by Terry Wright
Through intaking entries for the Colorado Gold Writing Contest and submissions I receive at TWB Press, I’ve discovered that far too many writers are confused about where their books fit in the vast realm of categories and subgenres. Either in the pursuit of being creative or precise, authors have come up with some very inventive ways to describe what kind of book they’ve written. This confusion comes from two misconceptions. One: creativity equals uniqueness. Two: uniqueness will make a book standout from the others. These authors have missed the point of why books are classified by categories and subgenres in the first place: SO READERS CAN FIND YOUR BOOK.
I can’t, for the life of me, figure out on which bookshelf “Action-Thriller, Ancient Christianity” can be found. Or “Romance, Inspirational-Contemporary” Or “Speculative, Weird West.” How about “YA – low fantasy?” “Mystery - New Adult Humor”? Here’s a good one: “Mystery – Crime” Don’t most mysteries involve a solving a crime? If you are Indian Jones trying to solve the mystery of the lost Ark, that book would go on the “Action-Adventure” shelf.
The truth about genres and subgenres is simple. There is no high authority that sets the rules for classifying a book. Publishers and booksellers generally decide where a book is best placed. Still, it helps if writers know what market they are writing to attract, so it stands to reason that writers would want to make it easy for readers to find the books they want to read.
Thus: keep your genre selection simple. A book about “Ancient Christianity” would be found on a shelf labeled “Religion.” “New Adult Humor” would be on the “Comedy” shelf. Fantasy is neither “low” nor high but perhaps Epic or Urban. Romance has many subgenres, but “Inspirational” makes me think the book should be placed on the “Religion” shelf. I’ve never seen a shelf labeled “Weird West.” How many readers would actually look for that self? You want to place your book where the most number of potential readers will look for it (or anything like it).
By being creative and unique, you run the risk of confusing an agent, editor, or contest judge, not to mention the bookseller who doesn’t even have a shelf for your book's category and subgenre. Choose wisely.