Genre Confusion

Source: Wikimedia

When people ask what genre I write in, I never really know how to answer the question. The question brings more than a little anxiety, as the honest answer is simply “I don’t know.”

My first book Polar Night is a detective story that features a vampire as its antagonist. My second, The Ghosts of Aquinnah, includes a ghost, but it’s really more of a mystery combined with a love story than a paranormal novel. I would classify both of my books as mash-ups of different genres. But “mixed bag” isn't exactly the answer people are looking for when they ask about genre.

I understand the importance of genre and can’t deny I have sometimes been envious of authors who write in clear-cut genres like science fiction, suspense, romance, or “chick lit.” I've seen authors do brilliant marketing work in creating their brand and platform based around their genre of choice. If I had to pick a brand for myself I suppose something involving a very confused person would be most accurate at this point.

But I also can’t deny that sometimes I wonder why the answer to the genre question can’t simply be “fiction.” When it comes to reading, I've never thought much about genre. If I see or hear about a book that sounds good to me I read it. And I can think of tons of books I've read over the years that don’t seem to fall into any one genre.

One of the things I enjoy about being part of Untethered Realms is that I love that the designation of speculative fiction provides such a big umbrella. I think I have a better answer for the genre question now.

As readers, how important is genre to you? Does it bother you if books fall into more than one category?


  1. Genre has a tendency to drive the other aspects of pieces of literature, especially if you include sub-genre. If a book is epic fantasy, you know what you're getting, same with space opera and western. If you're writing a paranormal cross, you could go with a horror cop-out like they did with Dan Wells' John Cleaver series. It's not very horrific, and it could be considered crime based upon plot aspects, but it has a demon as an antagonist, so it's horror. I like to know the genre of the book I'm reading before I read it, but that's just me. However, I think (although I do not know) the majority of readers like to know the genre of what they're reading.

  2. At it's core, all my writing has a spec fic element but within that I've written in several sub genres.

  3. I claim sci-fi and fantasy, but I write mash ups, too. Spec fic. I actually enjoy the hard-to-define books. I wish they were easier to find. That's my genre. :)

  4. Speculative fiction is a great blanket genre. I can see how paranormal wouldn't exactly be accurate for your books--mine are the same way. It's more like mystery or crime fiction with a paranormal twist.

  5. Speculative Fiction is the best catch-all for me. I'm not so much interested in the genre now that I've had a chance to see how some books can be classified. I try to roll with the story and enjoy it at it's core.

  6. Categories can be helpful, especially when people are looking for a certain kind of book.

    For me, if the book looks good, then I'm more likely to get it, no matter the genre. And I do love how spec fic is such a great umbrella term.

    I've heard of a way to determine your genre can be to ask yourself if you take away such an element from your novel, then can the main story still stand up on its own. Lots of books have main genres and then subgenres or elements of genres within them.

  7. Genre doesn't matter a great deal to me. And some of my most loved books cross the genre divide. Often repeatedly.

  8. I think all books to a certain degree contain elements from other genres. What science fiction or western doesn't have even a vague hint of a romantic interest? Personally, I enjoy exploring authors who breach the stereotypical genre boundaries and I've noticed recently far more writing competitions asking for cross-genre fiction submissions. Embrace the new and untypical, I say.

  9. I suppose genre helps writers focus on specifics, more than anything else. It adds consistency and fluidity. That said, writing takes on aspects of real life too, where shades of gray keep things interesting, providing they don't throw everyone for a loop in the process.

  10. I like SpecFic too. It has all the genres I like mashed up together. I know when I have to label a book, I think very carefully on the genre, but usually mine falls into more than one.

  11. I default to "spec fic" most of the time as well. But it definitely leads to some marketing challenges. I think most of my stories are as much action as they are urban fantasy, and as much horror as they are suspense. And I don't follow the conventions of any of those genres strictly.

    In short, I feel you on this J! :)

  12. I can relate to this post so, so well. My webcomics never seem to fit neatly into a specific genre, and I do feel like that hinders my marketing. I can't just say something's a "fantasy" or a "comedy" or a "tragedy," 'cause those are all lies on some level, and if I end up using one of those descriptors, people will probably feel mislead...

  13. Two of my favorite authors write in mish-mash genres (Diana Gabaldon and Kristen Callihan). If a blurb grabs me, genre makes no difference.

    My genre is romance. However, I write in almost all sub-genres of that category: contemporary, suspense, erotic, historical, & fantasy.

  14. I've written middle grade contemporary lit, and YA spec and now a new adult contemporary and also a YA horror...
    I think part of the uproar is about shelving. Where to place things on the real, or virtual shelves so that readers can find what they like! But, yes, it does get a little obsessive. My post on the 25th will discuss this, as well as writing for more than one age. I can so relate!

  15. @Patrick, I think you're right about that, really. Great point about the sub-genres, I didn't really think about that but you're right. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    @Nicole, I guess that's how I am too, although I'm way behind you!

    @Mary, I guess that's mine too LOL.

    @Gwen, yeah, I definitely feel the same way about your stories.

    @Angela, maybe that's what I need to do about the whole issue, just roll with it instead of worrying about it so much LOL.

    @Cherie, that's a good tip, I'll have to think about that. And I really wasn't thinking about the sub-genres possibility when I wrote this, that helps a lot.

    @Elephants, mine too!

    @Laura, great point about the westerns, etc. I love your saying!

    @MJ, very true.

    @Christine, yeah, you definitely have lots of aspects to your stories, I love the mash-ups in your writing.

    @EJ, I'm glad you're with me. :D And from reading your stories I know what you mean, they contain so many elements.

    @Heather, I think that's the thing, I don't want to feel like I'm being misleading or lying about it. It's hard.

    @Tara, great point about those authors!

    @Catherine, I'm looking forward to your post next week. And I do agree about the shelving issue, I know that's a big part of it and I understand how important that can be for marketing. I think that's why I freak about it so much LOL.


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