 2014 at 4:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Marj—Genre is hardly an iron corset. After all, HQ, which has strict genre guidelines, has published thousands of books by thousands of authors—each one unique and individual. The concept of genre exists to help readers find books they'll love and to give writers a framework (which they can choose to alter, reinvent and even demolish).

May 26, 2014 at 4:38 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Florence—Thank *you!" :-)

May 26, 2014 at 4:39 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Lexa—Thanks. Having a roadmap (a genre) is a big help especially if you're working in a new or unfamiliar genre.

May 26, 2014 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Ed—Excellent and elegant solution! As you say, concentrating on theme is a great way to alert readers as to what they can expect.

May 26, 2014 at 4:42 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Anastasia—Hi and thank you. I appreciate your kind words!

For sure we as writers can't please all the people all the time. There are readers who do want the same basic story over and over. There are as well—as you point out—readers who are looking for something different. Fortunately, genre is an imprecise and dynamic concept, always subject to change as tastes and trends shift.

May 26, 2014 at 4:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Luccia—You're soooo right! Besides, 'I'm not sure' sounds unprofessional.
Adding 'elements'/'aspects' is a helpful plus. Using "themes" as Ed Martin suggests in his comment just above is also informative.

May 26, 2014 at 5:01 AM  
OpenID deborahjayauthor.com said...

Some great links here, thanks, I feel a blog post or two coming on...
Interesting though, that my first reaction to this post was a sigh of frustration. On one front, this is essential material for the first-time author pursuing a traditional publishing deal, as publishers are well known for sticking quite rigidly to genre requirements, for the purposes of selling their products (our books) to the even more hide-bound book shops, who aren't interested in buying a book unless they know where to shelve it.
On another, this is a really good reason for authors to go the indie route, where they are only constrained by genre in so far as they need to be when choosing Amazon sales categories.
But, back to the traditional route, last summer I attended the World Fantasy Convention, and publishers on more than one panel expressed the desire for more genre-crossing material to come across their desks, citing techno-thrillers as an example. They all agreed that story and voice were more important to them than strict genre adherence.
I totally agree with one of your comments above, that such mixing should probably not be attempted by the less experienced writer, but rather left until later, once the writer has achieved greater skills and a clear voice.
Once they have reached that point though, perhaps, like the article you quoted (in your SF/fantasy section) about 10 rules that should more often be broken, this strict adherence to genre rules might become one to be bent, if not totally broken?

May 26, 2014 at 5:21 AM  
Blogger Diana Stevan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 26, 2014 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Diana Stevan said...

I'm thrilled with the information on this post. Thanks, Ruth and Anne. You clarified a lot. I do agree that at times it's hard to classify a book in a particular genre. We writers write about life and life is complicated. There are some stories that cross a number of genres without apology. For example, the book I'm going to publish this fall is a romantic mystery, but it could also be looked upon as a romantic adventure, as there's a treasure hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada. And since there are some paranormal elements in it as well, it was a struggle deciding what genre to call my novel. In the end, I went with the overall feel of my story.

May 26, 2014 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger sue mcginty said...

Great post, Ruth. Would love to see something on the differences between YA and coming-of-age.

May 26, 2014 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue--Ruth may be able to pinpoint it better than I can, but it's not either/or. YA is a category and "coming of age" is a theme. So you can have YA Romance (or Mystery or SciFi, etc.) with a coming-of-age theme.

May 26, 2014 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Diana—Thank you!

As you say, life is complicated. Problem is, genres are simple. ;-)

Sometimes finding the best genre to describe a book is a challenge. It sounds like going with the overall feel of your story is a good decision.

May 26, 2014 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sue—Thank you for your comment!

I ditto what Anne said. I hope her words help clarify the issue for you.

May 26, 2014 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

It's interesting that the post did not list historical fiction, let alone historical mystery, my own genre of writing. I know that these are small niches at Amazon, yet a lot of authors have become very rich from historical fiction, not least Hilary Mantel who won the Booker twice by writing in that genre. Is this a mote in Amazon's eye or a true reflection of market demand?

May 26, 2014 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--All these genres can be "historical fiction" if they are set 50 yrs or more in the past. We probably should have noted that. There are too many subgenres to go into in one post. There are many versions of historical Romance: Tudor, Regency, Highlander, Medieval, etc. Ditto historical Mystery, Thriller, Literary etc. But no matter what the time period, each has to keep to the conventions of the genre.

May 26, 2014 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger AD Starrling said...

Great summary Anne! :D

I started out writing a humorous fantasy series many, many moons ago (think Terry Pratchett meets Douglas Adams). I then accidentally wrote a short story called 17. It evolved into a book, which then became the first of a six-book series. There were guns, swords, bombs, immortals, car chases, and science involved. I decided to class the series as supernatural thriller. Or as I also like to call it, action-adventure with a supernatural twist.

In answer to your question, the story came first. I then shoehorned it into a genre :D

May 26, 2014 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

AD--Ruth gets 100% of the credit for this one! She was an editor for a couple of the Big Five publishers for many years, so she knows this stuff much better than I do. I'm a shoe-horner, too.

Blogger is giving Ruth some trouble today, so I'm filling in, but I'm sure she'll jump in when she can.

May 26, 2014 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

AD—Thanks for the interesting comment. I love accidental stories and I also love "action-adventure with a supernatural twist." Sounds like you're right on top of things!

May 26, 2014 at 4:37 PM  
OpenID internetdiderot.com said...

As a writer of both science fiction and fantasy, I would make them two separate categories because they have VERY very different needs and audiences. Otherwise, great article, and I'm glad to see genre fiction get some attention!

May 26, 2014 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

That's a fascinating definition of historical fiction, Anne: a story set 50 years or more in the past. I would not dispute it, except to note that my own autobiography, if it were ever published, would have to be listed by Amazon under 'historical fiction' :)

May 27, 2014 at 4:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

ID—Thanks for the flattering words! You make an excellent point about scifi/fantasy but since they're often grouped together, I kept to that convention. However, differentiating scifi and fantasy makes sense.

May 27, 2014 at 6:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John. Me too. :-) Amazon has a category in "historical fiction" called "20th Century." That definition of 50 years ago or more is the one I've seen most often from agents and publishers. They wouldn't let me call "The Best Revenge" "a historical novel of the 1980s", but pretty soon, I can. :-)

May 27, 2014 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Nancy Adams said...

Great post, but the cross-genre book I've written doesn't really fit into any standard sub-category. Originally, I wanted to call it urban fantasy, but it has neither the erotic overtones nor the noir feeling of books in that genre. It's set in contemporary Paris, but the feeling is "romantic" in the broad sense of the word, not gritty at all. To make matters worse, my background as an author is in mystery, and I belong to mystery organizations rather than fantasy/sci-fi, so I've been calling it "suspense with paranormal elements." (Something I hadn't considered before querying.) Thanks so much, Ruth! I really appreciate all the links!

May 27, 2014 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Baxter said...

Thanks, Anne. Every Sunday is like a mini college course in my in-box! I particularly appreciated the 'four characteristics' of literary fiction link and it's concise definition of a genre that's traditionally hard to pin down. I've been going through a literary identity crisis lately, and your blog helped me realize I'm not a mystery writer anymore. I want to right works that fit all the lit fic criteria - character-driven, prosy, a message, and no plot boundaries. I'm a little disappointed that I'm not part of a more popular genre but it's also a relief that I don't have to keep forcing my square words into a round holes anymore. Thanks again for all your hard work and effort. It's very much appreciated.

May 27, 2014 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Baxter said...

LOL. You forgot the "new adult fiction" genre. I suppose "boomer lit" if not exactly hot on "new adult's heels" is at least limping up behind them. I just wish we could rename it vintage lit...:)

May 27, 2014 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Sarah Brentyn said...

Brilliant post.

Some of these genre lines are blurry (for me). Especially MG/YA. Thank you. And fantastic links!

May 27, 2014 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Baxter--You may be writing literary women's fiction, a very popular genre, thanks to Oprah and book clubs. It's a great genre to write in if you're going for a trad. publishing contract. I thought that link Ruth found was pure gold, too!

May 27, 2014 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Baxter, we mentioned NA in the introduction. It's not a genre, it's a demographic, like YA and MG. Same with BoomerLit They're not genres. You can have YA sci fi or MG epic fantasy or NA romance, or Boomer literary fiction, etc..

May 27, 2014 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sarah--I think I should have made the part in the intro about MG/YA/NA MUCH BIGGER. Everybody's missing it. Obviously I didn't do a good job of stressing stuff for the skimmers. :-)

If you go to the top of the post and look at the "note from Anne" in italics, it will tell you what you need to know. It's the part with the letters YA, MG and NA in BOLD LETTERS.

May 27, 2014 at 5:51 PM  
Blogger Baxter said...

My head's swimming with all the genres and demographics, but yea, I'm hopeful about women's lit, and HORRID that I never thank you too, Ruth. You're both awesome! Thanks for all the nuggets.

May 27, 2014 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Liz Crowe said...

Oh SURE!!! you take my "reverse dystopian thriller with a touch of romance" and make me feel all….useless??
But seriously, a great post. And one my "editor-who-shall-not-be-named" would have me POST OVER MY COMPUTER as we argue over the relative merits and ill-adviseability of "genre bending by rookies."
you rock.

May 27, 2014 at 6:28 PM  
OpenID mishaburnett said...

Well, it's a term that was used in the 1960's and 1970's to describe writers like Phillip Dick, Kate Weilhelm, Samuel Delany, Ursula K Le Guin, George Alec Effinger, Fritz Leiber--folks who wrote character driven speculative fiction that challenges the reader's preconceptions. It has a lot of the characteristics of literary fiction in that "New Wave" works tend to play games with language and narrative structure. It's a genre designation that has pretty much fallen by the wayside, but I think it best describes my work.

May 27, 2014 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger Julie Valerie said...

Fantastic article, Ruth!

And the comments in the comment section are absolute gold. I think some of the best content in the blogosphere take place in comment sections.

This blog is so valuable. You know neither of you can ever get burned-out and walk away into the sunset leaving us behind. We won't let you!

*Julie cracks the whip*

Keep doing what you're doing!

May 27, 2014 at 7:17 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Deborah--Thanks for your nice long comment. Blogger is giving Ruth some grief in commenting on this post. It's absolutely true that indie authors have more choices. They can write in older genres that trad publishing has tired of, like Gothic Romance or Family Saga, and make them new again. Indie publishing revived Chick Lit when agents wouldn't touch it and now most of them are looking for it again. They can also invent entirely new genres.

But it's not a good idea for a first time novelist to try to self-publish a "coming of age New Adult paranormal epic fantasy romantic historical Western thriller" and expect to find an audience. You still need one genre as a kind of platform to dive off into cross-genre and "bent" genre categories.

May 27, 2014 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nancy--It's sounds as if you found the perfect solution. Maybe even "romantic suspense with paranormal elements". Some agents might send it out as paranormal romance, others might choose romantic suspense. One thing about the genre names--agents tend to play around with them, and you can too, no matter how you plan to publish.

Ruth did so much work on this post. I'm very grateful to her. She found an amazing number of fantastic links.

May 27, 2014 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Sarah Brentyn said...

Oh, I saw it! I was thanking you both for all this info and the fantastic links but I meant to say it was especially nice for me to see the distinct ages for the YA/MG, et al.

May 27, 2014 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sarah--Oh, good! Thanks. Several people didn't, so I figured I hadn't made it visible to skimmers. I'm always learning what catches a skimmer's eye and what doesn't. I'm glad the post cleared things up for you. This stuff is super-confusing, because so many genres (and age categories) seem to overlap.

May 27, 2014 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Baxter—Thanks for the kind words. Anne makes an excellent point and one of the values of being able to (re)define genre is that it can help a writer stay on focus. A big plus!

May 28, 2014 at 4:25 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Nancy—Glad the post was helpful. The ability to refer to genre is so helpful—to writers/readers/agents/publishers! It's the literary equivalent of GPS. :-)

May 28, 2014 at 4:29 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Baxter—Thanks! No need to feel HORRID!

OK, maybe horrid. ;-)

Fact is, Anne and I are a bit like genre itself: we overlap and sometimes the borders can be hazy.

May 28, 2014 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Holy bleep! You mean business with that whip, don't you?

Ruth cowers in corner, sufficiently intimidated. ;-)

May 28, 2014 at 4:42 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Baxter—Hi again! Sorry to tell you, but "vintage" is already taken. The term is used to refer to backlist fiction that's being republished in e-editions and means that the original text has not be updated to include stuff like cell phone/computers. I wouldn't call it a genre but a way to alert readers as to expectations.

Vintage refers to fiction that isn't old enough to qualify as "historical" but isn't contemporary, either.

May 28, 2014 at 4:49 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Liz—No need to feel useless. Oy!

Since you're aware of the risks of "genre bending by rookies." and you're confident about what you're doing, there's no reason not to go for it. The worst that can happen is that it will turn out to be a great learning experience and put you on a great track for your next book!

May 28, 2014 at 4:52 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Thanks! Happy to hear the post was helpful.

May 28, 2014 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Kathryn McKade said...

Great post! Different genres can so easily cross-pollinate that it's helpful to see them broken down like this.

Now if only I knew how to properly market my novella (a futuristic scifi m/m romance with no HEA)...

May 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Kathryn—Thanks for the kind words.

As to marketing your novella, romance, by definition, requires a HEA or, at minimum, a HFN. (Happy For Now). Unless you have a HFN, don't use romance as a genre.

May 28, 2014 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Thanks so much for this fantastic post, Ruth and Anne! I can't wait to read P.D. James's Mystery Writing Lessons. I want my next novel to be a mystery and I don't really know where to begin. Also, I didn't realize Chic Lit and Women's Fiction were two different genres. I thought they were the same.

May 28, 2014 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger t said...

I'm an Nigerian who recently read this: on the same covers in books about Africa . I still don't know what an acacia is, but I recognized the object on the cover of your book of the week. Take note of how it's so completely cliche, with the sun too burning orange behind it :)

May 29, 2014 at 12:37 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Meghan—Thank *you!* Glad the post helped you distinguish between Chick Lit and Women's Fic. They are definitely different genres! :-)

May 29, 2014 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

t—Thank you for taking the time to comment. Many covers use the same image but each is different because of font, layout and, of course, because of the story inside!

May 29, 2014 at 5:53 AM  
Blogger ryan field said...

I remember when genre in a general sense meant the way booksellers would actually categorize and merchandise in brick and mortar bookstores. But with digital books and so many people shopping online now that's all changed and it is important to understand how genres work. Good post. (I just wish all online retailers understood this, too :)

May 29, 2014 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Ryan—Thanks! Writers definitely need to spend time to understand genre and, as you say, some e-booksellers could also do a better job!

May 29, 2014 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Jennifer J. Chow said...

Thanks for this great list! Sometimes I get so confused by the variety of sub-genres out there.

May 30, 2014 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jen—Thanks! No wonder you get confused sometimes. There's a reason for that: it's confusing at times as genres merge, morph and shift. ;-)

May 31, 2014 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Nicole said...

This list is fantastic, Anne! Thanks. I'm off to check out those SFF links.

May 31, 2014 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nicole--This post comes all from Ruth's vast knowledge and hard work. We're lucky to have somebody who worked so long in the industry letting us in on the "secrets". I think the subgenres of SFF are the most rapidly changing and most likely to split off. It's hard to keep up! Those links are a big help.

May 31, 2014 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Nicole—Thanks! I completely agree with Anne about SFF sub genres but, in fact, all genres morph and change—some at a quicker pace, others most gradually. Hope the links are helpful!

June 1, 2014 at 6:22 AM  
Blogger Lucie Novak said...

Great blog. I am still confused though. My book could be woman's fiction with sex ( not erotica) but men liked it, too. so maybe it is just fiction.
Thanks for excellent blog though!
Lucie Novak ( I am on Goodreads)

June 1, 2014 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Lucie—Welcome to the blog and thank you for taking the time to comment! Why not call your book Women's Fiction? In the blurb, you might add something about there being sexual content. That way, readers who are looking for sex will be interested and you won't risk offending readers who don't want sexual content.

June 1, 2014 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger TaliaYarmush said...

Thanks so much for this helpful post (and the links included within). I feel like what I am writing can be described as literary women's fiction (and Jewish-themed at that). But am I pigeonholing myself too much by being that specific?

June 7, 2014 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Talia—Thank *you* for the kind words!

Literary women's fiction sounds like a fine choice. You can use "Jewish" or "Jewish themed" as keywords to further define the reader you're looking for. Don't forget that you can always tweak your descriptors if they don't seem to be working.

June 8, 2014 at 4:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Talia--I want to second what Ruth says. Whether you're querying agents of picking Amazon categories, you want a broad umbrella. Then pigeonhole with specific descriptors later. If an agent says she's looking for women's fiction, just say it's women's fiction. If she's looking for Jewish literary women's fiction, then by all means tell her yours fits that pigeonhole. One of the tricks to a good query letter is to write each one specifically to the needs of a particular agent, after you've done in-depth research to see what she's looking for. You can find what agents are looking for your genre at AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net.

June 8, 2014 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Bernardo Montes de Oca said...

Just re-read this post thanks to the other (ten commandments) post. I struggled with finding a proper way to categorize my own novel and still I feel I'm not able to. My editor says one thing but I feel another and my beta group says totally another thing. How can I define my own novel? Thanks!!

March 30, 2015 at 6:20 AM  

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