Genre Help

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EMC
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Genre Help

Post by EMC » July 11th, 2010, 6:31 pm

I'm always being asked what genre my work is. I find it hard to label. I feel that if you don't write Crime, Fantasy, Murder, Thriller etc and are a woman, it's 'Women's fiction'.
My novel is about a woman losing her memory and the struggle to create herself from scratch. Is that enough for anyone to give a stab at picking a genre?
Thanks!
EMC

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maybegenius
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Re: Genre Help

Post by maybegenius » July 11th, 2010, 6:43 pm

Usually I've read that the "genre test" for your work is to think of where you'd find it in the bookstore or library. Would it be with the general fiction, or medical thrillers, or women's fiction?

Based on your description, it sounds like Women's Fiction to me. Which is separate from Chick Lit and Romance, if you're worried about that. I suppose something to consider is whether or not the story would be different if your character was a man instead. Does the fact that she's a woman have a direct impact on the story?

I get your hesitation - why should it have to be pigeonholed as "women's fiction" just because you're a woman writing about a woman? But unfortunately, it's about the market, and that's the niche that the market wants to put such novels in.
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Re: Genre Help

Post by sbs_mjc1 » July 11th, 2010, 6:50 pm

EMC: I like your premise!
As for the genre, I would label it "literary fiction" if you don't want to call it "women's fiction"; however, in querying, you would probably want to target agents who handle both.
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polymath
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Re: Genre Help

Post by polymath » July 11th, 2010, 7:00 pm

Convention based, traditional broad fiction genre brackets include, Thriller, Mystery, Western, Historical, Romance, Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy, and since the '60s, Literary. Erotica fits in there too, relatively recently since the final censorship barriers eroded in the middle Twentieth century. Before that, most erotic genre came from underground publications.

Audience age categorization is another relatively recent bracketing convention. Primary grades, middle grades, young adult, adult.

Another bracketing category bases on Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, or Event emphasis; however, they're not traditional marketplace distinctions. Character genre is most common and oftenest in Literary genre.

Identity issues play large parts in most category and out of category fiction.

I'd say a woman who's lost her memory and striving to resestablish her identity is Character genre, maybe classical Romanticism without an amatory tension convention substory, perhaps out-of-category Mystery different than the Murder-Thriler type Who Done It central suspense question convention. Will she rediscover herself seeming large in suspense question centrality, personal journey, an internal quest, probably Literary. Reintegrating disintegrated identity is a core theme of E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, widely considered a Literary genre novel. Maybe adult or young adult, probably adult.
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Re: Genre Help

Post by EMC » July 12th, 2010, 5:34 am

Thanks all! I would love it to be literary fiction - that's what I''m aiming for, but deep down I didn't know if it was. Will have to wait and see the finished product I suppose.
Many thanks for your time!
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polymath
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Re: Genre Help

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2010, 10:59 am

I suggest a cautious approach to labeling a novel as literary fiction. A quick survey of label key words at authonomy indicates to me a lot of writers are applying that label, when many aren't in my estimation literary. I'm sure agents experience similar sentiments only in greater volume. My first reaction is uh-huh, we'll see if it is, in fact, literary.

I believe a writer can aspire for literary fiction labeling, but in my opinion only the audience can make that value judgment. Sure, once it's made it'll stick, but as a catch-all label in the marketplace it's meaning doesn't really encompass a novel's niche market interests. Terms like character fiction, Feminsist Art Movement fiction, personal journey fiction, etc., serve as more specific and creative author labeling for self-marketing purposes.

Private optimism, okay, I don't see any issue with that, perhaps, at least, it's good for staying on purpose while writing. Publicly claiming a work is literary fiction, I do see possible issues. Like, an agent who's just read a spate of literary fiction labeled queries, which don't reach literary fiction's umph factor, might just be in a frame of mind to say no on general principles. I guess, a literary fiction banned word agent might see something labeled literary fiction like an artless suspense question artlessly answered.

Literary fiction as a writer's novel labeling is, in my opinion, in serious danger of becoming an insider running joke cliché from overuse.
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Re: Genre Help

Post by cheekychook » July 12th, 2010, 11:17 am

The line between literary fiction and commercial fiction can blur at times, almost as if there's about to become a genre that's half way between to two. Where your book fits depends on more than plot alone. Is it plot driven or character driven? What type of narration/voice? Is there mystery/suspense/medical thrilling as a major feature? Would this appeal primarily to women or is it potentially of equal interest to men? What's the premise of the story; is it more about the journey or more about personal growth? All of these things need to be taken into consideration when deciding genre, and it's often not easy to see a fit.
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Re: Genre Help:Women's Fiction vs. Contemporary Romace

Post by Charli Mac » July 12th, 2010, 12:52 pm

What is the difference between contemporary romance and women's fiction? While on the quest to find an agent I keep coming across this conundrum. On an agent's website I found he/she listed two of her bestselling clients as NYT Bestselling Women's Fiction Authors and I was shocked. One writes for Harlequin, they write romance!

I am shaking my head because I get the feeling that using the genre contemporary romance in my queries is sealing my fate. Should I be marketing it as Women's Fiction? I am at a total loss here.

On query trackers site they list a good number of agents who rep romance, but you go to their site and they have women's fiction listed, not romance. Is romance taboo? Is Women's Fiction the new posh, PC term for Romance?

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polymath
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Re: Genre Help

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2010, 1:18 pm

I think Women's fiction is a socially conscientious term for chick lit, which I feel has derogatory connotations. Harlequin Romace is a category of fiction with rigid conventions and expectations. Out of category Romance, a Romance marketplace subcategory, doesn't rigidly adhere to the category Romance conventions.

My thinking is a query letter's pitch and summary ought to show what category a novel falls in. Labeling accurately just shows a writer knows the category and target audience, and the novel will likely reflect that focus.

So I'm of the opinion writer creatively labeling a novel with some crossover or slipstream out of category distinctions will earn more brownie points than following the groupthink pack. Amatory Science Fiction, Social Dystopia, Rustic Fantasy, Romantic Crisis, Identity Reintegration Thriller, etc., something that says more than this is one of those routine category novels, like something that emphasizes a central dilemma's situation through setting, plot, idea, character, or event focus.
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khanes
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Re: Genre Help

Post by khanes » July 12th, 2010, 2:28 pm

I was also confused about the difference between women's fiction and romance. My book is a love story based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which is written in the first person and chronicles one woman's journey to opening her heart to a man she never thought she could love. It's really more about her, and doesn't include any point-of-view chapters from the man's perspective. However, the entire book focuses on their romance and her changing perspective. Is this women's fiction or romance? It does have some love scenes but nothing really erotic.

One of my writer/newspaper editor friends told me he thinks Women's Fiction is more about female relationships - mothers, sisters, friends, or a woman's personal journey. He thinks romance is more about a love between two people, and the brunt of the story is about that love.

What do you think? I was going to create a separate post on romance/women's fiction, but saw that it was already being discussed here! I just signed up for the PNWA writer's conference and hope I didn't pigeonhole myself by classifying my work as "romance."

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Re: Genre Help

Post by wilderness » July 12th, 2010, 3:10 pm

Chick lit is generally used for light, comedic stories--what you might also casually call a "beach read". Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones Diary are chick lit.
Romance does have rigid conventions and expectations. The main qualifications are that the primary focus is romance and true love, and it has a happily ever after ending.
Women's fiction usually means a woman is going through an internal journey, and that is the primary focus. Even if there is a romance, it is not the main focus. The romance does not necessarily have to end happily. This is usually a "heavier" story than a chick lit. Eat, Pray, Love is women's fiction.

Commercial or literary fiction is about the range of appeal. Is the internal journey specific to women or more about humanity and gender-neutral?
Last edited by wilderness on July 12th, 2010, 3:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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maybegenius
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Re: Genre Help

Post by maybegenius » July 12th, 2010, 3:13 pm

Unfortunately, the lines are kind of blurred between these genres - "Chick Lit" is typically considered lighter reading; more "frothy." Akin to "Chick Flicks." Women's Fiction is supposedly deeper and more serious, more relationship and character building, heavier plots. However, Chick Lit has actually gone by the wayside. Because it's developed a connotation for being shallow, booksellers are wary of using the term. So they lump it in with Women's Fiction now.
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Re: Genre Help

Post by Down the well » July 12th, 2010, 3:17 pm

khanes wrote:One of my writer/newspaper editor friends told me he thinks Women's Fiction is more about female relationships - mothers, sisters, friends, or a woman's personal journey. He thinks romance is more about a love between two people, and the brunt of the story is about that love.
Another hand up for a novel that has strong elements of romance, but is not a romance novel.

I say it isn't a romance novel because I think there are certain reader expectations for anything labeled romance: obstacles constantly at work to keep the lovers apart, those near misses when you think they'll get together, and then, of course, the happy ending when they finally do. If you don't think your novel follows the conventions of a romance novel, but it's a love story, where does that leave you?

I always think of Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier when trying to figure out how to label my novel (not comparing mine to his at all). The love story drives the plot. Inman's entire (destructive) journey is undertaken so he can get back to the woman he loves. Yet, no one would label it a romance novel. It certainly doesn't (spoiler alert) have a happy ending. I suppose people might call it literary, or historical fiction, but I'd be curious to know if he ever thought, hmmm...am I writing romance? Probably not since there is so much more going on in the novel and, unlike me, likely knew exactly what he was doing.

And women's fiction? I think of Jodi Picoult novels. There is often romance, but usually there is something else driving the plot: a mystery, a crime, an unresolved misunderstanding. I'm guessing the majority of her audience is women, since I do think she writes with a female sensibility in mind.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up the subject. It's a head-scratcher to be sure.

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Re: Genre Help

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2010, 4:01 pm

Other conventions of category amatory Romance literature, Romanticism's poetic justice convention, reward good and punish evil, and sexual tension from the will they or won't they artfully posed central suspense question. Romanticism's conventions are heavily incorporated in amatory Romance literature. Many classical definition Romance novels contain love interests but aren't necessarily amatory Romance. Quests to slay the dragon, rescue the damsel in distress, and live happily married ever after, for instance.

Frazier's Cold Mountain is widely considered both Historical and Literary fiction. Period history authentic to its depicted era, and strong parallel's with Homer's Odssey. Frazier says the novel was inspired by oral family traditions about an ancestor. Odysseus quests homeward against insuperable odds. Once home he must prove he's worthy of reclaiming his throne, his queen Penelope, his kingdom, his rightful place in his home. Inman's journey isn't quite as fantastical, but equally as insuperable as Odysseus'.

The Feminist Art Movement inspired during the Postmodern mid Twentieth century societal reorganization depicts women's unique roles in society. Not necessarily radical or reactionary, in general the movement emphasizes womankind's lives, values, needs, and contributions to the larger community. "The feminist art movement refers to the efforts and accomplishments of feminists internationally to make art that reflects women's lives and experiences, as well as to change the foundation for the production and reception of contemporary art. It also sought to bring more visibility to women within art history and art practice." Wikipedia: Feminist Art Movement.

Regardless of a novel's genre category, booksellers usually choose where they shelve titles.
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Re: Genre Help

Post by cheekychook » July 12th, 2010, 6:58 pm

Romance novels have more rules and regulations about how they're put together than most pieces of IKEA furniture.

Nicholas Sparks is a prime example. His stories all contain a romance driven plot, but not one of them fits the criteria to be called a "romance novel". They're love stories, not romances.

Chick Lit requires a strong female protagonist who makes some sort of journey in the course of the story and comes out stronger for it in the end.

Bridget Jones and the Shopaholic series are classic examples of Chick Lit. In the early days of the genre most publishers actually required that the main character live in a city and have a "real job". After a while they loosened the reigns and decided to allow subcategories in which the main character could either be a stay at home mom/single mom/woman over 35. The strong-female-MC-positive-journey rule remained intact.

Women's fiction is commercial fiction that is more than likely going to appeal to the female reader; it can cross over with commercial fiction if men might also find the story appealing. Often times a love story or romantic tale will be part of the plot line; a positive outcome is not required.
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