Friday, September 15, 2006

What About Genres in Creative Writing?

Genres are often a mystery to beginning writers. Check out what Sophronia Scott has to say about the issue:

When Does Genre Matter?
By Sophfronia Scott

Thinking about genre is one of those places where writers can get stuck. They don't submit their manuscripts, or worse, they don't finish them because they feel the story "just doesn't fit" with any particular genre. If you think this way, then you're missing out. Genres can be limiting but they can also make your job easier if you understand them and how you can use them to help sell your book. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

What is Genre?

A book genre is a way of grouping books that have similar characteristics. The best known genres are considered their own markets as well: science fiction, romance, mystery, Westerns, thrillers. And many writers have made their names by specializing in a particular genre: Octavia Butler (science fiction), Danielle Steele (romance), John Sandford (mystery), Larry McMurtry (Westerns) or John Grisham (thrillers). A genre can even have it's own formula--for instance many romances start off with the potential lovers hating each other. If you aspire to write in a particular genre, it's best to know as much about it as possible--what's selling, what isn't, who's breaking new ground, where the best opportunities are, etc.

Genre is a Choice, Not an Accident

Instead of wondering what your book might be, make a choice about whether or not you want to write in a genre. There are good points for either choice. When you decide to write in a certain genre, your job is made easier because some decisions are made for you: target market, plotting elements (if the genre is formulaic) and who you try to sell the book to, since many agents and publishers do specialize. But it's best to make this decision before you start writing. Do you want your book to be firmly placed in one genre? Do you want to blend genres? You could run into trouble if you start writing without thinking about where you want your book to fit in. It's like building a house then deciding you want an elephant to live there and trying to push it through a too-small door! It rarely works because you end up with a tag that doesn't quite fit. You also have other people trying to push your book into a group and why should they get to do that? You're the one writing the book! Which brings me to...

Better None Than the Wrong One

When you haven't been clear on what your book is, you run the risk of sending it to the wrong agents and publishers who will reject it simply because they don't handle that type of material. That's a waste of your time and money. Now, this doesn't mean you slap a tag on your book just so you can send it to a particular editor. Don't be afraid to say your book is simply fiction and leave it at that. At most, you might want to specify literary or commercial fiction. (FYI, think of "commercial" as mass market and a possible money maker. Think of "literary" as a possible book award winner. Sometimes a book can be both, but it may be easier for you to think of your book as one or the other.) Some agents only represent novels. Some will say if they have specific genres. If your book doesn't fit the genres, ignore those agents and only pitch to the ones who handle novels in general. If someone asks you to categorize it, just give a brief, note BRIEF, story synopsis and say it's fiction. Again, be clear so you don't waste your time or theirs.

Does Genre Matter?

The answer is "yes", but the good news is you get to choose how much and in what ways it will matter to your book. So think about it up front and don't let someone else make the choices for you.

© 2006 Sophfronia Scott

Author and Writing Coach Sophfronia Scott is "The Book Sistah" TM. Get her FREE REPORT, "The 5 Big Mistakes Most Writers Make When Trying to Get Published" and her FREE online writing and book publishing tips at

Sophfonia is also author of the bestselling novel, All I Need to Get By. If you liked today's issue, stay tuned for more because The Book Sistah also offers FREE audio classes, FREE articles, workshops, and other resources to help aspiring authors get published and market their books successfully.

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