Do you know your genre?

January 14, 2009

What every writer who’s serious about getting published needs to know is the genre in which their book fits. It’s that simple.

Like Hollywood with movies, the publishing industry defines and markets its product by targeting the genre in which it’s most aptly suited and most likely to succeed. No house wants to invest the time and money to produce a book they’re unsure of who will buy it. In the fiction market alone, there’s 22 primary genres a writer might plant a manuscript, not including sub-genres and mix-genre efforts. To get published successfully, knowing your genre is a big deal.

While I’ve listed the prime 22 genres below for discussion in a later post, I want to address what is possibly the most vexing question SCWC writers who are not writing easily definable genre fiction face: What’s the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction?

This is a difficult question to answer, even among accomplished publishing professionals, including agents, editors and authors. The conundrum is, what specific elements of storytelling and execution distinguish “literary” from “commercial” fiction — aren’t they kind of basically the same?

In short, no.

Commercial Fiction is geared to appeal to the widest audience possible through the depictions of accessible characters motivated by PLOT points. In other words, the plot compels the characters to act.

Literary Fiction is generally comprised of substantively woven characters who motivate STORY through their action or inaction, regardless of plot. Arguably language, that is the manner in which the author conveys the story to her reader, tends to be a major factor in discerning “literary” from “commercial.” In other words, “eye accessibility.” They are truly character driven.

To cut it really short (and subjective):

1. Commercial Fiction = Plot motivates character in the most plain and accessible prose.

2. Literary Fiction = Character motivates plot, often in prose more often about the language in which the story is being conveyed.

Now here’s the 22 prime fiction genres*:

1. Mainstream/Commercial
2. Literary
3. Adventure
4. Erotica
5. Ethnic
6. Fantasy
7. Feminist
8. Gay, Lexbiean, Bisexual, Transgenter (GLBT)
9. Gothic
10. Historical
11. Horror
12. Humor
13. Military/War
14. Mysteries
15. Occult
16. Religious
17. Romanc
18. Science Fiction
19. Spiritual/New Age
20. Sports
21. Suspense
22. Westerns

*From “How to Publish Your Novel” (Square One Publishers), which I highly recommend to any aspiring novelist.



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