How easy is it to nail down the genre of a novel you're working on? Agent Nathan Bransford polled the readers of his blog about the genres they're writing, and it turned into a free-for-all about the terror of genres.
Bransford, an agent with Curtis Brown, posted a poll allowing people to identify their works in progress according to a variety of different genres, but the comment thread turned into a massive debate about how to fit one's work into any of the boxes. There are the cries of people whose novels don't fit into a neat tidy genre:
You totally forgot the, "Help help mine is cross-genre, URGH, what do I call it?" category. "Other" just doesn't quite convey that. ;)
As well as the questions from people who aren't sure whether to call their novels "mainstream" or "literary." (To which Bransford suggests "literary," since that's not a value judgment, just another genre, and he doesn't believe that "mainstream" fiction exists as a category.)
There are the people who are writing superhero novels, and reluctantly classifying those as science fiction. One person is writing a steampunk novel and isn't sure if that's historical fiction or SF. There are the people whose YA novels have science fictional elements — like the person I quote in the headline, above. At least one person wants to abolish genres altogether, to which Bransford asks how the bookstore would know where to shelve things.
But don't worry too much about trying to classify your own work, Bransford says: "You don't even HAVE to tell the agent what you think it is. If you wrote the query well the agent will already know."
And then there's this guy:
I think my novel holds together as one solid entity but when I analyze it in terms of genre?
My main interest is in character and prose style, so maybe it's literary.
But it's based on my life experiences, so there's a strong element of confessional memoir to it.
It does feature adventures in which an alternate fantasy world is saved, so it's obviously quest fantasy.
But the fantastic elements are rationalized in a speculative fashion, so it might be science fiction.
It deals intimately with the nitty-gritty details of life at the bottom of the blue-collar ladder, so it's social realism.
Much of the material is disturbing on levels ranging from the spiritual to the physical, so it's horror.
It's intended to be funny and there's rarely a lot of space between jokes, so it's humor.
One of the central themes is redemption through love, so it's romance.
The plotting and a storyline involving a drug deal are clearly noir.
I was once asked to describe the damned thing in five words. What I came up with was, "Autobiographical horror with sick laughs."
As for Bransford himself, what novel is he secretly working on in his off hours? He explains:
It's kind of a cyberpunk PLUS steampunk women's fiction slasher romantic comedy.