Knowing what your genre is

I recently did a round of #tenqueries and noticed that almost half of the queries I looked at had incorrectly labelled their genre. In fact, several of them made up genres that didn’t even exist.

If you’re having trouble deciding how to label your book, I suggest looking at Lara’s post on genre. This post had me practically screaming “Amen!” several times. I’ll add just a few points, though.

First, I’ll say that sometimes it is difficult to pin down your genre. In fact, I happen to be guilty of writing books that defy clear genre categorization. I also love reading genre-bending books like Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky series (is it a fantasy, science fiction, romance, or dystopia? All of the above, I guess).

Comparative titles can help. I’m currently querying a book that takes place in a historical, made-up setting but includes no magical elements. I’ve talked to all sorts of people, trying to find out what to call that. Some suggested fantasy or non-magic fantasy. Others suggested alternate history or alternate world history. There was no agreement anywhere.

This left me in a predicament. However, I decided to use Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince and Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse as comp titles. These books have similar settings to mine, which shows the agent reading the query that there is a market for these books and I know who my audience is. My comp titles helped me clarify what I meant when I said the book was an alternate history.

Second, you should be careful not to make up your own genre. I get a lot of people pitching their book as “fairy tale-retelling.” That’s not a genre. Fairy tale retellings can fall into any number of genres. For instance, Cinder, Damsel Distressed, and Princess of Glass are all YA Cinderella retellings. But they cover SciFi, Contemporary, and Fantasy respectively.

YA fairy tale
These books are all YA fairy tale retellings. They are not all the same genre.

One final point before I wrap up. YA is not a genre. MG is not a genre. Those are audiences. When writing a query, you should specify your genre and category. For example, a YA historical fiction or MG fantasy. Leaving off one or the other will make it sound like you don’t understand your market.

If you’re still feeling a little lost, check out this genre map from Book Country.

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