Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Genre Poll Thoughts

Thanks everyone for voting in yesterday's work in progress genre poll! It has certainly been illuminating and interesting.

My assorted thoughts:

- First of all, wow, as of right now over 1,700 works in progress! And that's just among the people who happened to have visited my blog since yesterday. There are lots and lots and lots of books being written out there.

- People have asked if the genre breakdown corresponds with the proportion of books actually published or in proportion to my queries. In a word: no. Not so much. As you probably know there's a great deal more nonfiction and romance published than is reflected in the poll, as well as more books for younger readers (middle grade and younger). The poll is somewhat similar to the genre breakdown I see in my Inbox, but there too I tend to receive more queries for nonfiction and middle grade than is reflected here.

- I know I shouldn't be surprised, but still: when you combine paranormal and fantasy across age groups it comprises 32% of all works in progress. That's a lot!! Perhaps that's reflective of who reads my blog (even if I'm not exactly known for fantasy, though I'm open to it), or who's online voting in polls, or what people out there want to read, or maybe the lingering Stephenie Meyer/JK Rowling effect, but wow. One out of three!

- There were several comments to the effect of, "Well, my novel is this this this and this, and I can't bear to click 'mystery' because it's so much more than that." Well... if you don't click the mystery box your publisher will be clicking it for you. Books don't just stock themselves, people! As you're writing your novel you should be cognizant of where you're going to be stocked in the bookstore or categorized by online retailers. I'm sure there's a bookstore or library somewhere out there that just stocks every single book alphabetically... but I haven't seen it.

- Also: if your book straddles genres it's usually helpful if it has its feet more firmly in one genre or another, even if it combines multiple genres. A book can't have one half stocked in one section of the bookstore and one half in another. And from a nuts and bolts perspective, there are editors who handle mystery and editors who handle fantasy, they don't tend to overlap, and your agent will have to send your novel to one or the other. From there, publishers are going to be marketing to a certain audience and making the decision about where to stock your book. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions to this, but particularly for debuts it can be difficult if a novel is not quite literary, not quite paranormal, not quite women's fiction, and not quite mystery. You don't want to fall into genre no man's land.

- As I mentioned in the comments section, literary fiction is a category, not a value judgment. Literary fiction, at least by my definition, spans from the quite accessible to the most dense. A novel doesn't have to be FINNEGAN'S WAKE to be considered literary fiction.

- Aside from the broad category of what I call "book club fiction," which tends to straddle the line between literary and accessible and tends to reach a wider audience than "pure" literary fiction, there is not a great deal of non-genre "commercial" or "mainstream" fiction published today. Just about every single published book can be categorized (if crudely) into the genres I listed for polling. Most published novels that are "contemporary" and do not fall into a particular genre tend to be more "literary" and have more stylized prose than genre fiction. Emphasis on "tend to be," and again, these are categories, not judgments. The "Genre Fiction is JUST AS GOOD IF NOT BETTER THAN LITERARY FICTION AND BTW DID YOU NOTICE THAT GENRE FICTION DOESN'T GET ANY RESPECT AND HOW ABOUT SOME FREAKING REVIEW ATTENTION" police can drop their weapons. For the time being.

- "For the time being" is a really weird phrase when you think about it. For the time being... what? What is the time being? And how the heck does "time being" mean "for now?" I don't get it.


- Also to be clear: just because your novel is what I personally call literary fiction doesn't mean you have to call it that in a query or when you're discussing it with your friends. Different people and different agents have different ways of categorizing that vast array of books that go in the "general fiction" section of a bookstore. Some agents are more than happy to hear you call it mainstream or commercial or what have you. I call just about all non-genre fiction "literary" as a way of reminding writers that if you're going to write non-genre fiction it probably needs to be a bit more highbrow, stylized, and yes, "literary." I know I'm generalizing.

- In my opinion a well-written query does not necessarily have to specify a genre. Sometimes it's helpful to know what the genre the author thinks the novel falls into, but I should be able to tell the genre simply from the tone of the query and the plot description.

- Please remember: friends do not let friends lose sleep over genre distinctions. It's not worth worrying over. Just pick one, and if you find an agent they'll tell you what it is.

But what do you think about the poll? What does it mean???


Bane of Anubis said...

It means there's lots of competition... it's like trying to make it to The Show out here.

Not sure if it's good or bad that everybody's jumped on the fantasy bandwagon -- more visibility, I guess, but more rungs to climb as well.

Fawn Neun said...

Nathan, "Literary Fiction" still smacks of a value measurement, but yeah, okay, you know what you're talking about. So please clarify. Please DEFINE literary fiction.

(And is it the kiss of death in the current market?)

Would you suggest that women literary fiction be described as one or the other?

Charlie said...

My novel is a romantic thriller with elements of science-fiction. It will probably be filed under the sci-fi label because of a little time machine, but it's really not sci-fi in the classic sense.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not the kiss of death, especially with my broad definition. It can be difficult to place, especially without a good solid hook and when it's particularly inaccessible, but every book is its own challenge.

Please check the FAQs or publishing glossary for my post on what literary fiction is, and I'll also put it in the main post. It's probably the #1 most asked question at this point.

J.J. Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen P said...

I'd love to know a year from now, how many of those 1,700 are finished.

'Literary fiction is a category, not a value judgment,' should be a bumper sticker.

I was surprised there was such a fair split in the top 3 - mystery/suspense/thriller, fantasy and literary fiction. But if you add in the YA fantasy it is overall a much higher proportion.

Nice to see that many fellow lit. fic writers have the same apprehensions when discussing their work. The value judgment by others seemed a common thread.

I'm impressed that people are focused and aware of the markets to find a good fit for their WIP. And intrigued by those who said find out what else it might be?

There's a lot of competition out there! Good luck everyone.

J.J. Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.J. Bennett said...

It means there's a lot of people writing fantasy of some or another. I think people are writing them because...
1. They are selling well currently.
2. It's popular and a wide range of people read them.
3. Economy...People want to escape to somewhere else.

Bane of Anubis said...

Clarification: Trying to make it to The Show w/ a much smaller paycheck :)

Melanie said...

The poll shows that my ghost-story-that-is-otherwise-not-paranormal may be doomed? Ah, well...nothing to do but keep working on it!

Anyway, I always thought that "for the time being" meant "for the time that currently exists" which must mean "the now," because all other time is past and future.

J.J. Bennett said...

FYI... (Note to self)Don't talk on the phone and comment at the same time.

MeganRebekah said...

I think that people write what's hot. And not necessairly because they think it will sell better (which is a big reason) but because it's what they're reading right now. When I read YA my mind works like a YA writer. When I read Christian Fiction, my writer brain starts thinking that way.
As long as fantasy/para stays hot, you will continue to see most WIPs in those genres.

jimnduncan said...

Lol, it means we get to talk and lose sleep over genre distinctions. Yay! I've had this issue with my "suspense" novel. Suspense isn't really a formal category. It's one of those things lumped into myster/thriller. It's got a paranormal element to it, so then it's verging on urban fantasy. There's a light romantic element, so one might even push it toward romantic suspense if one wanted to.

However, I think the vast majority of books have some central core element that provides a definition. In mine there's a killer that the good guys are trying to stop. It's not a mystery because we no who the bad guy is. It's in that loose suspense/thriller category. All of the other elements are just icing on the cake, giving it additional appeal and flavor.

JES said...

You may have seen that Eric's Pimp My Novel blog has been exploring genre from a retail perspective. This may be where some of the confusion about "literary" comes from: he all but said, Do NOT write literary fiction -- whereas what you call "literary" fiction makes up the largest section in many bookstores.

Anonymous said...

I love that so many people share my passion for books and writing. I've learned so much from this blog and those who comment on it. Thank you.

J.J. Bennett said...

Just call me "Grace"...My gosh that's a mess...Sorry Nathan.

I still missed a word...Must not be my day.

Mira said...

What does it mean? Well, since you left one of my primary genres out completely, it may mean I've got a bit of convincing to do to get you to be my agent.

But I'm up for the challenge. The "bug you until you become my agent just to get me off your back" approach doesn't seem to be working, so I may need to try another tactic. I'll sure I'll come up with something....

I also think this poll means that people who write fantasy/paranormal tend to be more introverted and frequent more blogs. That would be my guess.

Also, as you and others have mentioned, those who are hoping for a big seller hit may be looking to ride on the fantasy bandwagon. It was interesting that your link (on Tuesday) to the best grossing movies of all times included almost all fantasy films based off of fantasy books.

I do want to weigh in on the competition thing, though. I do NOT believe in the competition thing. I hope people won't let something like this scare them. Just work on your novel. If it's good enough, it will get published.

I absolutely and whole-heartedly believe that.

Also, very important: no matter how much competition there is out there, what you write is completely unique. At the base of it, no one can compete with a unique product.

Nathan Bransford said...

I think what people mean by "don't write literary fiction" is don't write literary fiction that is inaccessible and dense if you're hoping for a large audience. Rightly or wrongly that's just how our culture is right now. Again, not a value judgment: I like dense books. There just aren't many people out there who read them on a regular basis.

At the same time, no one ever said don't write THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE or LIFE OF PI or CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME or THE WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, even though those can be classified as literary. Those books are literary and unique, they just happen to have an interesting concept/hook and are reasonably accessible.

Dara said...

I love seeing what others are writing! And it's nice to know I'm not the only one slightly confused about what genre my WiP falls into (I'm beginning to think it's more fantasy the more I read about it, so that may be what I classify it as eventually...)

But as you say, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. :)

Sarah Laurenson said...

I've been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club for over 30 years now. I also think your more tech savvy writers will heavily favor reading and writing SF or fantasy. Not surprised at the 32%.

It's the younger generation who grew up with computers as the norm who can skew the numbers back to what they might be in real life.

Trashy Cowgirl said...

I think that I am going to just call my wip Literary, though it is definitely Frontier and deals with some very female issues. If "Broke Back Mountain" had been sold as gay fiction, it wouldn't have found such a large audience, and if it had been sold as Frontier, well... I don't even want to go there.

I'm sort of walking a fine line, as well, and I think in that case, it pays to keep your many ambitions low key, and just go with the genre that can best carry the work.

Anne B. said...

Ultimately, I write the genres I read (with one exception). I'm not looking to write to what's happening in the market because by the time I get the novel written, re-written and then make the rounds of the agents, etc., the market will have changed.

Sigh. I just wish my preferred genres weren't so popular with other writers.

Dara said...

BTW, I do have one question: where exactly is historical fiction shelved in a bookstore? I don't think I've ever seen a section specifically devoted to it (only non-fiction history has its own, from what I've seen). Is it just normally catergorized in the "General Fiction/Literature" section?

Maybe the question was answered and I just missed it somewhere...

Anonymous said...

I view literary fiction as all the fiction that is placed in that big ass section of Barnes and Noble called Fiction and Literature.

With that definition, MOST of what gets stocked at bookstores is literary fiction. Book club fiction would also be placed here. It's a lot broader than you'd assume, since the people that write it are sometimes accused of trying to write "important" or "heavy" things.

Where do they get that? Lit fiction is fun! It's not necessarily self important but more just NOT crime/thrillers/mystery/ or suspence. Lit fiction, to me, is more character driven than break-neck speed plot driven.

Ulysses said...

I think the poll was illuminating. Non-scientific, of course. I think the discrepency between the numbers in the poll and the numbers in your mailbox have a lot to do with the audience you attract here. They tend to be
blog readers, which implies a certain level of technical interest/savvy. Those of us who spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer tend to be of the personality type to which sf/f appeals.

It's interesting to see the sheer numbers. Lots of us. I'd love to see the poll repeated in a year or two, just to see what and how things have changed.

What does it mean? That literacy is alive and well in the internet age. So many people writing...

jbchicoine said...

I’m glad for the discussion on “Literary” genre. Thanks.

David said...

1700 is the minimum number of WIPs. We don't know how many of your blog readers didn't vote.

Ink said...

I think the poll supports a thought I've been having for awhile: that the fantasy genre has the highest ratio of want-to-be-a-writer to reader of any form out there. Also known as the WtobeaW:Reader Ratio.

Which might have something to do with the inherent nature of the genre, the sheer amount of creation going on (creativity inspires creativity), and also to place of role playing games (both virtual and non-virtual). A lot of the people who read these books are also the core market demographic for role-playing games... and the people who are used to playing those games are used to creating their own worlds, their own stories, their own characters. It seems a short bridge to writing more complete stories. Thus... Fantasymania! (and, of course, its cousin Paranormalmania! People often think they're twins. Maybe the matching leather outfits...).

Just my thoughts. They're worth, according to internet research, about two cents... Very disappointing, really. Not even a nickel? I need better marketing.

Kia said...

I like literary fiction in that most of my favourite books can be classified as literary fiction, but I do think there's a point where it wanders off into ostentation.

A book like Life of Pi is great because it's so accessible and genuinely absorbing. To be honest, I think many of us persevere with the more dense variety of lit-fic novels just so we can say we've read them... or is that just me?

Ink said...


I like dense books... in moderation. And usually well separated. But, I must admit, as much as I love Joyce, I have yet to conquer Finnegan's Wake. Perhaps, indeed, it is unconquerable. Just the way Joyce wanted it...

Cat Moleski said...

I love your questions, Nathan. I think what it means is that what writers write is very similar to how a group of gnats moves through the air. Sometimes you’re in the middle of the pack, sometimes you’re on the edge, but it is all shifting so quickly and for seemingly random reasons. I just think it’s great that there are authors plugging away in the underrepresented categories. Who knows when they will be, not only in the middle of the pack, but the leader of the pack because they are doing that kind of work now? I am definitely an advocate of writing what you want to write whether it’s currently popular or not.

Trashy Cowgirl said...

Nathan, I'm not disputing that internet savvy types are more likely to both read your blog, and being techies are probably more into writing Sci-Fi, but I did want to make a little noise for those of us in the middle-of-nowhere who are blogging in via dial-up. I know, I didn't vote Sci-fi, but I just thought the world ought to know, we are out there. Yes, really. Dial-up.

Rogue Novelist said...

Throughout the few decades(six) I've been reading I've decided that wannabe published writers follow publishing trends, or in urban language that would be faddition. That pertains to all age groups. I know writers don't want to read this, don't even want to acknowledge this, but, just because Stephenie Meyer made history, not every writer-hack, copy-cat and jokester will make it writing a fantasy love story with bite.

It's not what category or genre or definitions of genres you write in that will get you published, it's your creative writing skills; the defining knowledge, education, experiences along with a different, exceptional topic that will generate notice.

Ignore the genres. Define your writing future, and write something evolutionary, a story that will bust open the minds of literary agents and publishers.

Kourtnie McKenzie said...

It means excitement, because not only am I writing a wonderful fantasy YA, but there might be wonderful fantasy YA that I can purchase in the following years for my reading pleasure! I always pick up the debut author hardcover in the YA section first. :) (Unless it's like Kristin Cashore's Fire; I'll make a specific beeline to Barnes and Noble for that one.)

hannah said...

re. literary/commercial--That's one of my favorite things about querying YA. I don't write genre, so I just pitch it as YA and avoid the whole "is this literary?" debacle. It will be shelved in the same place either way, but if an agent/editor wants to know if it's literary or not, they can read. It's always nice when you get a chance to shut up about your book and let it speak for itself.

ryan field said...

I thought the entire poll was fascinating. And I'm hoping that people are writing these mss because they absolutely love their genres and not because they are popular and they are selling.

Bane of Anubis said...

Bryan, when did you go and get yourself a pic? Surprised it's not of LBJ (playa, not prez ;)or even Mr. Bosh (the oh so creative nickname my n'er do wells assigned me in jr. high)...

Speaking of Joyce, never met a book of his I couldn't put down after a sentence or 2.

Anonymous said...


That's kind of insulting, and the literary equivalent to a criticism I see leveled in the music world a lot more often (i.e., "You listen to [that band I don't like] just to be pretentious.")

Sean Craven said...

While my book may be a genre mess if inspected closely, I know where it goes in the bookstore.

Wherever they shelve Jonathan Carrol, Christopher Moore, and Neil Gaiman. There is a market for what I'm doing, even if I'm not sure what it's called.

CKHB said...

I think it's fascinating that so many people are writing in categories that don't interest me AT ALL as a writer. (As a reader, perhaps, but not as a writer.)

I'm sure those authors feel the same way about my category...

RW said...

Nathan, can I suggest a modification of your maxim that literary fiction is a genre and not a value judgment? Perhaps it's more accurate to say that it's not necessarily a value judgment. Or not a judgement when used to answer the question of what category something goes in. The term seems to be slippery and therefore used (by some people, if not yourself or whoever is deciding what shelf to put the books on) as a value judgment sometimes and not other times.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan asked: "But what do you think about the poll? What does it mean???"

I think it reflects the WIPs of people who visited your blog yesterday and decided to vote. It might also reflect the current WIPs of people who visit your blog on a regular basis, but that might not be true.

Writing a really good book and categorizing it are two different things. Of the two, writing a really good book is the most important. If the book is amazing and has sales potential, it will get categorized.

Laura said...

I didn't read all of the comments, but the English nerd in me has to answer-- "for the time being" literally means for the time that is now. "Being" as a verb indicates a state of "is" and an immediacy, as in the actual present moment. So, it's like saying "for the time that is now..."

I think there is a lot of fantasy/horror/paranormal out there, I tend to believe it is being published more than other genres because it seems to be what people buy the most and tell their friends about. But that's just a "seems like from my own little world" perspective.

Anonymous said...

You never cease to amaze. Great poll even though it is (like you said) "non-scientific."

I think the fantasy interest and consumption could be attributed to Gen Y'ers, all 74 million of them. This is the Harry Potter, LOTR (re-birth), and gaming (mostly fantasy) generation. Simply put, this is what Gen Y'ers eat for breakfast. I don't think it is what's hot now. It's the essence of this generation like WWII was to Traditionalist.

Just one off non-scientific opinion anyway..

Rick Daley said...

We may have to wait two years to see how the poll reflects on the reality of what is published. Mark your calendars.

For those who struggle to define the genre of their work:

Go to a couple bookstores and look at the books on the shelves where you think yours should be. When you get there, pick a couple and read the jacket copy. Think about your query, and think about your manuscript:

Does it fit in?

And more importantly, does it stand out?

Anonymous said...

I was just pleased to see so many storytellers answer the poll... That's all we are, at the end of the day, genres be darned.

Rick Daley said...

Here are some stats from The Public Query Slushpile. Some of the same trends are evident here, like the heavy weighting for fantasy. Some of these categories will double dip...If a query is a Young Adult Fantasy I tag it with each label. Also, many queries posted to the site have multiple revisions.

These are based on the genres stated in the queries, with the exception of Guess the Genre which is the label I used when it is not stated.

Adult Fantasy (1) 0.3%
Chapter Book (1) 0.3%
Children's (6) 2.0%
Christian Fiction (2) 0.7%
Comedy (1) 0.3%
Commercial Fiction (11) 3.7%
Crime (6) 2.0%
Dark Fantasy (1) 0.3%
Dystopian Fiction (1) 0.3%
Epic Fantasy (1) 0.3%
Erotic (1) 0.3%
Family Drama (1) 0.3%
Family Saga (1) 0.3%
Fantasy (48) 16.3%
Gay/Lesbian (6) 2.0%
General Fiction (1) 0.3%
Guess the Genre (18) 6.1%
Historical Fiction (2) 0.7%
Horror (3) 1.0%
Literary Fiction (8) 2.7%
Middle-Grade (12) 4.1%
Multicultural (1) 0.3%
Mystery (6) 2.0%
Mythology (1) 0.3%
Novella (3) 1.0%
Paranormal (12) 4.1%
Picture Book (5) 1.7%
Romance (10) 3.4%
Romantic Suspense (1) 0.3%
Science (1) 0.3%
Science Fiction (10) 3.4%
Supernatural (2) 0.7%
Suspense (5) 1.7%
Thriller (18) 6.1%
Upmarket Fiction (1) 0.3%
Urban Fantasy (18) 6.1%
Women's Fiction (12) 4.1%
Young Adult (56) 19.0%

Bane of Anubis said...

Good on ya, Ricky D - Thanks...

Cheryl said...

I took your advice and strolled through my local B&N this morning to see where my WIP might be shelved by comparing it to existing published works. The sign on top of the bookshelf.... Fiction and Literature. Yeah.... that clarifies things. LOL

Thanks for conducting the poll. I'm not surprised by the large numbers in the Paranormal, SciFi and Fantasy categories, although I was surprised there wasn't more in the romance category.

Steph Damore said...

I'm with Anne B. - Generally I too write the type of books that I read. It's kind of along the same concept "write what you know."

For me it's not necessarily about following publishing trends - although I was happy to read
Pimp My Novel's take on mystery genre's sales and see they should continue to do well.

What does this poll mean? It means you've got some very talented followers Nathan who seem excited and determined to break into (or remain solid) in the publishing world.

Rick Daley said...

And finally, my $0.02 on the time being.

There are many definitions of the word "being". Given the glut of paranormal and fantasy fans out there, I choose to use this one:

-One that lives or exists.

In this sense, time becomes an adjective to describe the being, and the "time being" is one who has a strong influence over time.

"For the time being" can then clearly be seen as an offering to the being that influences time.

Of course, this would mean that most people use this phrase incorrectly, but that's not my problem.

Hillary said...

I really struggle with genre distinctions. My current book started out as a revenge thriller, but then I noticed how cliched thrillers are, and I started mocking the thriller. Then, the gods interfered, quite literally, and the Ancient Greek deities were thrown into the mix. (It makes sense, trust me). Although the plot is important,the main driving force of the novel is character development and internal struggles to find meaning in two worlds.

So, it's a tragicomic literary suspense fantasy that ends with a shootout.

Not surprisingly, that wasn't one of the options given in your poll.

D. G. Hudson said...

What the poll says to me is that a lot of genre fiction (combined) is keeping pace with literary fiction. (as of Thursday noon anyway)

IMO,it also indicates that many writers are targetting the young adult and middle grade audiences. (Thanks to Meyer and Rowling for that.)

It's always good to see a sampling of what's being written, but polls are always dynamic and tastes change. I don't follow trends, but it always helps to know the competition.

Kristi said...

Well, I think there are a lot of us who also write MG and PB's but I used one of my YA's for the poll mainly because I know you don't rep much of the former. Also, I think back to great books from earlier in my life (A Wrinkle in Time) and I think there will always be a market for fantasy.

As far as the whole genre vs. literary thing: I love reading both and don't think one is superior over the other. Besides, the definition of literary is "things involving or pertaining to literature" and one definition of literature is "creative writing that has recognized artistic value." If beauty and art are in the eye of the beholder, then it could be argued that all books are literary.

Quick question if you have the time: If an agent already reps someone who writes about a specific fantasy element (e.g. faeries), are they less inclined to take on another author that has a similar element? Just wondering. Thanks for the poll.

Valerie said...

I'm so glad I'm writing YA so that I don't have to worry about the genre distinctions so much. Yay for the Teen Fiction bookstore shelf!

Anonymous said...

though a necessary discussion, this genre chat post gives me a headache.

what is 'The Road' (an apocalyptic thriller?) 'Trauma' (a psychological Sharon Stone vehicle?) or 'His Illegal Self' (a coming of age, bicultural adventure?) 'Platform' (erotica?)

I know you're trying to provide clarity; stilll, these genres seem so reductive ... 'and now, I'm in the cracker section! Where's the coffee?'

What about the 'books I'd like to read' genre?

Ink said...


I decided to jazz things up. Except it's not the photo I really wanted. I seem to have lost (hopefully a temporary thing) all my best photographs. Well, I have lots of photos of my kids, but I ain't using those.

And I almost used a photo of Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was neck and neck.

judy b. said...

The best explanation of literary fiction I ever heard was at Squaw Valley several years ago. The person said, "Literary fiction has a matte finish, where general fiction tends to have a glossy cover."

I tend to write with a matte finish, if you're wondering, but I can dig the gloss.

Rose said...

With over 20% of your respondents writing YA, I think the poll means that your blog has a lot of younger readers who still remember the angst of their teenage years.

For the time being anyway. Until middle age catches up with you lot.

Tottering off on my cane, now.

liznwyrk said...

Judy B- that is hilarious!

Ink said...


And, yes, I'm ignoring that scurrilous picture you put up. 81, I think, is a terrible number. Very awkward. He should have stopped at 80. I'd have given him some respect, then. But 81? No.

Laura Martone said...

I agree with Bane (naturally) that the poll shows there's a lot of competition out there. Yikes! I was also surprised to learn how many of us are writing literary fiction.

But, Nathan, one thing that leaped out at me was your fifth "thought" - that even if a book straddles genres, it's still stocked in one or the other. Some authors seem to defy this policy - Carol Goodman, for instance, is sometimes placed in the literature section and sometimes in mystery... makes it hard for me to find her books at times. :-(

Bane of Anubis said...

81 -- 9^2 -- 3^4 -- a number to admire, methinks ;)

T. Anne said...

I'm glad there was diversity in the poll results. If every one of us selected the same genre, there would be cause for worry.BTW, thanks for your Literary fiction dissertation. I happen to agree with you.

Lydia Sharp said...

Okay, with all this genre consideration, I have a serious question for you, Nathan. You say you're open to many different types of novels, including science fiction (and we'll just ignore the fact that it's the last one mentioned in your sidebar profile). ;)

Out of curiosity (and for completely selfish reasons because I currently have 2 SF WIPs and another 2 in my head, waiting for my attention), how many SF novels have you represented recently? You say, "When in doubt, query me," and, not that I'm in doubt, but since you have been so helpful to me through your blog, I'd like to (at least try to) return the favor by querying you first.

How open are you to SF right now? I don't see any in your book list o' fame on the main page.

Firefly said...

Nathan, Everyone should read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. That is an awesome book!

I have a question -- is there a reason you don't have a category for YA suspense?

Yat-Yee said...

What I think of the post?

1)I like learning more about what the people in the industry, ie you, think of it.

2)1908 WIP? On poll? I feel a sense of belonging (so many people writing) and slightly depressed (how on earth am I going to make my work stand out? And what chance do I have really?)

Rick: thanks for the stats.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm definitely open to science fiction. I haven't had a match there yet, but I'm really hoping to find the right project. Bear in mind that I'm a young agent still building my list in earnest, so I don't have all of my areas of interest covered with sales. Hopefully I will soon!

Yat-Yee said...

Oops. 1809 wips. *One* poll, not *on* poll.

Nathan Bransford said...


I just didn't list "suspense/thriller" in YA and Middle Grade because of space issues. They go with mystery, as with Adult.

Lydia Sharp said...


Thanks for the honest (and amazingly quick) reply.

Scott said...

I think mainstream America's tastes in entertainment have simplified emotionally. That is to say, we seek escape in star-gazing, romantic and childhood type fantasies because adulthood is so locked down in complexity. It used to be we were still discovering ourselves, and some of us are still interested in that, but it would appear the majority of readers are discovering bills and the infiltration of a ubiquitous and dangerous technological media into their lives and the lives of their families. So much so, in fact, that they'd rather think about fantastic and fairytale-like imagery than what might be considered "contemporary lore". In turn, I think there are more writers these days sprung from the school of J.K. Rowling and Charlaine Harris and the like who sense a more even playing field and are out to feed the demand in their spare time.

As a male fiction writer, I know my breed is on the wane. Men don't like fiction outside of the typical thriller, and women might not care to cotton to my voice and ideas. So you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to keep writing because one day it might just be me who, in my understanding, turns the prevailing tide.

Margaret Yang said...

I was surprised that you broke down the YA categories because all of the bookstores/libraries I visit shelve all the YA together alphabetically. So, a YA mystery can be shelved right next to a YA fantasy. Do other bookstores do it differently?

Thermocline said...

"I tend to receive more queries for nonfiction and middle grade than is reflected here."
Do you want to receive middle grade submissions? You’ve said you probably wouldn’t take one on so I haven’t submitted my upper middle grade novel to you. It’s close to that border between MG and YA and I think you might be interested in the story.

Nathan Bransford said...


I did that intentionally so people could see the genre breakout within YA especially. I didn't intend for the poll to be strictly by bookstore section, that's just what I advise people to go by in case they're not sure.

Mira said...

Actually, I'm definitely wondering the same thing Thermocline is - Nathan, do you want to be queryied on genres that aren't listed there?

You don't list non-fiction, other than narrative non-fiction, for example, as well as others. Do you consider representation in these genres, or is it better to look elsewhere?

Nathan Bransford said...

When in doubt........

Nathan Bransford said...


Mira said...

Okey dokey.


The MBA Jenna said...

Nathan, I think the poll reflects your readership much more than the market.

A few 2007 sales numbers:

Romance: $1.4 billion
Sci-fi/fantasy: $700 million
Mystery: $650 million
Literary fiction: $466 million

So, clearly, there are many more romance books (which I think included all subgenres of romance and chick lit and "women's fiction" as well) being written and sold than any other type, by a factor of at least 2.

I've never seen anybody from the RWA loops in your blog, so I suspect you're missing that huge market segment.

The MBA Jenna said...

Actually, now that I think about it, the factor is probably much greater than 2, since the price of most romances (ex-Nora Roberts) is less than $10 and the typical mystery and lit. fic. book tends to come out as a $20+ hardbound, and then maybe a $12-15 paperback.

So a WHOLE lot of romances are being written and purchased to get to that $1.4 billion number.

clindsay said...

Also interesting to note that although 32% of your readers are writing fantasy & SF of some sort, only about 2% of editors are actually in a position to buy it.

Bane of Anubis said...

Colleen, be a major killjoy, why don't ya? ;)

Other Lisa said...

Very interesting stats. I think Brian's theories about this are pretty much dead on - a large percentage of fantasy/paranormal readers also write, and as a group spend more time on the Internetz than, say, mystery writers.

This isn't the only place where the percentages skew higher than sales - I've noticed on AW there is a high percentage of people writing fantasy/paranormal - that and YA.

Maybe because the Romance world is so highly organized because of the RWA - I am guessing that writers/readers flock to websites/loops that are dedicated to romance (like Smart Bitches for example) more than they do general interest industry blogs.

(me = quirky suspense with a sorta literary, matte)

Mira said...

MBA Jenna, I like your name. :)

Connie, where did you get that statistic from? When I look at upcoming books, there sure are alot of fantasy books coming out. I would imagine there's a real demand for fantasy in economic hard times.

Mira said...

Whoops. Meant Colleen.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

You blog absolutely cracked me up.

Yep, just pick a genre. B/c like Nathan said, the editor/publisher/agent can always change it. I picked YA/mainstream when I submitted my ms. My publisher changed it to adult/thriller. Wow. Not what I expected.

Anonymous said...

"A book can't have one half stocked in one section of the bookstore and one half in another."

But sometimes it can. I saw this just the other day in Books a Million with Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book." Stocked in both the children's section and general fiction section.

Nathan Bransford said...


For huge bestsellers: yes, occasionally. For most books: no.

wonderer said...

For those wondering if your book might be fantasy/SF/paranormal (note: that's what I write): My rule of thumb is that if it has fantastical/impossible elements in it, that kind of overrules everything else. It can be organized around a mystery, say, but if there's nonexistent technology, it's still science fiction; if there's magic or magical creatures, it's still fantasy. It doesn't have to have spaceships to be science fiction, and it doesn't have to look like LORD OF THE RINGS to be fantasy. (You all probably know this, but I've talked to people who don't.)

Of course, there are exceptions. Janet Reid reps mystery/thrillers and doesn't take fantasy/SF queries, but she represents Jeff Somers, who appears (to an SF/F reader's eye) to write near-future SF thrillers. Paranormal romance could go either to Harlequin or to an SF/F house. And one could go off on a long tangent about literary SF/F (but one won't ;) ). So: when in doubt, query widely, but start with the agents who list SF/F in their interests.

Kat Sheridan said...

Other Lisa, I'd been waiting for someone to point that out. I'm the romance writing kind, and while I find Nathan witty, interesting, and full of good industry info, I also know he will never rep me,and so must spend my allotted blog-reading time sucking up to--er, um--becoming familiar with the tastes of agents to whom I might actually have a prayer of connecting one day. Nathan, I do have your blog linked to my home page, and lurk madly, but I'm a simple writer of simple love stories (sort of--my little gothic one has a body count of ten before The End), without literary aspirations, and must share my time between eating bon-bons with other romance-minded types. But I did add my vote on your poll yesterday, so that counts as interaction with you. I just failed to also comment.

mkcbunny said...

This was a really interesting poll. That Pimp My Novel post on literary fiction had me down, but this follow-up is more encouraging.

I agree with previous posts about fantasy and romance writers being well-networked and organized. I think that has something to do with their being a high percentage of them on sites such as this one and AW.

I suppose I should take cheer that I'm writing literary fiction that has elements of fantasy, romance, and mystery but is not dense. :)

Meagan Brooks said...

Very interesting poll and discussion. Seriously, what a stimulating environment. This is the first time I've left a comment; I’m scared to mingle with all the other comments and their incredible brain power.

Nathan, I don't mean to change the subject, but I've had a question for a while, and I don't want to send an unnecessary email to your already loaded inbox. If you want to ignore this comment, then I've made it easy for you. Anyway, I want to go to a writer’s conference, but, as a new writer, I feel kind of lost. Does it matter what conference you attend? Are some better than others? What would you recommend? And how should I, as a writer, prepare? What are they all about anyway? I’ve seen some with classes, speakers, etc? Anyway, maybe one of these days, when you’ve run out of blogging ideas, you could post something about these mysterious conferences and your opinions, suggestions, or both. Or, if you want, you can ignore this, and I’ll melt back into the background.

F.Y.I—I did read the FAQ section, but I’m looking for more.

MBA Jenna said...

Thanks Mira! Before reading this thread, I'd forgotten that there is another Jenna who comments.

Before "Dallas" (yes, I am that old), I'd only met 2 other Jennas, ever. Now it requires a modifier.

On this blog I seem to post only about the business side of things (though I write paranormal chick lit: Jennifer Weiner with vampires), so the MBA seems appropriate.

Not something you have to worry about with a moniker like "Mira!"

Maybe it's all the sci-fi/fantasy I read, but I think naming is critical and I'm sad that Jenna has become so common that I won't even use it for my pseudonym.

Oh Bane of Anubis, I am sooo jealous...(smile)

Bane of Anubis said...

Hey Jenna, at least you don't have a name that's been in the top 10 list for X number of years (and, unfortunately, I have no cool middle name either -- something like Killian or Ulric would work) -- then again, no famous adult-film actors have my first name (that I know of) ;)

Haven't seen too many Miras... but one of my first novels of early teenage years had one (and she was a major badass :)

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks for the comment! You have very good questions, but quite honestly I'm probably not the best person to answer them because I've only attended a writing conference as an agent and thus a writer probably has a different perspective on how to get the most out of them. I do think some are better than others, but I couldn't really offer my opinion on that without offending some people.

You might see what people have to say at Absolute Write. I'm sure there are people there that can recommend some good conferences and give you some tips on how to get the most out of them.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road the same day that you posted the iPhone image the other day. Quite simply, that book is a beautifully written, complete waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Competition? I don't know about that.

An old rancher once said that the only competition he ever worried about was from the livestock that made it to the same auction as his livestock.

Writing a novel has an incredibly long lead-time and many, many of these novels will be in WIP (work in process) for some time. I’d be interested in knowing where these novel are in the writing process: Concept, developing first draft, first revision, second revision, seeking representation, or it-has- been-sitting-on-top-of-my-closet-shelf-for-years, etc.

The only competition I am worried about will be from the manuscripts seeking representation when I am putting mine on the market.

Nathan, could you conduct another survey to measure the manuscripts' development phase?

Meagan Brooks said...


Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

Nathan Bransford said...


Read my mind.

Scott said...

Anon, that's an interesting comment. Care to elaborate?

For the record, I've not read it.

Scott said...

Incidentally, my comment was meant for the anon who thought The Road was a waste of time.

Nathan Bransford said...

And mine was for the anon who wants a book-completion poll.

Anonymous said...

'Ugh', she gulped. 'Not to split hairs or anything, but were you to telling me to read your mind or that I read your mind?'

In all honesty, I have been trying to read your mind for years. I think I have failed yet again. ;)

Bane of Anubis said...

What do you call verbs that read the same present and past tense? -- b/c a present tense 'read' would be antagonistic (as in, 'read my mind, bitch'), whereas a past tense 'read' is slightly complimentary (as in, 'kudos, you read my mind')...

Also, FTR, I was not the anon hating on 'The Road' - I will do all my bashing Nonanon :)

Speaking of polls -- what about one regarding number of completed novels (trunked or not)?... I'm kind of curious to know how prolific people are (and where I stand w.r.t said peoples)

MBA Jenna said...

Nathan as long as you are asking about WIP status, it might be illuminating to also ask about the status of the writer? (agented? published? multiple books?)

Jenna the Unagented, Unpublished, Unfinished MS Procrastinator (...and MBA)

Anonymous said...

The silence is deafening...

V L Smith said...

I realize that my fantasy WIP must stand out even more than I thought. I believed that mastery of the craft and a riveting story were necessities, but the importance of those tools is revved up a notch with so many people writing in the same genre.

:)Ash said...

I write MG! I wasn't around yesterday to vote. :)

Anonymous said...

The Road is lush and haunting, and it goes absolutely nowhere. He can afford to spend all his energy on profound, poetic prose because he doesn't actually build a story. The man and his son simply wander through a world filled with ash and then the story ends. I wanted to love it, and did for the first 200 pages. Then I began to hate it. The headless human infant being cooked on the campfire spit pushed me over the edge. This is perhaps the first book I've ever regretted reading.

Suanne said...

I'd be interested an elaboration of Colleen's comment re: editors who are in a position to buy Fantasy/SF...

Question for Nathan or whoever feels like responding: Where would "The Gargoyle" fall in terms of genre?

Other Lisa said...


Er, well, wasn't this a "Work in Progress" poll? Meaning the books in question in progress?

Anonymous said...

@ Meagan, Dani Shapiro recently posted an very good - concise & illuminating - post about writer's conferences:

@ anon 5:15 p.m., I posted the question about where 'The Road' fits ... respectfully, I disagree with your assessment. The spare, almost simple language builds - and there is a story: about a father, struggling to get his son to some point of safety and give him human values in a world which has been, clearly, stripped of them. I found it riveting though, unlike yourself, it was a slow start with momentum that picked up.

The world he envisions (invisions?) is all too easily imaginable (even, plausible) esp. given the accelerating collapse of the arctic shelf, radical weather pattern changes and the USA's stubborn refusal to take accountability for its massive consumption of fossil fuels & attendant environmental degradation.

To my reading, McCarthy gave voice to an entirely plausible scenario, and a human dimension that I found devastating & sobering.

The baby eating stuff was gross. But I don't see how's it different from the real world (the extermination of 6 million during the Holocaust, European ethnic cleansing, African starvation, the entirely preventable collapse of the levies in New Orleans, Ronald Reagan's refusal to acknowledge, much less act on the AIDS epidemic in its early years, the ongoing - and current - systematic murder of LGBTQ people in Iraq vis revolting use of ?) events?

But have you ever read or heard of Soylent Green? Falling into the dystopia genre, S.G. portrays a world where human remains are reconstituted as wafers. Or, Logan's Run: in which overpopulation is managed vis immolation (and Farrah Fawcett runs a plastic surgery shop.)

Lydia Sharp said...

I'd like to second that "book completion" poll, since it hits really close to home. Literally, IN my home.

My husband wrote a military SF novel when he was 16, printed it all out nice and bound it with pretty little fasteners. It's still sitting on a shelf (been through who knows how many moves since then) waiting for a final edit...*let me do the math here*...13 years later.

I started my first novel little more than a year ago and it will be ready to query within a couple months from now. Big difference.

So what defines a WIP? Is it something you are "actively" working on, or just something that isn't "finished" yet? Because if it's the latter, I have more WIPs than I can count. But I can only WORK on so many things simultaneously (a limit of two novels and three short fiction projects--that's five different stories--before my brain fries), and the rest have to wait their turn.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

Nooooooot really something to joke about, at least not here.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Parsley said...

I'm surprised by the number of people objecting to being classified according to genre. Aren't genres designed to, like, help people sell books? Complexity is endemic to all books (in fact, even a "book" is generic referent that covers more than just paper sandwiched between cardboard), but you still won't see José Saramago's BLINDNESS housed in sci-fi, or Nora Roberts housed in literary fiction.

And that is A-OK. What would Judith Butler have done without artifically constructed identity categories to question? And what would I do if I couldn't wander into the romance section at the bookstore and select the dishiest cover at my disposal? There being a tanned hunk on the cover doesn't preclude meditations on the meaning of life from being buried deep inside. (Pun intended.)

PS: Nathan, I am so sorry, but the literature scholar and copyeditor in me just won't let this go: the punctuation of the title is FINNEGANS WAKE. I know this is naggy but that is what CMOS will do to you.

Mira said...

I want to say that more strongly. I really apologize. That was very dumb, and I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Other Lisa,

Err, this was a genre poll. It did not provide an idea of where in the development process the writers were.

I would have liked to get an idea about where people are in their work in process... but inferring from Nathan's lack of response to what I thought was a reasonable question - apparently, I was wrong and it was unreasonable.

A polite response would have been appreciated – but apparently, I was wrong to expect that too.

Consider the stupid question withdrawn.

Nathan Bransford said...

I don't even know which question I'm supposedly ignoring.

anon, I don't like the tone.

Matilda McCloud said...

For me, this was the most important thing I learned from the poll/comments:

"If you're going to write non-genre fiction it probably needs to be a bit more highbrow, stylized, and yes, 'literary.'"

Also, for a debut novelist, I think it's probably a good idea not to stray too far from the conventions of the genre.

DontEatRawHagis said...

I am working on some stuff right now, mainly short stories, but the one in my head right now boarders between Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.

Mystery - due to unexplained deahts

SCIFI - the Murderer looks like a robot and uses weapons that though are possible with current technology, have never been used in the way I want to use them.

Fantasy - Mythology comes into play alot.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I love this post. Your reflections, well thought-out as always, made me chuckle.

As a library worker, the idea of any library stocked alphabetically gives me nightmares.

As someone with a degree in linguistics, "for the time being" makes some kind of sense to me. Think of "being" in the sense of "existing (now)", more like a normal verb than a copula. I can imagine how the phrase might have come into being many years ago, although I haven't studied its history.

32% fantasy? Wow!

I wasn't really aware that genre fiction was looked down on until I became interested in writing. The crowds I always ran with were quite into SF, and though it might have been viewed as geeky by the rest of the world, the hard stuff especially was viewed as intellectual. Now I'm just somewhat bemused when I witness people looking down on it in comparison to literary (or "serious") fiction.
(Note: I like lit fic too!)

Chuck H. said...

It means that . . .no, it doesn't mean that. It means that . . .no it doesn't mean that either. To borrow from "Defying Gravity", it's an H2ik sequence. (Hell if I know)

Lyra said...

Everyone take a breather.
Phew. Feel better? Yes? Me too.
Back on task, excellent question. Where is everyone at in their WIP?
Nathan (and not just sucking up here...)thank you for this forum. It is so refreshing to see so much passion about what people are working on in all genres. When I flip channels, not that a little Flav of Love, or Charm School isn't...okay, so it's soul crushing, but entertaining nonetheless, I digress, when I flip the channels it is astounding to me where we are at as a culture, if you'll forgive the gross generalization. And that's why this community is so fantastic, because writing and reading is alive and well. And that is what it's all about.
Back to you.

Nick said...

In response to Lyra:

Currently I'm only on page 14 (2 pages into chapter two) of my WIP. New project I only started a few days ago though. Will grow quickly as August drones along.

Bit sorry I missed the poll because I had no internet access while I was away. Oh well, retroactively voted for the sake of it. Mystery, if anyone's curious.

Donna Hole said...

Thanks for this post Nathan.

Literary is my category, and my WIP is at the query phase. Though I can always fall back on revision when I get scared or discouraged.


wendy said...

I liked, not just the poll, but what it meant. I like how you, Nathan, are interested in your blog visitors and value their opinions. Creates a blog site with a feel of warmth and respect. Also like how everyone here is respectful and supportive of each other.

Trashy Cowgirl said...

Anon 7:58, hard day? Here's a cyber shot. It's Crown Royal, because Crown makes everything better. Actually, let's pass the bottle around, because you all deserve it. Writing is darn hard, never mind having to learn the biz on top of it. And, cheers to Nathan for helping us navigate it all.

Donna Hole said...


Pick something close to home, relatively small (as in number of attendees) and varied in genre. From my own experience, my first conference turned out to be an amazing experience, but I think if I had attended something like the The Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA), I would have been totally confused and missed a valuable experience, just because of its size. But, I gotta qualify that with the fact that I really don't like big crowds.

I was still a little lost and tourist-eyed at the Mendocino Coast one (it's only a two hour drive from my home and I love being at the ocean), but there were only about 100 people in attendence, and many had been to this particular conference several times so were willing to help a newby. The focus of the conference wasn't too broad: Non-fiction, historical, literary, YA, spiritual. Close enough in categories; not like having people reading erotica submissions closely followed by childrens.

Personally, I think I got more out of the smaller one for the first time. Now that I have a little experience behind me, I can't wait to attend a large scale conference.

Hope that helps some.


Nick Kimbro said...

I think when anything takes off like fantasy/paranormal lit has lately, people tend to read it, love it, then get real critical for a while and think "Aw man, if only this wasn't written so poorly", and soon that turns into: "I believe I could do better", and that's when they go on to write their own fantasy/paranormal/a-million-other-different-things. (Note: that is not to call any individual's WIP unoriginal. Just doing my best to think through what seems to be an obvious trend.)

As for the whole 'literary fiction' debacle, Nathan, I do think that your definition of it is still compatible w/ that of genre fiction, and also that the two really can't be held against one another. You describe literary fiction, I believe, as fiction in which the major action occurs internally, as say, personal revelations and such. In lit fiction the action is important insofar as it develops the characters. But how then do you classify writers like China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer, whose settings and plots are very much constructed with reference to certain generic traditions, but whose characters also respond to those circumstances in internally/psychologically interesting ways? The difference between genre and literary fiction can't JUST be internal versus external storylines, because every work of fiction contains BOTH to lesser or greater degrees.

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...


Well, I think there's often overlap. There are genre authors, such as the ones you name, whose work has elements of literary fiction. It doesn't invalidate the definition, it just means that the boundaries are always slippery.

Other Lisa said...

Take 2:

@anon - the title of the post was, "You Tell Me - What Genre is Your Work in Progress?"

I'm sorry if I sounded snarky, but I am a pretty literal-minded person. I took it to mean, my work in progress, not my already completed novel. Which is the same genre, in point if fact, but that's not the question that was asked.

I'm guessing you want to know how far along people are on their WIPs because you're wondering if the preponderance of fantasy is a reaction to the popularity of things like Twilight, but that's really guessing on my part.

My reaction is that writing a novel takes a serious time commitment and more importantly, a serious emotional one - I doubt that most of the people writing fantasy/paranormal are doing it because they think it's the best way to make a quick buck, but rather it's because it's what they like to read - and write.

Leis said...

@ Anon "I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road (snip). Quite simply, that book is a beautifully written, complete waste of time."

I don't object to any one person not resonating with what they're reading at any given time (and I'm thinking that's just what it was for you: not the 'right' personal time or stage to allow you to appreciate this work). But to call it a 'waste of time'? That hurt.

Leis said...

Thanks for the poll Nathan--as always, another great service to writers.

Personally, the results afford me a new and interesting angle of the business. It won't change what I write, or the style I write in--the two 'qualities' that define it as my own, unique voice. To compromise that would be a failure regardless of whether publishing chances might be helped.

Gina said...

32% fantasy/ paranormal is extraordinary.
In the UK there seems to be a major backlash against it; it´s practically impossible to get most reputable agents to even look at it.
Agencies have crossed-out unicorns on their websites; the home pages haven´t even fully loaded when the ´NO FANTASY´ warnings appear. Maybe the ´Rowling-effect´ has been stronger over here and they just can´t bear the sight of the stuff anymore.
For a while I tried to get around this by calling my MS ´paranormal´, but received sniffy replies (and it is far from straight or high fantasy). The few agents I did get to look at it all said that while they liked it and enjoyed reading it they couldn´t possibly represent it.
The two top selling living UK authors both write fantasy, yet no-one wants to touch it.
Can it really be that different in the US?

Ink said...

Anon 7:58 (and earlier),

Nathan said you read his mind, by which I infer that he will do something on what stage of the process people are in right now in terms of their WIP. Which was a polite agreement, though perhaps confusingly lost in the tangle of various anonymous comments (plus the ambiguity of "Read" being either past or present tense).

So, good question, and possibly good You Tell Me upcoming...

Terry said...

I get the impression that most people are writing for the market, maybe not intentionally. We do tend to write what we like to read.

Good Luck Scott with your guy novel. I know a lot of guys who say they'd like a better choice of fiction. Maybe you'll hit the right cord.

For the time being...I always thought it meant, until things change or until we can figure out something else.

YourFireAnt said...

I still look every time I go into a new bookstore to see where they have shelved Don Marquis. And he would be tickled to know that sometimes it is in literature and sometimes humor.


Christina said...

Seventeen hundred WIP, aren't you shaking in your booties at the thought that you're going to receive queries for all of those?!

Anonymous said...

It's over 2000 now.

The Writing Muse said...

I think the majority of authors are keeping their wits about them by not running out to write the next great vampire novel because it's the flavor of the week.

There might be a jump in the genre, but those who have a true passion for writing will write what naturally fits them.

Ink said...

I must say, I'm also a little surprised that the numbers for narrative non-fiction were so low, as I figured there were a lot of memoir writers out there. Are there a lot of memoir submissions?

marye.ulrich said...

I think your poll means:

1. You are a great teacher.

2. You care about what your readers think/are writing.

3. You are modeling best blogging practice and "inbound marketing" by using the techy poll format to increase interactive feedback.

4. You used the poll results as a springboard to a great follow-up post/lesson on "know your genre."

The only thing you forgot is HOMEWORK!

Good job Nathan.

caitmorgan said...


Hear, hear!

Lucinda said...

Reading all the comments to this plus the initial poll blog was very useful (and exciting with a little tension here and there).

I have now read the blog about "literary fiction" three times and several of the other useful tools you have given us on this site.

Although my brain contintues to rebell as to where my writings fit, I know it is something "out there" that will one day be dealt with and is not something to lose sleep over tonight.

Having no power over the industry or the labels attached, I concentrate on those things which I do have power to control: creating with words and learning how to do it effectively (too late for the MFA degree stuff, just determination and hard work along with great resources such as Nathan's blogspot)

To me, the poll means that there are a lot of people who love to read and write fantasy. This did not surprise me because within our human nature we all tend to want what we cannot have: super powers, powers beyond our reasonable control. Humans are fascinated by things that move freely about such as wind, water, ghosts, magic, etc.

Why else would decades of such things be still popular today? Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, My Favorite Martian, Star Wars, Star Trek, various vampire and walking dead terrors and oddities, etc will remain a part of our entertainment pursuits whether in movies, books, or our daydreams.

The poll indicates we are still human beans.

thanks Nathan for all you provide on this site.

Mira said...

Hey Nathan, so my trip might get cancelled, so I bought a ticket to your workshop just in case.

There's only one ticket left (although they did say they might add some seats.) Just in case anyone was thinking about going....

The bookstore person said it was 'daunting' how quickly it sold out. That's kind of nice. :)

Diana said...

The one third WIPS are some form of fantasy is close to the percent of all writers who are working on a WIP. It might even be lower. It seems to me that every other person that I have met in a writer's group in the past three years is writing Fantasy or paranormal. I think it's a combination of admiration for Tolkien, Paolini, Rowling, and/or Meyer that is behind these numbers.

The short story submissions I'm getting are running about half fantasy, horror, science fiction. I'm open to all genres of fiction.

Jeffrey said...

When I first began my book I had a (relatively) complete idea of the story, it’s themes, and how it would end. I didn’t concern myself much with genre at first, concentrating instead on getting my characters and their story off to a good start. Seventy five pages or so later is when genre became important. At that point the characters and story were developing a little differently than I’d anticipated, and while I had a clear idea of their destination I needed to know more about the vessel in which they were traveling.

In a post on this blog I found this: “In literary fiction the plot usually happens beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters.” It made sense to me, and from then on I thought of the book as literary.

I already knew where my story and characters were going, and why. The plot described what happened to them along the way (and how they felt about it). I came to think of genre as the boat I gave them for their journey. It was the story that mattered the most to me; the genre just kept them all afloat until they got there.

Anne Lyle said...

"I think it's a combination of admiration for Tolkien, Paolini, Rowling, and/or Meyer that is behind these numbers."

Behind the numbers, maybe - but don't lump us all in the same category, please. I was writing fantasy when Meyers was still learning to read :) (OK, so it was derivative drivel and it's taken me a long time to find my own voice...)

Gina, that's depressing news - maybe I should pitch my story as alternate history and let the fantasy elements speak for themselves. I don't have any dragons, vampires, wizards or elves in my book, so it's not what 99% of the population would recognise as fantasy anyway!

S. Melville said...

I thought I'd put my comment-vote in for literary fiction (subgenre: historical fiction).

I was always under the impression that literary fiction is character-driven, instead of quest-driven or myster-driven &c. &c. Obviously there's a plot, but the characters and their development are a wee bit more important.

I thought it was interesting to see all the hubbub about genre specifics and, not surprisingly, no one made a fuss over the historical fiction genre. I've always thought it would be marvellous if we could have two historical fiction subgenres: political historical fiction or social historical fiction. So often I browse the historical fiction sections of stores and it's all just war, war, war, war. Where are all the authors writing about actual people in history?

So if I want my 'historical fiction' craving satistfied, I go read classics. This is why novels written over a hundred years ago are my favourites.

Is there something taboo about writing social historical fiction? Or is history forever imprinted in the social conscious as politics and nothing more?

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize how complex, and generative of opinion, the idea of genre distinction is. Just a thought, though, and I might be filleted for my blasphemy, if people spent as much time actually writing as opposed to contemplating genre, maybe there would be a heck of a lot few WIPs and more books being queried.

Donna Hole said...


I'd talk to you at your site, but I haven't figured out how to do that. That sounds wierd - nevermind.

Let me start by saying I love your CIC site, though I don't always get to participate. And I love the current picture. I'd love it better if it was hanging above my bed. Is that a Thomas Kincaid?

Anyway; I see you're going to Nathan's workshop. Awesome. I'm going too, and I very much hope to be able to find and finally meet you there. So, be looking for a stalker type!

word verif: nalaterf. Is that something you eat only in the bay area?


Zen of Writing said...

Perhaps "for the time being" was once transitive, e.g., "for the time being patient." Or reflects similar older usages such as, "for the time forbearing." I thought about that for a time.

Zen of Writing said...

Perhaps "for the time being" was once transitive, e.g., "for the time being patient." Or reflects similar older usages such as, "for the time forbearing." I thought about that for a time.

Joseph L. Selby said...

You know, until shortly before your poll, I was calling my manuscript Literary Fiction, but uncovered a rather large internet push back to commercial fiction being called literary fiction. If it didn't meet a certain level of story/language depth, then it wasn't lit fic. Combined with Eric's post about literary fiction sales being down, it seemed better to just abandon the label all together.

Mira said...

Hey Donna,

I just saw your message. Sorry I didn't respond sooner!

I'm not sure if I can go to Nathan's workshop or not, but if so, I'll absolutely look you up!

And yes, CIC isn't really a personal blog...You don't list an e-mail, but I do - e-mail me anytime...if you see this message.

Sarah Erber said...

I see many comments stating that people who write YA fantasy or YA Paranormal, are writing it because it's hot right now.

I have to disagree. At least on my part.

I'm 23-years-old and have been working on trying to get published for almost 4 years now. YA Fantasy has always been my favorite genre since I was 13. The stories I write are plots I haven't seen done yet. That's why I started writing.

Unfortunately, this means I have a LOT of competition. *Smile* I like competition. *wink*

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