My mother’s aunt was a rather well-known artist, Nell Walker Warner. Although she started out her career in Hollywood, painting backdrops for silent movies, in the 1920’s and 30’s she became part of a school of painters known as the California Impressionists. She was known primarily for her floral still lifes and seascapes, but I know her work best by the family portraits that still hang in my parents’ home.
A few years back, a cousin discovered that Auntie Nell’s paintings had gone up in value, and scoured the internet to discern the worth of paintings still held by the family. In addition to the portraits, various relatives retain a variety of florals, a seascape, a watercolor of Venice and a small view of a path with mountains behind it. Much to his dismay, he found that while the florals and seascape were worth notice, the others were considerably less valuable because their subjects were not what the artist was known for. Same artist, same quality, some even larger in size (with art, bigger is frequently better), but not the right genre.
Genre is an interesting animal, hard to define, typically trendy, and sometimes elusive. It is a classification used primarily to drive book sales, to direct a potential buyer to the right area of the bookstore, which makes it more likely to be found and purchased. It also serves as a publishing gatekeeper to ensure that saturation levels are identified, so as not to clog the market. Chick Lit, for example, is “full” these days, unless the manuscript is a knockout.
These classifications are great, as long as one has written something clearly identifiable. To the person behind the keyboard, genre is frequently of secondary interest. Many writers (myself included) have written entire novels without considering genre until query letter time. As a result, the typical manuscript is a blend of genres, and the typical author is confused about what to call it.
Amazon.com currently lists their book categories as: Nonfiction, Professional & Technical, Children’s Books, Literature & Fiction, Reference, Entertainment, Computers & Internet, Arts & Photography, History, Science, Business & Investing, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Thrillers, Religion & Spirituality, Biographies & Memoirs, Romance, Gay & Lesbian, Health, Mind & Body, Teens, Comics & Graphic Novels, Travel, Cooking, Food & Wine, Medicine, Sports, Outdoors & Nature, Home & Garden, Law, and Parenting & Families.
That’s a start, but what about Urban Fantasy, Cosy Mystery, Amish Romance, and the rest of those offshoots that agents (and editors) seem to care so much about? In an effort to end the confusion, I have scoured the internet for articles on identifying genre. Here are some of the best:
Writing to Publish:
And two that I just found this morning, thanks to Elizabeth Craig and her wonderful Twitter posts (it must be Unofficial Genre Day):
Stephanie L. McGee:
With the help of these experts, your YA-Historical-Adventure-Literary Fiction-Romance-Family Saga will soon be folded neatly into an acceptable (and hopefully marketable) literary classification. Good luck!