Identifying Genre

This question comes in from Kimberly:

I find identifying the genre to be very difficult. What if your novel is a mash-up of two different genres? Is it bad to mention this? What about saying something like, “YA suspense with paranormal elements”? Any guidance you could give would be much appreciated!

Genre isn’t rigid, and many high-concept ideas borrow from multiple genres. For example, Emily Hainsworth’s THROUGH TO YOU was pitched to me as “YA paranormal.” Then I pitched it as a “magical realism YA” because I thought that it wasn’t quite paranormal in the way that today’s YA market takes the term. Then the published decided to market it as a “YA paranormal thriller,” but emphasizing the book’s romantic and sci-fi elements as well.

While it’s very difficult to aim into the mists in between different audience categories, say, “upper MG” or “younger YA” or “tween” and I actually wouldn’t recommend it at all, genre is a completely different beast and, in today’s more evolved MG and YA markets, is more malleable.

Kimberly’s example of “YA suspense with paranormal elements” is fine, though I would choose “thriller” over “suspense,” personally. “Thriller” is more of a buzzword in today’s market. Still, as you can tell from my THROUGH TO YOU example, everyone has a slightly different way of describing genre. At the end of the day, your publisher will make the decision of how to position it, just like they will end up choosing the final title. Title and genre are both subject to change on the road to publication. Pitch them accurately and to the best of your ability, and that’s good enough for the query!

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  1. Sheri Larsen’s avatar

    I’ve often wondered about this myself. Thank you for the advice.

  2. Artemis Grey’s avatar

    Good to know. This is something I’ve waffled over with one of my books. I first called it ‘post apocalyptic’ then (at the suggestion of several supportive, but rejecting agents) I used ‘dystopian’ because they felt that term was more ‘in’ at the time. Now, I’ve had several suggestions to use ‘post apocalyptic’ or ‘futuristic’ to try and separate the book from The Hunger Games and flood of dystopians. I have a feeling that should that series ever go to market, it will get described a dozen different ways.

  3. Kimberly Gabriel’s avatar

    Thank you so much for this advice. I hope this helps other writers as well. I find this to be one of the most difficult parts of the query process….finding the accurate genre in which to pitch your manuscript when it combines elements of more than just one particular genre.

  4. Julie Daines’s avatar

    This is a good answer to a question that almost all YA authors go through. I write “magical realism” and I love that term, so I’m happy to hear you used it. I wasn’t sure it could be it’s own genre.

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