I’d like to spend the next few weeks looking at genre fiction, what it is, and the expectations of readers for each.
What Is Genre Fiction?
According to Publisher’s Weekly , genre fiction is a subcategory of fiction, usually thought of as commercial fiction (plot driven) as opposed to literary fiction (character driven). The categories of genre vary, depending upon who you ask, but Publisher’s Weekly (PW) tracks sales using the following categories:
General Juvenile Fiction
I don’t begin to try to understand exactly why these categories were chosen and labeled as they were, or why Fantasy and Science Fiction are distinct categories in Adult Fiction, while they are lumped into a single category in Children’s Fiction. It won’t matter to me as a writer, anyway—until I go looking for an agent or publisher, who will probably have their own definitions of what constitutes Fantasy or Romance.
What Genre Should I Write In?
My first suggestion to new writers who ask me what genre they should write in is this: “Write what you enjoy reading.” If you want to write Science Fiction, read Science Fiction. If you want to write Romance, read Romance.
Can I Write in More than One Genre?
I have been told by workshop leaders, teachers, agents, and others who seem to know what they’re talking about that writers should stick with only one genre, or at the very least they should change pen names when they change genres. That is something I have never done myself, though I know writers who do. (One acquaintance of mine uses so many pen names I have a very difficult time finding her books!)
Some quite famous writers write in more than one genre. Some change their byline, and some do not. For example, Jayne Ann Krentz writes stories set in Victorian England, contemporary America, and on futuristic alien planets. To differentiate between them, she publishes the first under the pen name Amanda Quick. For the second, she uses Jayne Ann Krentz. And for the third, she uses Jayne Castle (her maiden name). To bring her readers with her, when she started writing in the future, her covers read, “Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle.”
On the other hand, Anne McCaffrey has always used Anne McCaffrey, from her contemporary romances of the 1980s to her extensive science fiction portfolio, including the epic Dragons of Pern series, to her Fantasy chapter books she has most recently written for her grandchildren.
This is very much one of those “it depends” questions. I think the bottom line is, “What do you want from your writing?” If you want to find a commercial agent and publisher who specialize in a specific genre who can help you earn fame and fortune, then sticking to that genre for all your writing may be a smart move. As for me, I just want to keep writing stories so I can get those pesky characters out of my head. Sometimes the story is in the here and now, and sometimes it is on another planet or in a star ship. Sometimes my characters are just regular people, and sometimes they have a little more—or aren’t even human.
For as long as I keep reading multiple genres of fiction, I expect my stories will continue to be just as varied. But writing stories is the thing I most enjoy doing, so I expect I’ll keep my imagination primed by reading whatever strikes my fancy—and keep writing the stories that pop into my head in whatever genre they may be.
The next time, we’ll start looking at what readers expect from different genres.
Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com