At first, I had a heck of a time deciding my novel's genre. One of the more amusing discussions of this is posted in my own blog in Genre Crossing and The Edge of Memory.
I read all sorts of genres, and so influences of several genres found their way into my novel. It's a mystery, but not a whodunnit. It's suspense/thriller, but personal. It prominently features romance, but it isn't a romance novel. It has paranormal elements, but they're fairly subtle.
This might suggest a feeling of "something for everyone" but conventional publishing wisdom states this is not a desirable place to be. Publishers and editors (and therefore agents) need to know where your novel will be shelved and how it will be marketed. After all, that is their job... to produce and market your novel. Time is of the essence, so simpler is better. Which does sometimes seem to leave a more complicated book a bit nowhere.
So, during my early rounds of edits, I sent a survey to my test readers asking them what shelf they would expect to find my novel on, and got a wide variety of responses ranging from "Psychological Thriller" to "Family Saga" to "Mystery" to "Romantic Suspense" to "Whatever shelf Jodi Picoult is on."
If I had paid more attention to that last suggestion, I would have been on the right track sooner.
In that same survey, I asked if there was an author or a novel that my test readers considered my novel similar to in style or audience. I received a number of flattering responses, including Fannie Flagg, Nancy Pickard, Maeve Binchy, Anita Shreve, and most frequently Jodi Picoult. After a little research, I discovered these awesome authors are categorized as "women's fiction" when they're not over on the "Bestsellers" shelf.
At long last, I found a clear genre match in the definition of women's fiction from the FWA:
Women’s Fiction: Fiction which includes subjects and themes that range far beyond romance. The woman is the star of the story and her changes and emotional developments are the subject. Relationships are at the core of the plot. Could involve relationships with siblings, parents, friends and not necessarily just a lover. Doesn’t have to have the standard “happy ending” but there is a life-affirming resolution to the story. Focuses on the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women. (Examples: “Shellseekers” Rosamonde Pilcher, “Fortunes Rocks” Anita Shreve, novels by Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg.)
YES! That's The Edge of Memory, absolutely. I simply hadn't realized that what I was writing (and reading!) was women's fiction. I had actually confused women's fiction with its subgenre, chick lit. The simple fact is that genres overlap. Books may be marketed in more than one genre. The single best way to describe your genre, in my opinion, is to identify comparable books and authors and determine how those novels are being marketed successfully.
So Take Home Tips from what I've learned on Genres:
- It's important in marketing your project to identify the best fit for genre category. This gives agents, editors, publishers the most efficient way to pitch your book up the chain.
- There are different expected book lengths by genre, so bear that in mind when marketing. I posted about wordcounts here and included Colleen Lindsay's wordcount breakdown by genre.
- Once you've identified your genre, read the current releases in your category to get a feel for the current market.
- Although important, genres can be flexible, too. I've seen agents posting that they market a cross-genre book in either category, depending on the pitch-recipient.