I write what’s considered “genre” fiction. Genres are many and varied, from mysteries to fantasy to romance to westerners. Typically, genre fiction is anything that isn’t “literary” fiction or considered mainstream. It’s arbitrary and the bane of writers in the process of querying, especially when some genre writers (like Stephen King) are considered mainstream. How the hell are you supposed to know what genre your books is in, or if the agent you’re thinking of querying might like it or hate it?
So there are plenty of places that can define various genres, what the typical requirements are to be in that genre club. Here’s a few links of good explanations. But before you go clicking, or after if you must, let’s have an honest chat about actual purpose of genre is.
The purpose of genre is to sell books.
Let’s look at the evidence. A hundred years or so ago, bookstores weren’t divided into various genres for fiction. Instead, you were either a fiction book or a non-fiction book. Simple, right? But as more and more works found their way onto the shelves of bookstores, and those stores grew, genre fiction appeared. If you want to sell more books, you make it easy for your customer to find said books by grouping other books that are similar near it. And thus genres were born.
Because the bookstores did it, this new way of grouping naturally trickled over to the publishers. The demand for more “x” type of books could be quantified. Publishers started looking for “x” kind of books, and genres grew and grew. Now over in the YA, which is a baby genre compared to sci-fi and horror and the like, the genre is further divided up into YA Fantasy, YA Adventure, YA Paranormal Romance With Hot Dead Guys, etc. Okay, so I totally made that last one up, but you get the point. Genres can be subdivided endlessly.
Now I see a lot of folks who write fiction worrying about genre, angsting over whether they are following the genre rules. This kind of annoys me, and I think some writers cause themselves untold grief over it (I used to be one). Because, the secret is, what genre you write doesn’t matter. Writing a good story matters. As far as figuring out the genre for what story you have written, take a moment and imagine where you would find in it your favorite bookstore should it be published. Wherever it is, that’s your genre. It’s as simply and difficult as that.
Which brings me to my last piece of advice for those worried about genre, especially following the rules. It is good to know what is common in the genre where you think your novel best fits, to know what else is out there and what are considered “rules” before you decide to break them. There’s one easy way to get all the information you could ever want. Read. Read in the genre you think you’re writing in. Read in the genres you think you don’t write in. Read widely. Read everything. And for me, try to stop worrying and just write.