Trouble defining genre

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linguista
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Trouble defining genre

Post by linguista » December 8th, 2009, 10:52 pm

The first novel I wrote hasn't gotten any further than a first draft, because I can't manage to define a genre. I even had problems summarising it when I was working on it. Every time someone asked me what it was about, I'd reply, "Well um- that's complicated." (In case you didn't realise that is a really bad response to give about your novel's topic...)

It's about two girls who grew up at different times in the same wrong-side-of-the tracks town and their decisions not to let their environment determine their future. (OMIGOSH! Did I just summarise it???) It's the kind of book that people who liked Stand By Me, To Sir With Love, Boston Public, and West Side Story would like. It feels too gritty for YA, even though both protagonists are 16-ish for their part of the story. What do you guys think?

In a wider question, does anyone else have difficulty defining a genre for any of their works?

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polymath
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by polymath » December 8th, 2009, 11:13 pm

Sounds to me like a fundamental theme category rather than a genre category, per se. Each of the titles named as "like" suggest to me something along the lines of a loss of innocence, coming of age, right of passage, some kind of initiation into a life stage story. There's more than the intitiations of middle grade passage into adolescence, post adolescence, and young adulthood. In fact, speaking from the other side of a late life middle age crisis, the stages and parameters of initiation come along pretty hard and fast and furious, numerously. New job, new place to live, new friends, new loves, new aches and pains, and on and on. Life is an ongoing initiation until the final initiation, isn't it?
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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 9th, 2009, 3:11 am

When in doubt: go with whatever section in the bookstore you think it would be stocked under.

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Hillsy
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Hillsy » December 9th, 2009, 5:56 am

To be fair in Straub/King's Talisman I think, if I remember right, both protagonists are about 14....and i wouldn't list that as YA....Is YA even a genre or is it more of a marketting tag??....I'd say it sounds more like a 'coming of age' novel but course you have to bow to Nathan and just find where abouts it would sit.

But I can sympathise....I've found though I can define a genre for mine, Science Fantasy, but finding anything similar, aside from a couple of books here and there bundled under SF (when they blatanlty arn't), is hard work....so does Science Fantasy just not sell? Would sticking Science Fantasy on a query letter instantly start the "Well it must be one or the other" debate in an agents mind opening a whole world of unwanted reactions? Do you just go with Sci-fi and trim the fantasy elemants out of the query, or go with fantasy and trim out the sci-fi?

Nathan:
Given that all successful novels have to be excellent, would listing the genre as Science Fantasy effectively shunt the query into the "cannot sell" pile (or at least the "This has to be twice as good as any other book for me to flog it"). Basically is there a market for "Science Fantasy"?

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Scott
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Scott » December 9th, 2009, 10:21 am

Bookstores and the like simplify to the max, so I'd do what Nathan suggests and not fight them. I've seen Science Fiction w/fantasy elements or horror elements in queries and such, but I think it's still going to be marketed as science fiction. My book would go into horror, but next to books that have many elements not in common. Just the way it is.

As for whether it's YA or not, that depends on how and for whom it's written, I think. Not the age of the characters.

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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Mary E. Ulrich » December 9th, 2009, 10:37 am

We learn and market by making connections, so choosing one pigeon-hole for our book feels like we are cutting out whole groups of potential readers. We want everyone to LOVE our story.

I know in the romance genre, the rule of thumb is that AFTER the book is finished, the author goes back and asks him/herself, "Is this book mainly about the relationship between the hero/heroine?" If the answer is yes, then you fill in, it has elements of science fiction, mystery, suspense, religion, historical.... If the book is mainly about a spaceship gone crazy, it is science fiction even if there is a hot love scene between the astronauts.

I would bet the same is true of other genres. What is the book's main storyline?

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 9th, 2009, 11:34 am

Yeah, as Scott and Mary say you have to narrow it down to one. Even if it's a book that's really science fiction but with fantasy elements or fantasy with science fiction elements, it needs to have a base.

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Rick Daley
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Rick Daley » December 9th, 2009, 5:01 pm

Picking the right genre can be simple. Just think like a reader:

If you went to buy your book at the bookstore, where would you go to look for it?

Bookstores are divided up into sections. Where would you go to look for your funny but heartwarming tale of love? Humor, literary fiction, or romance?

Go to a couple bookstores and look at the books on the shelves where you think yours should be. When you get there, pick a couple and read the jacket copy. Think about your query, and think about your manuscript:

Does it fit in? And more importantly, does it stand out?

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Hillsy
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Hillsy » December 10th, 2009, 5:21 am

Thanks for the response guys.

So, in short, Science Fantasy is not an accepted genre to either an agent, or to potential readers. OK, I can live with that I suppose. I'm not going to break me neck over genre, but I was genuinely interested if something that is somewhat niche has a better, or worse chance with an agent, compared to 'standard' genres, even if it is a bit misleading.

Still, I suppose a Sci-Fi novel thats 55% Science Fiction and 45% Fantasy is going to stand out quite a bit...hehe

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Scott
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Scott » December 10th, 2009, 9:21 am

Hillsy wrote:Still, I suppose a Sci-Fi novel thats 55% Science Fiction and 45% Fantasy is going to stand out quite a bit...hehe
And that's okay, as far as I'm concerned. Using my genre as an example, I think about early horror novels that dealt with ghosts and monsters and how, one day, someone dropped in a psychological horror book. The horror happened in the character's head and his world unraveled. Very different, but still horror.

That said, follow your target reader around. If you're really putting a science fiction spin on something that has a true fantasy core, will your readers find it in the sci-fi section. Do they even go there?

linguista
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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by linguista » December 11th, 2009, 9:14 am

Thanks for all the advice guys.

Unfortunately, I live in Japan, so English language bookstores are not an option. I'll see if I can find myself in one when I'm in Australia next week. For now, Amazon will have to do. They have drama as a category, and that works for me. So for the moment, I'm going with coming-of-age drama!

Thanks again everyone!

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Re: Trouble defining genre

Post by Alice » December 11th, 2009, 11:07 am

What about Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series? That is mostly about telepaths and their politics - but it's on another planet. Heavily fantasy in a science fiction world. Or Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness? More fantasy leaning in the on-world story line, but in a science fiction universe. And what did fans do when Anne McCaffrey had her dragonriders and harpers uncover a spaceship?

I think there are a lot of crossovers and blended stories.

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