Knowing the Criteria for Genres

Knowing the Criteria for Genres
For five years, along with teaching full time and facilitating writers groups, speaking at writers' conventions and book signing events, I also ran three publishing houses - one for general fiction, one for spiritual books, and one for children's books. I no longer am a publisher (with the exception of private contracts), but the lessons I have learned are priceless for those who wish to successfully publish their book or someone else's.

You have no idea how many times I have received query letters which promote their manuscript as if they were ordering a coffee:

It is a suspense/adventure/mystery set in the past put winds up as a time travel piece and flows into the magical realms of a fantasy dimension with LGBT romance and supernatural horror and steampunk engines but solid-science infrastructure and reiki medical skills which help solve the mystery. And it is written for all ages. Children will love it even though there are a few sex scenes, but children are so mature now. And older people will really get the retro scenes and references to Lost in Space.

As I have often told my authors (even though some of those did not STAY my authors because they just could not grasp this concept), I have to put a label on this book and there has to be one spot in the store where it can fit and be found.

Know where that spot will be.

Make changes in your manuscript to help fit it into that spot.

Do some research!

Know what you have and know who your audience is going to be.

Understand that the Book Industry has standards each genre must adhere to.

That Book Industry must agree and accept that the book fits there in order for the book to sell well.

(Store owners do not put socks next to apples just because they might be the same color.)

BISAC is wonderful and most distributors and book stores use the same system to identify and categorize books. Think Dewey Decimal System but without quite so many numbers. Send your authors to their website and make them do the footwork. Have them choose TWO listings which best match their book.
But you as the publisher must understand what each genre entails and know how to spot something that is not quite what it is supposed to be. Definitions are great boundaries, but there are nuances, too. And some genres have shifted and changed over the last ten years.

Here is a quick overview of most Fiction genres and a few secrets on how to make sure you have a genuine genre.

Juvenile -- age ranges from 0 to 21. Style ranges from picture books to full saga-length series. Materials range from total innocence to gritty noir.
Picture books up to age 7, but there are some middle readers which are also considered picture books and vice versa. Basically large page, large print, low readability, with the focus of each page being on the illustration
Early Reader up to age 9 (not to be confused with Easy Readers which can be up to age 99). Up to 20,000 words, large print, more text than illustrations, but not much more. Readability is third grade or lower.
Middle reader between ages 8 and 14 (and yes, this does vary from one source to the next), between 40,000 to 60,000 words, normal size print, a few illustrations. Readability ranges from third grade to 9th grade. There is no graphic sex, graphic violence, or graphic horror in middle readers. The focus of most middle readers is gaining independence from parental authority.
Young Adult between ages 13 and 25. Word count of 60,000 and up. Readability is from about 6th grade to adult. There can be sex, violence and horror in young adult. The focus of most YA is teen-angst.

Adult Fiction If the audience is younger than 21, the Juvenile genre gets top billing and then the subgenre can be almost anything else.

Easy Reader low readability, high interest books, less than 40,000 words, a few illustrations, focus is on helping non-readers become readers. Age of audience tends to be teenaged to adult so it is generally listed more as a subgenre but only if it is going to be sold to academic institutes and libraries.

Speculative Fiction
Fantasy has magic, metaphysics, and/or mystical elements (right-brained, imaginative, emotionally driven)
Science Fiction has a strong basis of science (left-brained, logical, linear driven)

Flame one innocent love. Demonstrative at most by holding hands or hugging or a lips to lips only kiss
Flame two marital love. Demonstrative by kissing and alluding to a sexual relationship in the future after a traditional wedding (Christian Romance is rarely rated higher than 2 flames)
Flame three relationship based love. Demonstrative between the couple to the point of a sexual relationship as long as marriage/permanent relationship is a part of the story line. Body parts may be named, but not with vulgarity.
Flame four Contemporary lust, sexual relationships between multiple partners with body parts being lavishly named, caressed, and enjoyed.
Flame five Nontraditional sexual situations. The only limitations for this flame seem to be that the relationships must be consensual and between adults (humans or non-humans not withstanding)
Erotica flames 3 through 5 without the censor of descriptions of the acts themselves.

Around 45,000 to 90,000 words. The heart and soul of the story must revolve around solving a mystery. Subgenres tend to help define what kind of mystery it is: historical, suspense, medical, fantasy, etc.

Historical Fiction
Around 60,000 to 125,000 words. At this point in time, historical novels take place before the end of WWII. I think there is about a 75 year gap between contemporary fiction and historical fiction, sort of like what makes and antique an antique used to be 100 years, but is now anything before the time of computers. The history presented in these novels must be fact-based and well-researched. Alternate History falls under Speculative Fiction. Caution should be taken when historical personalities are rewritten to fit the fictional story. Source references should be listed in the back of these books. Westerns are a subgenre of historical fiction, although the plot is specifically patterned for westerns.

Any length, but must be well-researched and follow the spiritual or philosophical paths set by known visionary leaders, whether they are historical or contemporary. The difference between Metaphysical/Visionary Fiction and Fantasy is that M/V can point to spiritual or philosophical path that is real (think Law of Attraction, traditional religions, contemporary philosophers, etc).
The difference between M/V fiction and M/V nonfiction is Fiction tells a story in which the vision is interwoven into the tale; in nonfiction, the vision is revealed, often in step by step directions or examples.

Ethnic Fiction
The ethnicity of the protagonist is such a driving force in the story that, without that element, the story would fall apart. African American, Spanish, Asian, Irish, Caribbean, anything other than American Caucasian can be a subgenre of Ethnic fiction.

LBGT Fiction
The sexual orientation of the protagonist is such a driving force in the story that, without that element, the story would fall apart. Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Gay Fiction tends to have a wider age range for their audience and of their characters. Younger than YA is acceptable in these books, but not generally younger than middle readers.

Plot versus Genre
There is a difference between the type of plot and the type of genre, even though the labels are the same. For example, a fantasy genre can follow the plot line of a mystery, a romance, a quest, a coming of age, or a metamorphosis story. Many times, authors do not realize this. They confuse the plot and the genre. BISAC deals with genre, the spot on the bookshelf where customers can find the book, and must abide with the industry's expectations of what type of book it is. The plot will designate where, how long, and what events entails the preface, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the denouement of the story itself. The plot must carry the reader along -- once they have bought the book.

If you are writing for traditional publishing or planning to publish by yourself, you will still need to know where to place the book. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me!

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