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When someone innocently poses the very legitimate question, “So, what kind of writing do you do?”, here is my typical, and utterly unsatisfactory response:

“Umm… fiction?”

Of course, before I come up with this brilliant answer, this is what’s going on in my overwrought mind:

I think I’m writing commercial or women’s fiction—as opposed to literary fiction (wait…are they different?) There’s some mystery, some romance, some humor, and a hint of the supernatural. Hang on—if I say supernatural, are people going to think it’s sci-fi or fantasy? Some of it takes place in the 1940’s and 1950’s– does that make it historical fiction? But that part is just heavily fictionalized biography, based on my mother’s childhood. I’ll just say ‘fiction’… I can’t go wrong with just ‘fiction’, right?

For all sorts of reasons, I’m going to have to do a MUCH better job of answering this question: where would my book fit on the proverbial bookshelf? If I ever gather the courage to enter a writing contest, or send out my manuscript to agents (after finishing it, of course) mislabeling my writing could take me out of the game before it even starts.

Genre-ly speaking...

Genre-ly speaking…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at the various writers’ conferences  I’ve attended, it’s that agents and publishers can be pretty specific about what kind of writing they’re seeking to represent. From horror to sci-fi to mystery to historical- paranormal-romantic-suspense—you need to be able to describe your book by genre, and potentially subgenre. Or, alternatively, you might be able to compare your book to popular authors or titles. For example, I’d like to say my book is Maeve Binchy meets Janet Evanovich with a touch of Cecelia Ahearn. (I can dream, can’t I?) The point is, in order to convince agents and publishers that they should represent you, you must assure them that your book fits neatly into their “list,” and that it will be a snap to market your book, since you already know the type of readers who will be interested in buying multiple copies! And a quick and easy (well, not always easy) way of introducing your writing someone is to identify your genre.

For me, many of these considerations are quite far down the road. At the moment, I just want to be able to speak intelligently, or at least coherently, about “what I write.” But deciding on a genre can be tricky business. There is a lot of blending and cross-over between genres, and it’s quite possible someone’s writing can fall into several categories. If you, like me, are struggling to nail down your genre, here are just a few links that might help us get started on figuring out how best to answer the question, “So what kind of writing do you do?”

(The subgenre list here might make your head spin!)
(The Romance Writers of America website gives helpful guidance on what elements are usually present in the “Romance” genre and subgenres.)
(A thoughtful guide to their Literary Contest Categories provided by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.)

Do you know any other websites or blogs that can shed light on genres? If so, please share! Are you having (or did you have) trouble landing on your genre or genres? Do you think it’s necessary to identify a genre for your writing?