Today, dear readers, we will pause to have a short discussion regarding genre, as this seems to be relevant of late with comp. titles and endorsements swirling round in previous steps of this Guide. I mean, after all, how can you properly find titles similar to your own book or authors to solicit in your particular genre if you’re not entirely sure what your genre is?
At first glance this issue seems like something one should have had decided, or at least had a pretty good inkling about, before one ever took up pen and paper. Sometimes, however, a book has a way of morphing into something else by the time it’s finished, leaving one confused, among other things, as to what it really is, including to which genre it belongs.
If this is the case, darlings, do not worry; you are not alone in your bafflement.
Today’s market is filled with genre categories that yours truly had never even heard of prior to this writing-a-book endeavor. Imagine my surprise when—in my own desperate attempt to uncover which shelf my book should someday inhabit—I began googling and found such bizarre entities as: beach fiction, chick lit, women’s fiction, new adult fiction, literary fiction, summer reads, contemporary fiction, urban fiction, book club fiction, airport fiction, realistic fiction, mainstream fiction, etc. I could go on and on.
How on earth, I wondered, could all of these genre fragments exist in the same dimensional plane? Aren’t they really all the same or, at most, slight variants of each other?
What followed then was a moment of delusional paranoia in which I began to suspect that this genre explosion was perhaps the result of an after-hours marketing session gone bad where someone had had the bright idea to play a little game called “Spin the Genre” which would involve, quite simply, having to come up with a new genre if said bottle of perhaps vodka (empty by now, of course) landed on you. I envisioned it going something like this:
“Okay, okay,” says one of them, taking a swig of his drink for inspiration, the bottle having just unfortunately landed on him. “How about ‘chick lit’?” he says blearily, causing the others of course to burst out laughing, some of them spewing their cocktails and thus correspondingly thumping each other on the back.
“That’s actually a good one, Smith!” says another one of them, presumably the leader. “Write that one down!”
“Don’t be stupid!” nervously chuckles the least inebriated among them. “Women would be up in arms if we came out with that one. You know, because it’s demeaning and all that. Calling women ‘chicks’,” Smith continues, with only a modest slur.
“Want to bet? If it’s trendy, they’ll want it!” the leader says, pushing a buzzer somewhere. “Let’s get Jones on it right away. He’s a whiz at demeaning women without anyone noticing.”
But I digress. We all know that this is not true. At that point in the conversation, the bottle was probably only half-empty. When it was well and truly gone, the following genre gems would have no doubt surfaced: epistolary, existentialist, absurdist, magical realism, prison lit, and roman a clef, to name a few. (These are all real, by the way.) And let’s not forget the sub-genres, of which there are hundreds.
Before one can differentiate between the genres and the sub-genres, however, one must take a big step back and differentiate between the different types of fiction, of which there are two main camps: literary and commercial. Briefly, I will attempt to explain each for your better understanding.
Literary fiction is usually characterized as having beautiful, thought-provoking prose that explores a deeper theme or internal character development rather than necessarily emphasizing plot. It is usually slower paced and is a work that exists as or borders on the artistic and is perhaps destined to become a classic.
Commercial fiction, in contrast, is more plot-driven and usually involves the characters overcoming a challenge or reaching a goal. It appeals to a wider audience and is usually read for entertainment, though its prose can be equally well-done and enlightened. It is commercial fiction that is broken down into all of the genres and subgenres, more and more of which seem to appear every day, as hinted at above.
The very best description of literary fiction vs. commercial fiction that I have ever come across is found on the blog of literary agent, Nathan Bransford. I highly encourage you, darlings, to take a look! It is both highly amusing and informative, and he will explain it much better than I can:
That being said, I am very much aware that we have not yet resolved the issue of genre itself. We are, however, disappointingly out of space, so we will resume this topic next week and likewise attempt to demystify the subs! Stay tuned!