A Question of Genre

Having continued to send Latest Mistake to agents I have once again stumbled across the issue of genre. Agents often ask in your cover letter about who your target audience is, which authors you admire and which genre your story falls into.

Now I may come across as a pretentious artist here (please stop me!! J ) but I’m always uncomfortable with the subject of genre. I mean I like stories, pure and simple. And although predominantly Latest Mistake and Wendy’s House are love stories, does that make them romance, chick-lit, women’s fiction or something else? I don’t mind the label so much, it will, hopefully, in the long term help me reach readers who will like my work. But I find if I focus on which category I should fall into, then I write the story with the tropes of the genre in mind, rather than the other way around and I find that less productive.

I mean I’d be more than thrilled to follow in the footsteps of someone like Lisa Jewell, one of my favourite authors, who started out chick-lit but who has over a long and varied career developed and moved on to write deeply moving stories about life, relationships, familial complications and much more. Another genre that floats around is commercial fiction or commercial women’s fiction, which is perhaps where Lisa falls into these days.

Again, not a bad genre but perhaps vague, like so many of them are. What differentiates Stephanie Mayer’s YA and John Greens? Vampires and cancer? Perhaps it’s not the story itself but how it’s written and the topics discussed which dictates which genre it should be. I find myself thinking of books which, to me, don’t really fall into a genre, like Norwegian Wood or The Bell Jar. Perhaps these would be modern Japanese literature and feminist prose? Interestingly, these are specific and yet non-specific at the same time, as if the genre was created just to give these books a place in the market.

But is that what stories are about? Their place in the market? In a very difficult publishing environment, I suppose this is in part truth. Thinking realistically, while I aim to write about universal truths and articulate emotions and experiences, I am also aiming to publish and make a name for myself. I’ll have to reconcile these thoughts one day, whether that’s with my agent and publisher or whether by myself choosing my category on Amazon in preparation to self-publish.

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