Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Question from a Writer - Where Does My Story Fit?

I have a full manuscript written, it is roughly 75K words. I read through your entire website and unfortunately even though I wrote it, I never really thought about where it would fit in. Is there any guildance you can give me to what ideas fall in what genre?

Surprisingly, this is an issue that many writers struggle with, and, unfortunately, is the reason why so many end up receiving huge numbers of rejection letters.

Understanding where your story falls in terms of a specific genre is fairly easy to figure out. The key is to return to that single story arc. If you think back to the days of your early literature classes, you will remember that triangular chart we all looked at with headings such as rising action, climax and so forth? Now, think of that for your story. What is the single storyline that runs through the whole thing. Along the same lines, think of what the theme of your story is (this will help in cases of women's fiction).

For example, if the story you are telling reminds you of a Tom Clancy novel with a relationship that is growing through the whole thing, the odds are you are looking at a romantic suspense/thriller. If the story is set in the modern world and focuses on just two characters coming to know each other and fall in love, this would be a contemporary romance.

Now, remember, there are essentially two elements that put a story into a romance genre. The first is that the focus of the story IS the romance element. This is the central storyline. The second is that we see a happily ever after by the end of the story. This is where that theme comes into play that I spoke about above.

If your story has a romance in it, but that cenral storyline doesn't focus so much on the romance but focuses on the female journey, the exploration of what it is to be a woman in a particular time and place, then the odds are you have a women's fiction story. In other words, the central storyline is the journey, not the romance.

Another test would be to see where your story would fall if you went into a bookstore. If you have a romance, would you be able to picture your title next to all of the other's in that section of the book story? What about similar authors?

If you really can't find a place for your story, then you are likely looking at two potential issues. The first is that this is simply a piece of fiction. That's simple enough. The second is the one you really don't want to face. This means your story really doesn't have a place on the book shelves. If this is the case, then you will have a hard time marketing the story. The issue now is that agents and editors won't know how to sell the story. How do you market it? Remember that readers buy books first and foremost by genre. They go to look for "a romance", "a thriller", "A mystery" and so forth. They don't go to a section called "something well written."

This last element will really be a factor now that people are thinking of buying things digitally. If you own an e-reader, think of how the books are stored? I don't care if you are going the traditional publishing, indie-publishing or self-publishing route, someone has to make a decision where your story will be placed.

As for the writer who asked the question that started this, remember that I only represent romance and women's fiction. Since that is the case, simply ask yourself if you write romance? Is the relationship the central storyline? Is there a happily ever after? Now make sure you aren't writing something I don't represent. Is it erotica? Is it sci-fi or fantasy? Then probably not. If however, you think you have a piece of women's fiction, is the central focus the story of the female journey and an exploration of what it is to be a female? If not, then I probably can't help you.



  1. Great post! When I was a newer writer, I REALLY struggled with this. If I had found this post then it would've been so helpful. I remember sending queries out and changing the genre for the same story constantly. One day it would be a romance. Then a contemporary romance. Then dramatic fiction. I just couldn't figure out what I wrote. Now, I finally know (think, lol) that I write category romance.

  2. The majority of writing students I've worked with who can't figure out where their book fits in publishing aren't readers or aren't readers of what's coming out now. Bizarre and sad, but true.