Genres and what they mean

Current word count: 25,574

New words written: 1,688

Words til goal: 14,426 / 380 words a day til the end of September

I banged out four days worth of word-a-day goals this weekend, which is great, and I love to see my number of “words a day til the end of September” goal dropping. Maybe I can finish this earlier. Pat on the back; gave myself some chocolate as a reward. Ooohhh.

Now for something entirely different…

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has been having quite an interesting discussion about genres over at his blog, starting with Wednesday’s You Tell Me: What Genre is Your WIP? post and following up on Thursday with his Genre Poll Thoughts post.

Ok, here’s where I’m going to make a confession that I probably shouldn’t make in public, but I’m going to anyway. Genre kinda confuses me. Well, let me clarify. I know horror when I see it. I know fantasy is when the story is set in another world. I know science-fiction has to involve, well, science. Where I get confused are all the subgenres. Urban fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, and the reason I get confused is because the same book can be assigned different genres in different places.

For example, I heard the genre “urban fantasy,” and, not having heard that one before, I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, urban fantasy has supernatural elements but is set in the real world. Ok. Sounds good. So, the Percy Jackson books, which are about the Greek gods still roaming Earth and have taken up residence in the U.S., has supernatural elements (Greek gods, monsters, etc.) but is set in the real world, i.e. the U.S. However, Wikipedia says the Percy Jackson book series is an “adventure and fantasy.”

Ok, I know, Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable source. It is afterall edited by whoever logins in and changes information, but it does make my point. I also searched Barnes & Noble and Amazon online and while they both have the series under children’s books, Barnes & Noble also has it under “Fiction & Literature” and Amazon has it under “Greek & Roman” and “Monsters.” hmmm

And if you go into bricks-and-mortar bookstores, children’s books are mostly differentiated by age, not genre.

So, where does this get writers like me who are writing novels that have supernatural elements but are set in the real world when we’re querying agents? Do we say urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, supernatural, paranormal (which, according to Nathan Bransford includes anything with witches and werewolves)?

Well, I kinda like what Nathan Bransford put at the end of his Genre Poll Thoughts post:

Please remember: friends do not let friends lose sleep over genre distinctions. It’s not worth worrying over. Just pick one, and if you find an agent, they’ll tell you what it is.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Anyone else confused about what genre they’re writing?

Write On!

P.S. In case you haven’t seen it, literary agent Colleen Lindsay is participating in a contest for a scholarship to the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York (only entry, travel is up to the winner). The deadline is Sept. 4 and entries must be mailed (i.e. no e-), so start printing and get to the post office. Oh, and it’s only open to entries that correspond to a finished novel.

3 Responses

  1. I agree that genres can be tricky. I usually call my Prana book–that has witches in it–fantasy. Mainly because it takes place on a fictitious island, and the paranormal books I’ve read usually are closer to urban fantasy (they take place in our world). But I suppose that really makes your point. I’ve always thought of Jim Butcher’s novels as urban fantasy since they are set in Chicago, but since the protagonist is a wizard it could also be paranormal. Very confusing!

  2. I know! So many subgenres to choose from. I guess as long as you’re in the ballpark, agents will get the picture. 🙂

  3. says:

    We all need a shorthand to sell it, to pitch it, in the simplest possible way and it usually starts with, “What is the genre?

What do you think?