I've been trolling around on LitReactor for a few years but haven't actually posted on the boards until, well, now. I'm not sure how things work around here but I'm in dire need of some help. Specifically, with genres and how to find one your novel jives with. I just finished my first novel and – while I hate genres – they're inevitable to deal with. Especially when taking the next step with querying agents. Through this mental process, I’ve discovered my novel lives in some weird YA/NA/Contemporary Fiction limbo purgatory.
I won't go into a lengthy description, but for you to get a brief feel: my novel is around 100,000 words, told in 1st POV present tense by a twenty-two year old female protagonist. From the word count and main character age alone, I know I'm outside of the YA brackets. But part of the story/plot (summer road trip with some romance) would most likely to a “YA crowd” or actual young adults in their twenties. See the dilemma?
There’s adventure and dark humor, gritty violence, a dash of mystery and pulp, but there’s no true genre I connect with. I'm wholly aware of "New Adult" and cringe at the term. While having an older protagonist, my novel doesn't deal with college, torrid sex lives, career choices, or boyfriend drama. The main barrier between my novel and the NA world? It isn't sex-centric, seemingly what every single NA novel relies on. I accidentally bought a New Adult novel last month and was a little horrified. No offense to any NA writers out there.
My novel does deal with some overlapping themes that NA (or even YA) deals with –drug abuse, loss, family troubles – but it’s all backstory. The novel is largely "in the now" and only encompasses two weeks driving across America. Like any story, there's a romantic aspect, but it's not dominant. There's swearing and, let's say "sexual situations" but there aren’t any explicit sex scenes, drunken frat parties, or post-teen angst ramblings.
While young adults, my characters are too old to be YA, and there isn’t enough soft-core-paper-porn to please the NA crowd.
I'll be querying soon and I know what my novel is, I just don't know how to present it initially to an agent. I’ve wasted hours researching genres and I utterly hate it, but I need to figure this out ASAP. My best summation was Contemporary Fiction – the broad nomadic land of novels that don't fit a genre. Even after my two years in an MFA program, I don't have any writerly friends or relationships, so any feedback would be appreciated. I'm a lone wolf when it comes to my work, but this is one question I can't seem to puzzle out on my own. Would querying under Contemporary Fiction work? Is it too ballsy to try and query as YA? Suggestions? Sage wise words of advice?
Thanks a ton and I look forward to getting more involved on the boards.
Hey there! Welcome to LitReactor! I have some thoughts on your concern regarding genre :-).
Firstly, MG/YA/NA/A aren't technically "genres." These are all designations for what age range will typically be attracted to your book. For a shortcut to figure this out, consider the age of the main character. Your main character is 22, so that falls under the category of New Adult. NOW, I read what you said about NA, and I know this is a common concern a lot of writers/readers have. They immediately cringe at the category and assume all NA books are romance and sex. This is actually a big myth. While it's true there are many NA books out there that are sex-centric, that just means a lot of NA books are in the genre of "romance" or even "erotica." I urge you to do some research here and seek out alternative genres in the NA category. For instance, "Carrier" by Anne Tibbets is an incredible science fiction novel, and it's NA. There is also a book called "Reckless" by Cornelia Funke, which is a hardcore fantasy with no sex at all, and it's technically NA with appeal to upper YA readers. I can also tell you that there are a shit ton of agents out there who actively seek out NA fiction that isn't in the romance genre. I think I remember Bree Ogden accepting NA submissions in the horror realm back when she was at D4E0, and she actually represents Anne Tibbets (the aforementioned author of "Carrier") as well. I would strongly advise you not to ignore your book being NA just because of the bad rap the category gets sometimes; in honesty, if it is what your book is, that's perfectly fine. Agents will probably appreciate you being blunt about it rather than leaving that fact out or trying to cloak it as another category. Another route you can look at is labeling the project as "Adult" in category, but before doing so I'd tap a professional resource (preferrably an agent who reps non-romance NA) to ask what they feel separates NA from A. In all the other categories it's usually the age range of the reader, but these two categories are so closely linked that I'd hesitate to give you my final feedback on the matter, especially since you need to appeal to agents during the query process. To find an agent to ask, you can try your hand at Twitter. Follow a bunch of agents and look out for #askagent days, where a group of agents field questions through tweets. You can also look at agent blogs, because a lot of them allow authors to submit questions, which they then answer in future posts. And if you're truly in need of more feedback, try following a bunch of NA and A authors. I'm sure one or two would reply to a tweet asking what their opinion on the matter is, as authors of NA are generally very excited to inform their audience about the genre.
So now that I've detailed the difference between category and genre, I'll give you my input on genre. This one is trickier. Genres are things like fantasy, science fiction, literary, contemporary, romance, horror, etcetera. Unfortunately, there is no real way for me to give you a definitive answer here since I haven't read the book. However, it sounds like you've chosen Contemporary Fiction as the genre already, and the author usually knows best, so I'd stick with this for now, but in the meantime do more research into the definition of different categories. For instance, "fantasy" isn't the same thing as "paranormal romance," and while some comtemporary fiction works contain romance, that doesn't mean they're in the genre of romance!
Finally, make sure when you query you denote both the readership and the genre of your book! Never pick one or the other. I've heard of instances where agents toss out a query because the sender has forgotten this rule. So your readership would be New Adult (or Adult, depending on which one you select), and your genre for now is Contemporary Fiction. Also, if you think your book could lend itself to a crossover population, note this! You mentioned the book might appeal to YA readers as well, so in your query write something like, "My project is a work of contemporary fiction that will appeal to a New Adult readership, with the potential to crossover into the upper Young Adult market."
The only other thing I can think to mention is that in the past, I've had someone tell me another requirement of NA is that the plotline has to be "fresh." I guess this would mean if the plotline is more traditional in nature, it might be best to say it's Adult? Still, I feel this comment was kind of an overgeneralization, and since I rarely write NA, I would double check with other NA authors for confirmation of this. It's also a fairly new category, so writers and readers alike are still fleshing out what NA really is!
I hope this feedback helps. Sorry if I assumed you didn't know something you already do ... I just wanted to be very thorough, because I know when I first started querying, I had this exact same question!
Hey! Thanks for responding and being thorough - you covered a few elements I wasn't aware of/considered. I've talked to this with people who have read my book, and I feel like it would normally fall into the NA readership purely by age alone. But not content. Then again, I didn't think of genres within NA, the dominant romance or erotica. At least from my research, I haven’t seen many different genres represented within NA, although they certainly exist. I’ve spent hours upon hours researching genres and subgenres until I wanted to pull my hair out. Hence, seeking outside help.
I like your example of approaching a crossover. In my earlier drafts of query letters, I tried working out a coherent way to explain the possible YA/NA crossover. I’m considering taking the query letter class with Bree Ogden that starts up on Tuesday. Timing wise, it’s perfect (except my sister is getting married next Saturday – mass chaos!) but there would undoubtedly be some gems of wisdom to be found.
The “fresh” comment really struck me because if we’re going purely off of plot, then I’m not sure if my novel would fit within the Adult realm. My novel’s plot really isn’t traditional – saying it’s “fresh” is a little odd but I get where the concept is coming from. Starting off on the wrong foot simply from trying to find a genre to slap onto a query letter is a horrifying thought! Thanks for your input, and hopefully I can work this out before going mentally insane.
Glad I could help in any way!
I HIGHLY suggest taking the query class with Bree Ogden. I have taken that same class myself, and I tell this same thing to everyone contemplating the query process: it is ESSENTIAL to take this course if you don't have thorough knowledge on the subject. I wish I had taken it a lot sooner. Bree reviews the format that most agents prefer, and how to hook them, as well as any other pertinent info to querying. It's also a great opportunity to ask a pro about genre/category questions, just like the one you began this thread with. The teachers in all LR courses are very active in discussions and student questions, and it's not often you get to ask a seasoned agent like Bree for her advice! Once I took the class, my response rate from agents increased so exponentially that I was overwhelmed. So basically ... I say TAKE IT!
If you feel up to it, I am always here to read a synopsis of the novel and give you more feedback on how I feel about the genre element as well. No pressure on this but I know how difficult it is to find assistance on matters like this, especially from other writers, so I always want to offer my eye whenever I can. LR is pretty helpful in this regard as long as you network with the right people! I never had beta readers until I joined this site!
Hope your querying process is fruitful, regardless of if you take Bree's course or not. :-)
EDITING TO ADD: I forgot to mention... Don't be worried about taking the query course concurrently with the wedding. The classes are really laid back with plenty of time to complete assignments!
Hey, I signed up for the course! I’m sure I can juggle query letters and bridesmaid dresses simultaneously. The course seems very laid-back and I think it’ll really be beneficial. I’ll contact you if I feel up to sharing a synopsis. My only “writing buddy” from school really failed me on this book with feedback and timeliness. I waited three weeks for vague bullet points that were useless. Such a disappointment, but I need to move on. Thanks again for your input!
Glad you signed up! It's sad that beta readers can sometimes fall through ... It's happened to me before too and it really sucks. Have you thought about joining the workshop here? You can get a good number of reviews for your submissions as long as you give enough reviews up front, and it's a good place to get unbiased feedback! Sometimes the reviews can be rough, but more often than not a real pro or two comes along and nails the real issues, which is well worth the monthly fee. I usually submit my stuff per chapter, depending on the kind of critiques I'm looking for. The alternate option is to keep posting on the forum here, and maybe start a thread asking for beta readers for full length novels ... Usually the only stipulation is that you read and critique theirs in return. It's a starting point, at the very least, and a good way to make connections with writing buddies. I've seen two or three people have success by doing that in lieu of submitting to the workshop per chapter.
I finished up my MFA in May and and think I overdosed on workshops. I appreciate the suggestion though! Bree's class has been interesting so far, and I think it'll be helpful.
Haha I hear you there. I myself have long periods where I write outside the workshop and don't submit as a way to kind of hit a "refresh" button on my work!
I'm glad Bree's class is going well thus far. The good part about them is that even when a class ends, it stays viewable forever after that point. I took her class eons ago but can still go into the class and read all the lectures, etcetera, when I need them for reference. You can also continue discussions and things after the class window closes.
Here's a YA author talking about YA...
Look for agents who like cross over genre stuff?