Literary Genre

Just reading those words makes me feel like throwing down my pencil and running away.  We have to know, we writers, what genre our writing fits within. It seemed easy to me when I first began writing “seriously.” Fiction. Cut and dried. Well, Ms. New Writer, that isn’t enough. What type of fiction: adult, women’s, children’s, oh, or young adult, (or now) NEW adult …?

We have to know. It is a rule we must acknowledge if we want our writing to be published and marketed. Where would your book be placed in a bookstore? Isn’t that the $64,000 question? What shelf would you send your friends and other interested readers to when they ask, “Where can I find your book?”

Mine will be on the “special” shelf labeled: adult women’s and some men’s’ fiction, but it is basically a coming-of-age story with the twist of a murder mystery and a lot of suspense. That is my book’s genre in a whopping nutshell. I’m not worried. From what I am hearing, there will be at least three more there beside it.

Seriously, I am concerned. The thing I most dread about writing my query letters and/or pitching to an agent or publisher is that question about my story’s genre. I strive to be as honest and accurate as I can be without sounding ignorant about the subject. It helps to know I am not alone. I have heard from and read of other authors who feel the same pressure about the genre business. Also, I have read many books which could be placed under several genres and are found on the “fiction/literature” shelves in larger bookstores. Whether books are written as plot-driven or character-driven they must have or be a story with beginning, middle and ending that keeps us involved; something needs to happen. Maybe it is mysterious, maybe it is criminal or maybe (oh yeah!) it is a steamy love story. Maybe it is two of those, or all three.

I have read until my eyes have crossed and my brain took a nap about the subject of genre. I have looked up the history of literary genre. I have researched recently added genres. I am genre-d out.  I am wide open for any helpful advice about the subject. Perhaps there is some sort of guideline I’m not aware of. Or one you have come up with for yourself.

I write and rewrite query letters often. I want them to be professional and most of all written according to the agent’s request. I want the agent to know that I have done my homework; looked him/her up and learned something about them that makes me feel that we could be a good literary match. I read about their agency, books they have successfully placed with publishers, and about what other writers think about them.

Ah, but I still have to know my genre …

Please! Send help!



… And help came. The day after I wrote the above whine about genre I received the September issue of Writer’s Digest and in it is an extremely helpful article on the subject. Written by Elizabeth Sims and titled “Shelf Savvy” it contains excellent, easy to understand information about the what and why of genre.

Most helpful for me was the “here’s how” under the sub-title “Your Role.” For instance, I need to remember who my reader audience will be and how they will relate to my book. Also, I really can’t stretch the truth. For instance, just because it is set in the west and is about western life-style, it cannot be listed as a true western … because it isn’t.

The article also says I can’t make up my own genre … darn it. I had a good one, too.

And the very last point (#6) is the best one. “Don’t stress about any of this. Get back to writing your next book.”

I can’t leave this post without including a plug for Writer’s Digest magazine. I have subscribed for several years and I can hardly wait for each new issue to show up in the mail box. Without fail, there is something interesting and/or exciting inside to help me along with my writing. I highly recommend picking up an issue for yourself.




  1. I was on my way to do something else, saw the announcement about your novel, found myself at your blog and loved it!! I will come back to keep reading. I’m so proud of you, you have done it!! I know you’ll keep growing as a writer and a person, but you’ve done it, you’re a writer! Each time you write about your ranch, you’ll be taking me back to the summer I was 13. I would have loved to trade lives with you, although I probably never told you. Or maybe I did. But I can remember walks on the hot dusty roads heading up into the hills, horse-riding adventures that I wished would not end. I had been begging my parents for a horse since I was about seven yrs old. When I was 13 I figured if I offered to earn the money for the horse and it’s upkeep (I’m amazed now at the money I made babysitting then!) they would give in, but no. Then Mom went back to work fulltime and I headed home each day to care for my little brother, and life went were it did… anyway, damn, you are a good, good writer! I am so proud and happy.

    • I DO remember Dory. Because I was young and took my life for granted, I didn’t realize how you felt then. Now, I have such deep appreciation for what I had. Thank you for reminding me of those good memories.

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