Believing in the Unbelievables

Articles

Know Thy Genre

by Kourtney Heintz, May 2011 edition of the CTRWA newletter Connections: http://ctrwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/may-2011.pdf

WHEN I SET out to write a novel, I don’t have a clue what genre it will be. I’ve never once declared, “This year, I’ll write a techno-thriller with romantic elements.” Instead, a concept comes to me. A kernel of a story. And then the characters slowly introduce themselves. The plot weaves together.

But once I write “The End”, the genre question can no longer be ignored. Genre matters. It affects every aspect of your road to publication, including:

  • Choosing which writing organizations to join. Most organizations are genre-specific (e.g., Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America).
  • Picking conferences to attend. Many are geared toward a specific genre or have breakout sessions that are genre-based.
  • Deciding which online course to enroll in.
  • Bidding on charity auctions where partial critiques are offered for specific genres.

And this is all before you actually try to pitch your manuscript.

During pitching and querying, your genre takes on even more importance. It’s crucial that you properly categorize your novel because agents and editors specialize in certain segments of the market. One may love romance, another mystery, some only literary fiction.

So how do you figure out your genre?

If you’re me, you list the key aspects of your story. Do some research on genre categories and pick the one you think fits. Then go to conferences and writers’ groups and wait for someone to contradict you. Sometimes, it’s easier to figure out what a story isn’t rather than what it is. Process of elimination definitely became my friend in my genre journey.

One of my books went through four genres. It had paranormal elements and time travel, so it started out as fantasy. Then I thought it was urban fantasy. But the main plot revolved around solving a murder. So I tried mystery. Finally, it ended up being a YA paranormal mystery.

My advice? Read widely and get a feel for different genres. Distill your story down to a logline—that’s the main thrust and has to encapsulate your genre. Try to befriend published authors and pick their brains about where your novel falls along the genre spectrum.

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