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What Is A Genre – Ask Anne The Pro Writer

Ask Anne The Pro WriterHi Anne,

I have been working on my very first book for over two years now. I hope to have the book published by January of next year, but we’ll see how it goes.

I just have one problem… This is going to sound very…well I’m embarrassed to ask this. I am having trouble finding a literary agent because each agent prefers to represent books of a certain genre. What if I don’t know what genre my book is?

You see, the story is as deep and original as it gets; there’s nothing out there like it. It is psychological, fantasy, holds some sci-fi aspects, has a dystopian setting and government, is heavily emoted, and the story line is a mystery. It fits in with not one of those genres as a whole–it is just way too different.

So how do I decide on a genre? Is there an agency that represents most of the genres I mentioned above? It would be so helpful to hear back from you, and thank you.


Hi JM,

Good for your for getting your first book written. Or almost written.

The choice of genre can be a bit mysterious, particularly when a book seems to cross more than one. And you do need to be sure that the agents you approach handle your type of fiction.

Of course, the definition of genre isn’t exact. The classifications of fiction, non-fiction, creative fiction, romance, western, mystery, etc. etc. etc. are just that, an attempt to fit books into a particular class which makes it easier for the marketing people to understand what they’re doing. Most books cross several lines.

You might begin by deciding what genre your book is not and see where that puts it. For example, from your description it’s not a western.  It’s also not a romance although there may be romance in it. The romance genre is pretty specific – they find each other, almost lose each other and come together with steamy sex. There are sub-genres like suspense in the romance field.

It really sounds to me like it falls into the fantasy / science fiction genre and may be actually be a break-out book – one that starts in one genre and breaks out into another. Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb has what I’d call suspense romances set in the near future – mostly written for women.

I’d probably start by picking agents who handle fantasy / science fiction and show some sign of being open to bigger ideas. I’m not sure how you’ll tell that, but if you read their listings and their websites and blogs, you’ll probably be able to get a feel for what they want and decide if it fits your book or comes close enough.

Good luck and let us know what happens.

Got a question about freelance writing? Ask it in comments and I’ll answer it here.


{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Oleron

    I have just begun a search for freelance writing/editing jobs. I have an impressive amount of experience in international development, with an emphasis on what is referred to in the industry as “rule of law.” Before I went to law school I worked with a major publisher in NYC, as a publicity associate. In that position, long before the days of e-mail, I wrote “reviews” of new publications; these were mailed to a list of book reviewers who worked with local and regional newspapers. The idea was that I would save them time by giving them such a well-wrttien review that they would use my copy instead of having to write it themselves. It was amazing how often they did so, which had the effect of giving “my” book preference over books that the reviewers actually had to read!
    Today I have found a work at home editing position with an international development company. In order to apply, I must submit a cover letter, specifying how much I might charge PER PAGE. I have no idea what amount to suggest, as I have always been paid by the hour, day or week. Any suggestions?

  • JM, if you don’t know where yours would sit on the shelf, it suggests you may not be familiar with the genre you’re writing in (whatever it may turn out to be). Researching (and by that I mean reading) books similar to yours may be beneficial, not just in identifying your genre, but in positioning your book with the right agent and/or publishing house.

    Good luck!
    Nico recently posted..Writing with Cats- Episode ThreeMy Profile

  • Even if your book has elements of different genres, there should be one that stands out. If you’re still not sure, have several different people read it and give you their impressions. (Be sure these folks are NOT related to you–you want honest opinions!) Join a critique group–either one that meets on person or find one online.

    Right now, agents and editors are being extremely selective in what they take on. In order for an agent to pitch your book to editors, he needs to know where it will be shelved in the bookstore. And in order for you to get an agent, you need to know this too.

    Good luck!

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