Sunday, March 7, 2010

What category does your book fall into?

Most of you know that my first novel is finished and I am in the throes of seeking an agent. In the past three months, I have sent out nine query letters. Five agents sent me a nice letter saying we would not be a good fit. Three agents remained silent and one agent, (who according to his blog/website, always replies to query letters), has not answered. I used the five agents who responded as positive information. The more I thought about it the more I convinced myself that I was not querying the correct genre.

I reviewed the five agent sites and discovered that I misunderstood the genre they were really looking for. Most of them said they were looking for science fiction or fantasy, not science fiction/ fantasy. I am writing sifi/f and asked myself; self, is there a difference between sifi/f and science fiction and fantasy. The answer was yes, there is a difference. The answer was also on each agent’s information page. The “and” word means they represent either science fiction or fantasy, not the two combined. The terms commercial fiction, literary fiction and mainstream fiction were also on their info page. This is what they were looking for. I was confused. The only answer was to research each term. This is what I found.

Commercial fiction (CF): Commercial fiction is not a genre; it is a canopy covering many subgenres, like mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, fantasy and so on. This type of novel is plot driven, attracting a broad audience and tells the reader that they can expect hooks, action, kick ass protagonists and fast moving plot. These novels are not strong in prose and character buildup. The reader also knows that all conflicts will be resolved prior to the end. Bestselling authors would be John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich and Danielle Steel.

Literary fiction (LF) is character driven and appeals to a smaller, more scholarly audience. A work of literary fiction may fall into any of the genres. However, what makes it different are such things as excellent writing and originality of thought and style that raise it above ordinary writing. LF also contains multi-layered themes, long descriptive narration and bigger than life characters (the author takes his time and many pages developing his characters, propelling them into three-dimensional people. The author of this type of writing often breaks traditional writing rules offering the reader a strong narrative voice, multi-POVs and eloquent story lines. Examples of literary fiction are Cold Mountain, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath. Popular authors of literary fiction would be John LeCarre, Barbara Kingsolver, and Toni Morrison.

What happens if your writing crosses both the Commercial and Literary fiction lines; sits on the fence and attracts a larger audience? Is there such a beast and if so what is it called? The answer is yes, there are many books that cross both CF and LF. The answer is below.

Mainstream fiction is a term publishers and booksellers use to describe both commercial and literary works containing a universal theme that attracts a broad audience. Usually set in the 20th or present-day 21st century, these books deal with family issues, coming of age initiations, courtroom dramas, physical and mental disabilities, social pressures, political intrigue, etc. Regardless of genre or category, most of the novels on the bestseller list, are mostly mainstream, including authors such as Sue Grafton, Michael Crichton, or David Guterson.

Do you know what fiction your novel is?


  1. Excellent information! I don't think I have ever read such clear, concise descriptions of each genre. It's very interesting, and helpful.

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  3. Informative post. There is much ambiguity concerning genre, which you've managed to explain quite concisely.

    Many thanks.

  4. 谢谢打扮。 我增加更多。大衛

    Thank you for your comments. I have learned a lot researching the different terms. I am thinking of taking it a step further and doing a post on each subgenre.