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.
– And “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: I kid because I love.
– 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???