The “Your Questions Answered” Series
I’d love to learn more about the system behind categorizing books, specifically fiction. I want to write a book that fits well in a category and make sure a book I’ve already written fits into a definite category, but I feel like I’m missing a lot of specifics.
Also, I’ve learned from this blog that it’s important to stick to a genre so your readers know what to expect from you. What are acceptable parameters for staying “in your genre”? Are deviations like from fantasy to post-apocalyptic or romance to historical fiction still too different?
I see this question as a marketing challenge that is in place to help readers buy the books they want to read. As an avid reader, I’ve tossed aside novels that didn’t hold my interest after a few pages. Life is too short not to enjoy what I read for leisure.
The writer has to keep me engaged. And the writer has to give me what I expect. For instance, if I open a book expecting a romantic suspense novel but end up with a suspense novel with no romance, I might keep reading but will be sorely disappointed by the lack of promised passion. Likewise, if I don’t have any desire to engage in a romance plot that I think takes away from solving a crime, I’ll be aggravated by dealing with a couple’s romance on top of the crime-solving procedure. Further, if the book promises romance and suspense, but the crime itself doesn’t intrigue me enough to care whether or not it’s ever solved, I’ll be a disappointed reader. I hope this illustrates the “why” of categorizing books. That’s not to say that readers won’t buy a book that defies categorization, but those books have to be so special and unique that the publisher markets them in a way that emphasizes they are on top of a mountain, alone.
However, most writers create within a category. The author’s goal is to deliver on the premise. The name of the genre reveals all. For example:
Romantic suspense: A couple falls in love while solving a high-stakes crime where the clock is ticking, and they may be in danger.
Thriller: Characters solve a high-stakes crime where the clock is ticking, and they may be in danger; but no romance develops between them. The reader may get a glimpse of the characters’ home lives, which may include insights into their relationships, marriages, and parenting challenges. None of this will have anything to do with their crime-solving partner.
Cozy mystery: The crime, usually a murder, has already taken place offstage, and the present characters are generally not in peril. Rather than focusing on a couple, the story revolves around a personality who solves the crime. This category presents a puzzle for the reader to unravel along with the crime-solver, who may be an amateur. This method can be a set-up for a long series featuring a particular detective whom readers come to know and love.
Historical romance: The story takes place in the past, and love between the hero and heroine is front and center.
Historical: The story takes place in the past, with little or no romance present.
Contemporary romance: The story takes place today, and the love story is front and center.
Contemporary: The story takes place today, with little or no romance plot.
Fantasy: The story takes place in a world created by the author, that cannot happen as we know it today. The elements may include magic and wonder.
Science fiction: The wonders of science and technology offer the basis for the story, rather than fantastical elements. Usually set in the far future, but not always.
Post-apocalyptic fiction: A natural or human-made disaster decimated the world as the characters knew it, and the story is about how they must function within what fragments remain.
As for deviation, I believe an author can deviate within the genre as long as the story is fresh, as outlined in one of my previous blog posts, Inside or Outside the Box?
Just make sure to deliver on the promised tale.
Please offer any of your definitions of fiction genres I may have missed.
Out of the genres listed, what is your favorite title in a genre you enjoy reading?
For the entire series click here: “Your Questions Answered.”
I would add spy, espionage, action, thriller. Some writers come to mind writing this genre. Tom Clancy, Alan Furst, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming, John le Carre, Daniel Silva, Olen Steinhauer, David Baldacci, and Payne Harrison. This genre is defined by character, setting, and plot. It uses technology often and I have heard it defined as techno fiction. To me, I love to write this because my parents were US diplomats in the CIA. I find a lot of material to write this but I am blending faith themes with it and I love it!
How would you describe Women’s Fiction?
Tamela Hancock Murray
A book about women’s lives and relationships.
Through the night I hear clocks tick
as I fight for failng breath,
and know that too soon, I must pick
defining genre of my death.
Will I pass the cowboy way,
as seen on the late-late show,
pistols drawn and hell to pay,
spittin’ blood and chawed tobacco?
Or will I fall, Arthur anew
when all chance and hope are gone,
borne by Morgan and Nimue
to the Isle of Avalon?
Or might my Narian end be that
of a cornered fighting Talking Rat?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Glad to see you here, writing poetry for us!
Christian historical or biblical historical fiction: stories that take an undeveloped character or scenario in the Bible or in history, and weave him/her/it into a tale that fits into the background against which it’s set.
Thank you so much for answering my question with this blog post! I really do appreciate the time you guys spend investing in aspiring authors like myself. I have a few finished YA manuscripts (two fantasy and one post-apocalyptic), but I definitely need more advice on pitching and marketing. Your words are very kind and helpful.
Sharon K. Connell
What about a story where an angel becomes involved with a human and her life changes because of it. A friend/author of mine has written a story like that and is having a time trying to categorize it into genre. There is a love story in the tale as well between the human the angle has “visited” and a man. No suspense as we normally see it. Would this be Speculative Romance?
Tamela Hancock Murray
I’d try speculative.
How do you differentiate “suspense” and “thriller?” The romance angle? What if there is romance, but it’s not the main plot? Would that be “thriller with a dash of romance?” What takes “contemporary” fiction out of the thriller or suspense category? Or is is “contemporary thriller” or contemporary suspense? And then do we further parse it with “Contemporary Christian Suspense?” “Women’s Contemporary Christian Suspense Fiction?”
Tamela Hancock Murray
Suspense emphasizes danger and thriller emphasizes action. However, this is not a hard and fast definition so don’t delay sending out your project by getting stuck here.
No need to mention a romance thread as part of the genre identification unless it’s romantic suspense, which means you’re focused on a couple and their love story as a main draw.
Contemporary fiction that is not in this category will not have suspense or thriller elements, at all.
No need to designate thrillers or suspense as “contemporary.” That is assumed.
No need to identify a Christian novel as Christian when submitting to Christian agents and publishing houses.
The best advice I can give is for an author to spend a lot of time on publishers’ web sites and Internet bookstore sites and read about different genres. The plot summaries should reveal much.
I see literary fiction, contemporary and commercial fiction listed as genres at times. I think a lot of genres fall under these.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Tamela, what about women’s fiction? I wrote what I thought was contemporary romance suspense because my protagonist was in danger several times, but was told by an agent that it was women’s fiction…..now I’m confused…..
Tamela Hancock Murray
Without reviewing that particular project in its current form, I am reluctant to label your work. I recommend reading authors such as Lynette Eason to find out the true definition of romantic suspense.
How about novellas? Is there a particular genre that fits better into this category than others? And are publishers willing to work with writers that write solely novellas, or do they want novel-length as well? (I’m really interested in this category. 😉 )
As always, thank you for your help and advice! Blessings to you!
Tamela Hancock Murray
I recommend writing a full-length book with a series in mind, saving novellas to connect with the series as a promotion.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Interestingly, my favorites are not listed. I love YA and middle grade. Any of the genres you listed can be YA and most of them can be middle grade as well, just take out the romance. I also love funny books. Of the genres listed, I probably enjoy cozy mysteries the most. I love the fast pace, humor, honesty, and action of YA. I adore the adventurous and magical element of middle grade fiction, even if set in the modern world there is a sense of wonder and discovery. Yes, I do read Christian fiction written for grownups, but I find myself returning to youth fiction again and again.
May I throw my hat in the ring?
LitRPG. Literary Role-playing Game. LevelUp Publishing is an imprint of the London-based Ockham Publishing that specializes in it. A LitRPG novel is if someone played a video game and wrote a book about their adventures.
But the communities of writers and readers in the genre have existed on social media for years, mostly on Reddit.
When a pastor asks me what I write, I say Christian science fiction. A science-fiction reader: Christian Post-Apocalyptic fiction. What I actually write is Christian Western LitRPG, no harems or profanity (even though both are popular with readers).
Per your article, what I write best fits into “Christian LitRPG.” The target audience is LitRPG, but the subsection of readers within that who are Christians is so small as to be negligible. But there’s really not a better way to accurately describe what I write, except the words GameLit (which it isn’t, really) or LitFPS (which is what I strive for).
OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU
Hi Tamela. Thank you for this great post. My question is with the historical romance. I believe biblical fiction falls in here. A lot of writers do a lot of different things here. How would you categorise a female character presented as the heroine and another male character the readers think is the ‘hero’ but not as she gets married to someone else that comes up towards the end of the story? So that the love between the heroine and the ‘hero’ is not ‘ front and centre’ as in this case. What do you think?
How about domestic drama and psychological litfic?
Womens fiction – a weird one as it is not ‘fiction for women’ and there is no male equivalent.
A story (usually contemporary) where the focus is on the woman’s internal emotional/spiritual journey. It often deals with an issue like low self-esteem, forgiveness, accepting the past and moving forward.