Romancing the Genre

Hold on to your hats, ladies, gentlemen and cicadas.  Today we’re discussing genre.  Since I have this problem TYPING genre where my finders want to insert a d after the n and switch the e and r, we’re in for a wild and wooly ride.

I was going to start a series today on how to make a book “real”.  “Real” is a quality you can embue your fiction with, mostly by not relying on cliches for how a situation is described, but also by reaching deep in yourself to when you experienced a similar situation.

However I realized I had another post on my mental list, which I hadn’t ticked out yet, and which, judging by some of the newby discussions I eavesdrop in, on FB, is desperately needed.

If I had a dime for every time someone approaches me and says “My erotica/romance/science fiction/fantasy isn’t selling and I can’t tell why.”  And/or “I keep getting these really weird comments, like they’re angry at me for not being what I say it is.” I’d be buying a castle somewhere in England, as we speak.

And almost everytime I look into the matter, my answer is something like “But that’s not an erotica/romance/science fiction/fantasy.”

I will say right here that most of the time the problem is that people don’t read the genres they’re identifying their books as.  They just heard of them, and think that must be what they are.  This also explains all the people who assure me I write romance (rolls eyes) and that’s why they won’t read Darkship Thieves, or Witchfinder, or…

Because there is a romance in the book, somewhere, and they think that’s what the romance genre is.

It’s time to get this figured out, okay?

Genre is like cover: it’s a way of being able to market your book.  When you’re classifying your book, you’re telling people who’ve read other books like it in the past “You might like this.”  You are not giving a complete and full description of you book, just like in making a cover, you’re not representing a scene (or the majority of scenes in your book.)

One of my favorite cover stories from ya’ll is from a gentleman who has since become a friend, who had a picture of a roadside forest on the cover of his space opera, and when we asked said “Well, there’s this world in the book that has a forest.”  He was right about that, of course, but what that cover signaled was “travel log”.  I.e. “Visit lovely Oregon and hug the trees.”

You guys often do the same with genre.  Because any halfway decent book, longer than 10k words is going to have romance, mystery, adventure and that’s just to start.  It might also contain science fiction, fantasy, historical scenes.  So, how can you tell what you should put it under?

I’m going to try to give you a handy dandy guide.  Some of them I’m not thoroughly convinced on, but it seems to work.

We’ll start with EROTICA because for some bizarre reason you guys are really hot on the trigger with this one – In EROTICA the driving factor of the plot (if it can be said to have a plot, which sometimes it doesn’t) is sex.  The progression in level of seriousness is through kink.  A good 50 to 80% of your book will be sex scenes.  Even if you have that but the main drive is Romance, it might not count as erotica.  (I have issues with this one, but Amanda Green tells me it’s so, and I think it’s right.)
If you label a book Erotica because somewhere two people have a conversation about sex, even kinky sex, it’s not going to sell and you’re going to get scathing reviews.

Next up: ROMANCE – In Romance, the main driver of the book is relationships.  Almost every book, from fantasy to mystery (at least these days, but going back all the way to Heinlein and Christie) has some form of romance in it.  There is a couple doing the dance somewhere on the periphery of the adventure.  BUT — this is very important — in Romance, the plot is about the relationship and the emotions, not the magical disturbances, not the new planet, not anything else, but the emotions.
For instance, I recently read a romance where the woman character was an accidental art forger (really, trust me with it) and her love interest is the investigating agent for the crown.  Because the romances I like have a really strong mystery component, I was expecting him to discover she was a forger, put her in jail, etc, before the whole thing was revealed.  I was, in fact, expecting a mystery plot.  In the romance he finds out she is the forger he’s chasing, but he’s so worried she might have lied to him about her sexual experience that it’s barely a side mention.  Now I don’t find that particularly realistic, but that’s how romance plots are driven.

Oh, the other thing is in ROMANCE there is sex.  Not as much as in erotica, but usually 2 or three scenes per book, lovingly described.

If your romance has no sex, it might be a:

SWEET ROMANCE – Think Price and Prejudice.  Same as above, the entire driver of the plot is the relationship, but there are no sex scenes on the page, and often no implied sex scenes.  Kisses are big deals.  You might want to note this on the cover/description or some reader will be very upset.

MYSTERY – In Mystery a crime has been committed.  The mystery is usually the story of its being solved.  The reader knowing in advance who the culprit is and just watching the chase is optional.  BUT there must be a crime, and the crime and its solution is the main driver of the plot.

Now, for me, a mystery isn’t real unless it’s a murder.  I don’t know if it’s that way for other people.  YA mysteries are often about theft of kidnapping, but we’ll cover YA in another tab.

Mystery has subheadings:

Gritty or Noir – the world is a bad place and then you die.  Think lots of gunplay and tough guys.

Police procedural – If you do this one, really research.  people get funny about it.

“Genius Private investigator” think Rex Stout.  With or without action, these mysteries are about the cerebral action of solving the mystery, not the emotions or the physical evidence, or any of it.  The mystery is a puzzle, and the great detective solves it.  Holmes falls under this category.

Cozy – the emphasis is not on the corpse or what horrible things were done to it, but on the milieu.  It is about relationships between a small group of people that led to the murder, and which lead to a solution.  Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.  Craft mysteries are a subset of cozies, in which the detectives knowledge of whatever the heck the craft is helps solve the murder. Cozies are at least as much about the people as about the crime.  So they tend to have quirky or interesting characters.

THRILLER – In the thriller it’s all about the chase.  Either the bad guy’s chase for victims, or the detective’s chase trying to stop him.  You usually start with a stark demonstration of how bad the bad guy is, and then you’re off.

This often has characteristics in common with noir or police procedural and the pacing should be fast and relentless.  Characters are often broadly sketched, though dark and brooding is definitely on the cards.

A subset of THRILLER is WIP — Woman in Peril — and depending on how you put in your emphasis, this can shade to/qualify as romance.

SCIENCE FICTION: Science fiction is set in a future that has elements of plausibility or that purports to be possible.  The fact that 1984 couldn’t happen precisely that way, not worldwide, not even if the tech hadn’t gone past it doesn’t matter.  Within the book, there’s an effort made to make the future plausible.

Science fiction = living in the future.

It can be the near future, in which case, if you have enough of a name people will try to protect you from the horrible charge of having committed science fiction.

Science fiction has sub-genres:

Hard science fiction – is all about the development/new tech, whatever.  Often not more likely to happen than the others, but the tech is lovingly described, and is the main plot driver.  Characters are often incidental and head-hopping is common.

Space Opera – We’re in a future of some description, and the whole point now is to figure out how people are doing in this new world, with the new tech and all.  Emphasis is on the people.  Note the title “OPERA” — it often involves (or should involve) bigger than life characters and situations.  For is it not written “If I just wanted a story about crossing the street against the light, I’d be reading mainstream?”

Military SF – It takes place or has a strong component of military setting.

Post Apocalyptic SF – The World has ended, and now we’re dealing with it.

Science Fiction Romance – Yes, you’re in the future, but the important thing is not how the humans have adapted to aliens among them, but how your main character is going to get the love of that cute android.  There will be some sex scenes.

Science Fiction Erotica – Yes, you’re in the future, but the important thing is how your main character will like the alien’s extra, prehensile penis.  There will be mostly sex.

Fantasy – Some element of the story is patently impossible in our world.  To be precise that element will involve super powers, psi powers, magic, the existence of magical creatures.

High Fantasy – Think Tolkien. You’re in a pseudo-medieval land.  There are magical races.  Often there is a lost heir and a search for restoring the throne.

Contemporary fantasy/historical fantasy – the setting is realistic, save for these powers/events that have no place in reality.

Urban fantasy – There is a character, male or female, who for some reason is designated to square off against the forces of magic and evil.  Often the end of the world is impending.  It’s set in a big city.

Paranormal Romance – No it shouldn’t be under romance.  It’s a subset of Urban Fantasy, only the forces of evil are sexy and sex is a major driver of the plot, and often lovingly described

Historical – Historical can be any of the things above, except possibly science fiction, and even then, if you’re talking parallel worlds or time travel.  Or Steam Punk.  And I’m not even going to describe Steam Punk but think science fiction set in the Victorian age, about a future they could foresee.

Main Stream – It’s about contemporary people, doing contemporary things,  and it’s generally a label slapped on something gatekeepers decide it’s “worthwhile” or “important.”

Literary – Tries to immigrate books assigned in school.  It can be any sub genre, but it will try to distinguish itself by more convoluted language, and an emphasis on what the author views as social problems.

Horror – is any of the above, but the emphasis is on the horrible stuff, and we all die screaming.  It’s the literary equivalent of a meaty skull painting, with snakes going in and out of the eye sockets. It can be subtle and psychological or heavy handed and splatter heavy.  In the end the emphasis is on the horrible stuff, though.


I said every book has a bit of almost everything, and this is true, but remember that genre is not what is in there — it’s a marketing qualification.

I just read something that purported to be a mystery.  It kept me reading to the end despite being present tense, but it would have put off 99% of its readers.  The main driver of the plot were supernatural events, and the ultimate killer is a demon.  Most mystery readers would wall that book so fast it would leave a dent.

The true readership of that book would be looking for it under Urban Fantasy, even if historical.

So, like this: most mystery readers don’t want supernatural in their mysteries.  It’s okay for the investigator to have a dream about who the real killer is.  BUT if he then sends his spirit body out to catch the murderer, you’ve gone too far.  In fact most mystery readers aren’t really fond of science fiction in their mysteries, either, though they might forgive you if it’s REALLY near in time, and the future aspects are discrete.

The same by and large for romance, though there are subsets where people accept either magical creatures or spaceships.  BUT if you’re writing your average romance, tread lightly on the magic/murder/spaceship.  It’s not what the people are there for.

Oh, a note I promised on YA: YA= your protagonist is under 18.  Yes, if you’re doing it, I’d also make sure there isn’t explicit heavy sex, but note that’s because I’m a prude.  No one doing YA these days observes that rule.

But — you say — your novel is complex and you refuse to have only one genre.  And it really IS a romance/mystery despite all the spaceships, and…

Look, guys, this is not a definition of your book.  It’s a label that allows readers who’ll like it to find it. If you’re really invested in thinking your steampunk romance is mystery, classify it that way.  Just be aware you’ll be losing sales.

Next week – Keeping it Real.


173 thoughts on “Romancing the Genre

  1. This reminds me of a story I heard where an author won a prestigious mystery award. He kept going around the award banquet saying he was flattered, really, but he hadn’t written a mystery. 😀

    1. In the movie/play “Mouse Trap”, the MC is complaining about the reviewers who were calling his play a Great Comedy.

      The problem was that he intended his play to be a tragedy. 👿

  2. *snort* Early on in my scribbling career, I had a cycle of short stories, about three female NCOs deployed in Desert Storm; a kind of updated and Americanized version of Kipling’s “Sergeant’s Three”. For the absolute life of me, I couldn’t figure out who I ought to pitch it to. The women’s interest sources weren’t interested in military, and the military sources weren’t real interested in female military.
    I posted them on the milblog I was writing for then, and the readers liked them very much. But oh, boy – pitching to an established publisher was a nightmare of frustration.

      1. There in a collection of short stories – here

              1. Main thing is you don’t want to use the query string straight from your browser. That doesn’t help you get higher in the Byzantine Amazon decision tree as to whether the book gets put in front of possible buyers when they query.

                Wups, sleepy time for me. That just gave me the strangest story idea…

  3. I consider “Horror” as having a strong element of “Intrusion Of The Evil” into the world view of the Main Characters. In Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, the big part of the Horror was that nobody believed in Vampires and didn’t expect to face Vampires, especially in a small Maine town. A large part of a Horror story can be “what the heck is happening”.

    Also, a genre that you missed is “Dark Fantasy” where the person fighting the Evil knew that it existed prior to the fight and so (unlike Horror) is more concerned about fighting it although he might have known about it but had little knowledge about how to defeat it (and has to gain more knowledge).

    Of course, the difference between Dark Fantasy and Horror depends on the point of view of the Characters.

    For Harry Dresden defending some regular people against a supernatural monster is “Dark Fantasy” but for the people he’s defending it’s a Horror Story when they had no idea that the supernatural was real. 😉

    1. Horror goes for effect and plays on fears. It may be mundane (and unfortunately there’s plenty of horror in real life) or fantasy or SF. Cujo is mundane horror. Salem’s Lot fantasy. The story that Stephen King did where someone managed to bring about an end of violence but at the cost of everyone’s mind was SF. All three were horror. But was Cujo evil? If a story centers on a hiker pursued by a hungry Kodiak bear, is the bear evil? And the man in the King story who brought about an end of violence wasn’t evil, he only had a tendency to act before thinking things through.

      1. Best definition of horror I’ve seen is that horror is the twin of romance – they both have an emotional plot arc that’s the core of the story, making the settings optional and variable. While in romance the emotional arc centers around overcoming fears/doubts/flaws/trials to find love, in Horror it’s about creating an emotional catharsis, after instilling fear, tension, dread, anxiety, etc. in the reader, bringing it to a fever pitch, and then providing a release / resolution.

        When Larry Correia first wrote Monster Hunter International, he was sure it was horror. He stuffed it full of b-movie horror tropes, and even most of the main characters were standards B-movie horror characters, just… given a twist. The big huge scarred guy is.. an accountant. The heavily muscled black guy with dreadlocks is… a nerdy high school softball coach. The blonde stripper is… the most hardcore of the team. So it was a real surprise to him when Baen told him it wasn’t horror, it was urban fantasy. But there’s no emotional plot arc of horror in it: it’s all cowboying up, kicking evil’s ass, and saving the day.

        1. I’d call it Junk Food Horror – prolly not good for you but nothing wrong doughnut now and then. Some can even elevate the doughnut to outright “art” on occasion.

        2. Gore can be a tool, like George Carlin’s use of foul language in his famous skit. But like comedians have mistaken the wordplay in that skit for the shock of the foul language, some horror makers mistake gore as being horror.

      1. I’m about to find out what happens when Dread Cthulhu meets hot chicks with guns whose outputs are measured in megatons per second, and all that such a meeting implies. I can’t help it, I’m weird.

        Being a life-long fan of Keith Laumer AND L. Sprague DeCamp, I see no reason why the two couldn’t get together with Larry Correia and kick Lovecraftian bootay. Ultimate eldritch horror meets “Hey, squid boy! Take a bite of THIS!”

        Spoiler, the squids lose. Because this is a Phantom book, and I hate squids. (Unless they are calamari. Then they’re ok.)

        And the guy gets the “girl” too, and probably gets laid somewhere in there. Testosterone, plasma guns, armor measured in feet, it’s going to happen, right?

        Where the hell am I going to genre that?

        Amazon, methinks. Under a pen name.

    2. Ahem. *adjusts glasses with paw* Per the Dark Fantasy panel at LibertyCon . . . More often than in pure horror OR urban fantasy, dark fantasy is about the price paid by the protagonist in order to undo the evil, especially over the run of a series. In addition “twisted damaged world is a character” meaning that the mood of the setting is one of the hints that it is D.F. Also, Dark Fantasy is a closed world, in that only the protagonist and his/her/its allies know about the Lurking Dread, while in Urban Fantasy, it is open – far more people know about supernatural stuff (see, Monster Hunter, _A Net of Dawn and Bones_). Other examples included Repairman Jack, the Silver John stories, Solomon Kane and Conan, the TV series Penny Dreadful, and _’Salem’s Lot_ and “The Warded Window.” The original _Dracula_ novel is Dark Fantasy, as is the Victorian novel _The Beetle_.

      I meow return you to your regularly scheduled discussion.

      1. A perfect example of why discussion about “genre” can be interesting. 😉

        Note, I classify the original Dracula as horror because to most of the characters vampires aren’t real until they encounter Dracula. 😀

        1. Yes, especially the first 100 pages of the novel where it builds up to Jonathan Harker’s imprisonment in the Count’s castle. The realization he is trapped. That the count isn’t human, etc. The last 100 pages fit more into Dark Fantasy.

          1. The classification was that of the panel, not me. I’d say because of the ending it is a touch more D. F. but, large caveat, there is an enormous amount of overlap.

            At the same time as the Dark Fantasy panel, a Lovecraft panel was going on at the other end of the building. Which led to a brief mention of “cosmic horror” before the panel wandered back towards currently living writers.

        2. I read an argument once that Dracula was the first techno-thriller, because the characters used cutting edge technology (for the time, ie, trains, typewriters, telegrams, etc) to communicate and give them an edge over their foe.

          It made go “Huh. That actually rather works. Cool.”

          1. I remember reading that Ray Bradbury argued (in jest I think) that Singin’ in the Rain was actually science fiction.

  4. Right off the bat there’s Amanda’s Mossy Creek tale, which is clearly fantasy, but has a mystery and looks like there’s going to be a romance. But the principle element is the fantasy aspect.

    This makes me think of boundary conditions. I have one that centers on a cursed man who consults a seer and may have limited contact with the long dead person who cast the curse. All fantasy elements. Then, while trying to remove it, discovers it could involve quantum entanglement. That’s SF. The preponderance of fantasy elements has me thinking it’s clearly fantasy, and they’re not going to be well received by someone looking for science fiction. So here’s a fantasy reader chugging along and then hits quantum mechanics. Are they going to be tossed out of it and set it aside?

    Another is the idea of a ghost story in an SF setting. Main element is SF and yet, there’s ghost. And yes, it’s an honest-to-goodness shade-of-the-deceased ghost. Now what? It’s not fantasy But how’s a SF fan going to react to a story with a real dead ghost?

    Please note that this is not arguing. These are honest questions because I sure don’t know.

    1. I can’t answer all those questions, but I’ll point out that SF is likely to be more forgiving than almost all other genres, even though the fans do have their limits. However, a real ghost of a dead person is hardly enough to throw an SF fan for a loop.

            1. Remember a while back how you said something about the supernatural being shy about getting examined under a microscope? Wouldn’t that be about how far you could expect to push the supernatural in fiction without the rubber band of genre snapping and flinging the story over to fantasy?

              That said, in a story that I’m trying to plot out and make some progress on this year, I’m tempted to try to sneak in psionics via “these neurological structures have quantum mechanical synergy, and if you graft enough of them into your head and spend a variable number of decades practicing, you can pull off traditionally ‘psychic’ feats”.

              1. And entanglement. Entanglement sounds psionic even in real life–if one can say real life about such spooky things.

              2. There is also something weird about the pineal glad, and some of the chemicals it deals with. There’s an interesting book called DMT: The Spirit Molecule that talks about this, and describes some of the very weird effects a chemical called DMT has on people. The book is flawed and obviously not written by a writer, but it was worth picking up for a dollar at the used bookstore.

                In addition, I recommend The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose, for quantum effects involved in brain function.

                1. One thing my kids used to good effect is studying AFTER the test, on the specific questions of the test. Studies show a massive improvement in grade when you do that, as though your mind could send info backward, so the guys went “you know what? We’ll try it.”
                  AND it worked.

    2. Im kind of in the same dilemma. I started out writing a fantasy, but there is time travel involved, only its a lot more complicated than what is now termed “time-slip” where the actual mechanics or even justification for the time travel is barely explained and usually is through some mythological or circumstantial McGuffin…but it definitely is NOT Science Fiction because I myself am not interested in explaining scientific theories behind the possibility of time travel, nor do I use any kind of technology to justify how my protagonists manage time travel. There is a mechanism for making leaps through time, but there is an actual backstory/explanation for its origins and involvement in the story. Oh, and plus, there’s a definite sexual/romantic interest between my two protags, but thus far my male MC has been too proper for it. I find myself sliding into Darcy territory with him.

  5. In some cases, based on what I’m reading here, picking the genre is more about picking the one that will alienate the fewest readers, rather than necessarily being a description of the content?

  6. I consider what I write to be science fiction, but I don’t market it as such because most people define science fiction as in the above, and my novels are not set in the future. (Neither is “VALIS” or “Dhalgren” or “The Soft Machine” or most of the other works that inspired mine.)

  7. I don’t have the picture, but it’s for D&D stats:

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is knowing it doesn’t go in a fruit salad.
    Charisma is selling a fruit salad that’s got tomatoes in it.
    Response: wait, salsa is a fruit salad that’s made of tomatoes.
    Second response: guys, I found our bard! (class that needs a very high charisma score)

    Would you sell salsa as a fruit salad? Even though it is? Even if it’s a tomato-mango-and banana salsa? (my mom loves that stuff) Heck, no, you wouldn’t even call it a “fruit salad for dipping.”

    You MIGHT call it “fruit salsa,” but if you call it a fruit salad, it will just piss folks off or they won’t even consider buying it. Even though they’d utterly love it.

    I would not buy a romance novel– because, like Sarah says here, it means sex scenes and I don’t care for them. But I love a lot of scifi and fantasy that is romance, or might be– some of them in spite of the sex scenes.

      1. And they seem to be appearing more and more, even in books by authors/sub-categories of romance that didn’t use to have them. I pretty well expect sex scenes in paranormal romances, but they didn’t use to be common in regencies. Also, I am pretty sure I’ve read the one you were talking about, with the accidental forger and the investigator.

        I’ve always defined romance as “the point of the story is to get the couple together” no matter what else is going on. That’s why I define romance novels set in the future as “futuristic romance”, not science fiction. And there’s a couple of those series I’m quite enamored of. I so have plans for a post-deployment book buying binge. Like, before I even find an apartment, I’m going to the bookstore with a friend of mine. And a suitcase to carry all the books. With wheels.

        1. Two wheel dolly helps. Why no, I’ve not done any such thing before…

          Also, tomato boxes are pretty sturdy and have handles, so you can fit about 40 paperbacks or so in ’em. Stack about four boxes per trip to the car. Visit a demolition company to get some old “reclaimed” wood that has all the volatiles outgassed already, if you’re making your own bookshelves to last (making your own shelves is cheap and dead easy).

        2. $SOME_VOCAL_CONTINGENT loudly wants sex scenes, therefore we get more sex scenes in everything, whether it’s relevant to the story or not.

          That’s what happened to Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” books, and it seems to be spreading everywhere.

        3. The increasing prevalence of sex scenes in regencies has gone beyond the early “okay?” when I didn’t know better to outright annoyance now, because I’m sorry, an actual, nicely brought up young lady in that era is NOT going to just give it up no matter how hot/charming/whatever the hero is. Nor would a gentleman expect her to without putting a ring on it first, and him doing so makes him the very *opposite* of a gentleman.

          If the book is well written enough, I can usually roll my eyes and skip ahead. But still. More and more, it’s clearly a contemporary romance dressed up in Regency costumes, sigh.

          (Now, there was one author who found a clever–at least in terms of I hadn’t seen it done before in a Regency/Victorian romance–way around this: her heroine was a courtesan/former mistress. That fit in perfectly with the whole “jump into bed with the hero” thing–though the hero, for a change, had never had sex and wasn’t interested in casual sex, either…)

      2. After I finished ODS, I checked out a few other contemporary love stories with music in them to see “what others are doing”. Sheesh… Multiple explicit scenes, kink (SM, back door,…), … 80-90% of which did nothing to advance the plot or paint the characters. I’m no prude and don’t mind the other 10-20%, but there’s a serious “truth in advertising” problem here. If you’re going to write erotica, please be up front in labeling it as “erotic”.

  8. And blended genres? I really like science fiction mysteries like Caves of Steel or Niven’s Gil Hamilton stories but there either aren’t all that many new ones (or old ones either) or I just can’t find them.

    Could science fiction which has people with psi powers be marketed as space opera? A series which does have some exploding spaceships but not in every story, and only a few space battles so it’s not like Star Wars in that sense, but somewhat similar if you imagine smaller scale adventures happening in a slightly more realistic version of that universe at time periods where there are no big scale wars going on?

    Or maybe science fantasy? What I am trying for is sorta realistic but if psi powers turned out to be real (rare, though, but of course one or two of the protagonists do have them), and Rule of Cool as defined by TV tropes – so what I think is cool… I write first for myself – usually wins over realistic when those two come in conflict.

    Yes I know, it does make sense to treat it seriously as a job if you publish, but the whole writing thing is still enough of a lottery that I don’t see that much point unless I have fun with it myself first.

    1. It’s a good attempt at defining genres — but a genre is largely a marketing category, and gets invented (or obsoleted) as marketing figures out new ways of matching reader specialized interests with the kinds of stories that will match those interests.

      Of course, there are no real boundaries. You get a book like Zelazny’s _Lord of Light_ — a clearly SF story that most people will read as fantasy. Or a story like DeCamp’s “Nothing In The Rules”, which is clearly a mainstream story about a swim meet (except for the mermaid).

      Or my favorite, Leiber’s _Conjure Wife_, which is constantly being resissued when a marketing department things of a different packaging, so see how it works in a different subgenre. It’s been marketed as Horror, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Romance (I *loved* that packaging, with the woman in the white flowing dress, and the castle on the hill with the moon rising). Right now, Amazon has the paperback listed in Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban and the Kindle version listed in Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Paranormal,
      Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Horror > Occult and
      Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Supernatural

      I understand the reason for categories; I find them useless myself, although they’re useful for many people, and an essential part of the publishing landscape. But I’m not trying to get a book of mine read/bought by other people; I just want to find interesting books to read.

      So certainly listen to Sarah’s valuable posting — it tells a lot about the current state of marketing. But, as readers, look for any method you can to find the stories you’ll find interesting, and genre is only one of them.

      1. Lois McMaster Bujold blended genres a bit in her Sharing Knife series—fantasy with a strong romance element and an almost 19th-century throwback Ohio River setting that is possibly in the far future. Some of her readers didn’t like it, but she’s an established enough author that she pulled it off in the mainstream publishing.

        1. That was an excellent series. When the first book came out I just glowered at it because it was another fantasy book without Miles. A blink of an eye later she had 8 new fantasy books I hadn’t read and I got to gobble them all up at once. Even though they had no Miles.

        2. She has said explicitly that the Wide Green World isn’t ours, past, present, or future. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind seeing her go back to it. She does admit to experimenting with mixing romance with her fantasy as well as her SF, (and gets eww …cooties! from both sides) although she has also said that the differing typical structures and reader expectations are difficult to manage.

          1. She *says* it isn’t ours, but it obviously borrows very heavily from our geography and history. (Ogachi Strand, really. Almost a perfect anagram.)

        3. I struggled with it when the first one came out–it wasn’t Miles OR the Chalion books, pouting–but after the whole series was out I gave it another chance, and loved it. (Especially the almost 19th century Ohio River thing–it was interestingly different.)

    2. Julian May said her Galactic Milieu books are Space Opera. The earlier books are closer to Grand Opera, in my opinion, but the series ending with Magnificat strikes me as Space Opera with psi powering the plot.

      1. Hmm, reading the snippet in The Faces of Science Fiction, she referred to her work as Opera. I’ll stick with my modifiers. [grin]

    3. An SF mystery requires *very* careful management of the social and technological backstory.

      Try Jack Vance’s “The Moon Moth” for a good example.

    4. Doc Smith was pretty important in defining Space Opera. Very many of his works include psionics.

      1. What with the Rhine cards and all the tests, psionics was a lot more scientific-ish in the 20th century than it is now.

        1. And Campbell was fascinated with the idea. So *Astounding* and *Analog* were full of it.

    1. I’m out of touch on US published Children’s Fiction, but maybe could speak to Japanese light novels and the works of Shonen Jump.

    1. While they’re becoming they’re becoming more common, or it’s much more that they’re now more cross-marketed.

      Indie has certainly made the cross-genre book available to the public without having to aquire the aegis of the marketing department (Who will most certainly reject editor-beloved books if they can’t figure out where to market/shelve the product.)

      But the real sea-change has been Amazon’s move toward tagging instead of shelving: the ability to place book in multiple genres and subgenres by selection of category and keywording. Shelving is a process of diminishing choices: if you stick the book in this section, then you cannot also stick it in some other section of the store. Freed of the constraints and mindset of brick and mortar, Amazon approaches categories like tagging photos on tumblr: it could be this, or that, or come up under that as well…

      So your chick-lit-cozy-mystery with witches now does not need to be consigned to shelving and marketing in only one genre and stay hidden from all the rest, unless the word of mouth should happen to spread.

        1. Really? But then I guess I’m not a purist. I get delighted when someone inserts sf/f into a mystery…provided it’s well done and properly set up and not a case of the author having written themselves into a corner and using a “it was a DEMON/MAGIC/GHOST” to get themselves out of it.

          Although now that I stop and think about it, I can’t think of any mysteries I’ve read where that’s happened, in either direction.

          1. Partly it’s a fairness thing. Supernatural or hyper-tech comes across as cheating.

            On the other hand, people who like both SF/fantasy and mystery love it if you can combine the two and still play fair. But you have to market it as SF or fantasy. Because the vice is definitely not versa.

            1. Lord Darcy came into being because Randall Garrett got told once too often that “you can’t combine Fantasy & Mystery”. 😉

              Magic in Lord Darcy’s world is real but has its limits, including counter-spells to preserve things like privacy.

              In “Too Many Magicians”, there’s a “Locked Room Mystery” and it was made clear that Teleportation is theoretically possible but no magician has learned to do so.

              Of course, any magician who has learned to do teleportation would be getting paid for doing so, not teleporting a key from one side of a door to another side. 😉

      1. I remember looking at their tag list and realizing that they had pirates under SF. (Grumble, grumble, grumble — yes, this was when “The Witch-Child and the Scarlet Fleet” was coming out)

        But since then, Pirates has started to show up as an option to filter the fantasy results among my work.

  9. Always fun to figure out what little box stories fit in. Something I’ve often had to question although thriller and urban fantasy are valid if overfull category.

  10. I think I’m in trouble! I just finished writing a mystery set in a Bronze Age fantasy world. There is a crime, and the protag spends most of the book solving the crime. (Although the heart of the tale is a redemption story.) I was going to choose Mystery and Fantasy for the two genre choices allowed by Amazon, but it sounds like mystery fans would be unhappy. Thank you for educating me!

    ETA: I just checked Amazon’s keyword lists and saw that there is a category called SF&F: Mystery, so I’m saved! 😀

  11. My Waking Late books are space opera, even though they are set on a planet. The planet’s far away and the setting is in the distant future. I feel ok about that, but what I really need is a recognition of the sub-genre of legal science fiction. Still not happened.

  12. Possibly nerdy quibble (or even outright wrong).

    Noir description sounds more like Grimdark. In Grimdark, the whole world is bad, and there are only shades of badness. You know it’s going to end in tears. And possibly screams- of terror, of rage, and so on.

    Noir has a setting that embraces bad, but what makes Noir, Classic Noir at least, is the contrast between the good and the bad. There is good in good Noir. To steal shamelessly from Chandler, you have a character in a bad world who is not himself bad. Not always the main character. Grimdark leans on the reader’s own moral character. This is where Classic Noir separates- it gives the reader someone to root for.

    Your classic Noir hero is going to be moral by instinct, inevitably. His ethics must be anything but situational. If he sins, he will know it, and convict himself with that knowledge. Even if he must use bad means for a good end, the malus will haunt him and usually come back to bite him worse than it ever was, eventually. Noir embraces fatalism in its setting, but is driven by a grim sort of hope despite all experience of that setting. In Noir, you have the rusty paladin that continually throws himself into the fray, knowing he is outnumbered and outclassed, but stubbornly unwilling to admit defeat. The Noir-ish hero will often succumb to despair. But the reader knows the right kind of gal (or android, or space alien), with a look you could feel in your hip pocket, will always draw out the tarnished knight, one more time.

    Gritty usually means violence, lovingly described. Blood will splatter, bones will splinter, bullets will fly. It’s separate from gorefest in that gritty focuses on the action, while gorefest focuses on the splatter, the effects of action. Gritty Noir loves a good fight, and the heroes (and villains) are rather immune to things like brain trauma from multiple knockouts (vis. Boxing).

    End nerdiness. *grin*

    1. My familiarity with Noir comes from Humphrey Bogart movies, but even so, I do believe you are right.

  13. Another splinter genre—Medieval Romance. Which is not Romance at all, but the old form of the term—think Robin Hood or the less magical Arthurian myth stories. Cynthia Voight did a YA book called Jackaroo which fits into this category—a vaguely medieval world, which should read as fantasy, but which has no magic or magical beasties. This is usually categorized as Fantasy for simplicity’s sake, but it’s Fantasy-No-Magic.

    1. Of course, say that to me, and I think of chivalric romance — the whole Matter of France, Matter of Britain, Matter of Rome. . .

  14. I thought your list of Genres was good until you get to the end and described YA. Not that it is an inaccurate description… but as a father with a 12 year old daughter who is a keen reader (on average two novels a week on top of school work), what labels do I look for to avoid steamy sex scenes? —- Yes, I know. The best parenting trick in the book is to read all the novels and recommend the ones I think she would enjoy. That accounts for about half of what she reads. Then I find her reading something else and go “please wait till you’re 15 before you finish that” because “icky stuff”, she’s only 12!

    1. You have to read it. I had to with my boys.
      Get her Diane Wynne Jones (except Dog’s Body as it HAS sex, though my kids didn’t get that) and Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching!

    2. I was that girl, at one point.

      Biggest thing you can do: make sure she knows that she DOES NOT HAVE TO READ ANYTHING THAT MAKES HER UNCOMFORTABLE. There is no dishonor to it– examine “am I not liking this because it makes me feel bad, or do I not like it the same way that I don’t like spiders?” (Exact example depends on the kid– a lot of books I stopped reading because they…felt slimy, I guess. It triggered the “this is a bad person” button. Worked for horror, too; I still refuse to read S. King, even before he started making really dumb public statements.)

      A consideration to make you feel a bit better– some of the books I read did have sex, and strange sexual things. When I even noticed it, I mostly dismissed it; having involved parents helps a lot there. I think I was a bit older when I ran into Piers Anthony and some of Heinlein’s odder ideas about human sexuality. I either stopped reading it, or put it in the same category as any other plot-based reality changes. So The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress takes place in a world with a moon colony, computer-people, and humans whose emotional makeup is such that whatever the setup was functioned. *hits the I Believe button*

    3. Oddly enough, the nasty newer stuff is probably *safer*– there’s no way it’s going to seduce a teenage girl into thinking sex is awesome gymnastic fun. Contrast with the more romantic now-“sweet” romances that include non-graphic sex, very poetic.

    4. I also highly recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series.

      (And, depending on her reading level, you might even get away with the Belgariad/Mallorean, by David Eddings. There is some grownup stuff in there, but it’s not graphic. I think I was in fifth grade the first time I read them, and I never ran across anything that made me go “urgh” or “whaaaat?” My mother gave them to me out of a similar desperation to yours: I was a voracious reader, and had run out of YA books she felt okay giving to me, so she turned to fantasy *she’d* enjoyed that didn’t have too much age-inappropriate stuff in.)

      1. I was given David Eddings in middle school. It worked well for me, and I was one of those readers whose reaction to sex scenes was “ick.” (Now it’s usually laughter and skipping past the section, because they’re usually awful mechanistic things.)

        What’s funny is I’m currently rereading an author whose feel is very like Eddings in a number of ways, though the genre is fairly different (portal fantasy) and the situations are a little more grim and adult (I mean, people with hearts of iron, converted against their will to evil. Yikes.) Mark Anthony. No, really. He used to work with my husband.

        1. I’m usually leery of grim-and-dark, but if he’s like Eddings (who I am very fond of, though not his later works) I’ll give ’em a look. 😀

          1. It’s not grim & dark, it’s grimmer than Eddings, which isn’t actually hard. I mean, despite the fact that Eddings literally has a dark God, you don’t get the sense at any time that the characters are going to lose. Mark Anthony has the loss of some good guys along the way. It’s portal fantasy with some back & forth, and a main character who starts out at 33 but obviously hasn’t grown up yet (he does grow during the course of the series, but oh lord, whiny space farm boy alert.) And since he’s a Denver native, anyone who has lived around there will know exactly what he’s talking about when he sets certain scenes in specific places.

            For extra hilarity, this is the only series he’s written under his own name. He’s gone on to writing romance under a pseudonym.

  15. YA with heavy sex…I see I am seriously out of date. Or you are pulling our legs. (Why do I expect someone to cite particularly egregious proofs that our hostess is telling the truth.) Yes, the protagonist of The Girl Who Saved the World, my current novel, is 12, making it YA, but there are zero planned sex scenes. Two of the novel’s female heroines of about the same age are catastrophically embarrassed, because the heroine had successfully disguised herself as a boy, to discover that they had been planning on asking the disguised person out on a date, but there was no date,

      1. Boggle. YA. Erotica.

        Sorry, I might be a prude, too. And I was a farmboy, I *knew* the mechanics of it. But there should be NO SEX in YA. Just no. *shakes head*

    1. I understand that it is real.

      IIRC, Freer tells a story of leaving an Australian YA writers group when one of them started talking about making certain the porn was kinky enough.

      I believe this is so because of certain trends I thought I saw when I was younger and especially sensitive to mindgames that might make someone vulnerable to a predator. Publishing industry insiders in fandom have promoted and protected pederasts, it is plausible that they might try to push such in YA publishing.

      Eclipse will be fine without such content. There is a Children’s/YA market for stuff that doesn’t have that crap. (Sorry for not having a reply yet. The week’s busy, I’ve maybe been under the weather, and I often find it easier to write random topics on impulse than to something well thought out to plan.)

      1. Rick Riordan. There are issues one could raise, but he has no explicit sex scenes, and is very popular.
      2. Japan. Yes, the Japanese publish a lot of raunchy fanservice titles. They also publish stuff for children that does not have such content, and is still enormously popular with American children and adults.

        1. Okay, I am scratching my head here (not from the psoriasis, either) – are our own Cedar Sanderson’s two books not YA fantasy?

          Not that the “genre” doesn’t make me bang my head on the desk every time I see it. If you are an adult, you can handle the weird parts (perhaps better as a young person rather than an old coot like me, to be honest). Ignore them, as you do (and my mother had the same habit, I wonder how widespread that is, actually?) Try to figure out whether they are physically possible (and even theoretically pleasurable for any of the participants).

          Sex is for adults – hiding (details) of sex is what we do for children. (Who, in most cases except the very kinky, aren’t really concerned either way with what “Mommy and Daddy do at night.”)

          Pardon the ramble, that hit one of my smaller buttons…

          1. Yeah. That stuff was boring. You needed some other plot and source of tension to hold my attention.

            I read a bunch of E. W. Hildick when I was younger. To include a book on writing for children that I think I found in a university library in my twenties. Sometime in my teens, I was so interested in more that I tracked down a book of his that was shelved in the adult section. I looked at ‘she has married a serial killer’, and said ‘nope’.

        1. My methodology is a) recently out from tradpub b) popular c) clean enough to count. I’ve read Magnus Chase 1, and Percy Jackson seems well enough represented in fanfic.

          I’m familiar with Jacques, Lloyd Alexander, Alexander Key, etc. I would have read Griffin and Kittens by now, if I had more income, and hence were willing to be freer with my money.

      1. That was one of your scarier columns… Thank goodness mine were mostly grown (I guess “older adults”) when the trend really got going.

        And they are assigned in schools now, even here in a relatively “red” State. Shudder.

  16. YA with heavy sex…I see I am seriously out of date. Or you are pulling our legs. (Why do I expect someone to cite particularly egregious proofs that our hostess is telling the truth.) Yes, the protagonist of The Girl Who Saved the World, my current novel, is 12, making it YA, but there are zero planned sex scenes. Two of the novel’s female heroines of about the same age are catastrophically embarrassed, because the heroine had successfully disguised herself as a boy, to discover that they had been planning on asking the disguised person out on a date, but there was no date.

    1. I really, really, REALLY wish she was pulling your leg.

      I haven’t seen any that are, oh, mass group sex- but I also stopped reading YA a few years ago, when it went from “stories for young adults, usually including growing up” to “stories about teenagers– let’s make sure they Enter Adulthood by having sex!”

      Hehe, on the Sweet Polly angle, have you read Daughter of the Lilies web comic? Bottom right of this art:

      1. “stories about teenagers– let’s make sure they Enter Adulthood by having sex!”

        One book from a popular YA author makes it clear that, while it’s okay to be the kid with strict parents and who isn’t even dating, you must still be enthusiastically supportive of your friend who is having sex. And that anyone who is opposed to kids having sex is (a) a terrible person in other ways too and (b) a blatant hypocrite.

        1. I know from living it that simply not being interested was surely a lie; NOBODY could be anything but desirous of bumping uglies.

          1. Asexuals—people who are just flat-out uninterested in having sex—are one of the groups at high risk for sexual assault, simply because people want to “prove” to them that they really want sex. Because people don’t believe they exist.

            It boggles me that people will believe that it’s perfectly natural for someone to want far more sex than is the average (nymphomania or satyriasis were the terms back in the day), but fail to apply that concept to the reverse. “Average” needs BOTH ends to be average!

            1. I believe it. The garbage I got for basically not finding any of the immature asses in high school attractive was pretty heavy– at least I’d admit to something they could construe as attraction in some areas.

              If I was absolutely not interested to the point of not even finding guys attractive, and they couldn’t insist I was some sort of self-hating lesbian? Gads. I’d be a walking armory. 😦

              1. You’ll find this amusing. I went to a senior prom at the boys’ school with someone who asked me because “I know you don’t want to date me.” We’d both been fending off invitations from people who wanted A Serious Relationship, and this way we could go off, have a good time, and not worry about dating repercussions afterwards.

  17. There seems to be some issue with my posts not transmitting and then showing up very late, leading to double posts.

  18. The few words about scenic book covers strikes me hard. As an amateur photographer I have idyllic, scenic, bucolic photographs of woodlands dressed in the colors of fall. And I used them for my book covers. They seem to go well with my characters who are woodland creatures, survival specialist. holy warrior amazon priestess who posses knowledge unknown to mere humans.

    If you think my covers inappropriate then I must ask, “Did you see the sniper?” Sniper tactics are an integral part of the storyline.

      1. Walter Jon WIlliams’ “Knight Moves” has the most inappropriate cover of any novel I’ve seen so far.

        It has a centaur, and a big digital clock, and some Greek symbology. It fairly screams “fantasy.” But the book turned out to be hard SF about near-posthumans approaching the Singularity…

        Williams *loves* that cover.

    1. The function of the cover art, title, and typography (together, as a sum of the whole) is to convey genre, subgenre, and interest the reader into looking at the blurb (whether by flipping a hardcopy to the back, or clicking on the thumbnail.)

      So no matter how pretty and descriptive of the story setting, unless it meets the above requirements, they’re not good book covers, and will not perform the function that a good book cover should – namely, drawing in potential readers.

      Let’s take a bucolic phrase: On the blue side of the mountain.

      If you show a beautiful photograph of the Appalachians in full fall color, and put that in small font – let’s say something subtle and restrained, or thin, like Arial, what genre does it signal? Literary or Travel.

      If you photoshop that picture to look like a burned photograph, and place “On the Blue Side of the Mountain” in screaming bloody font, congrats, it’s horror.

      If that photograph is run through a filter to look like an oil painting, and you stick a protagonist in front who’s an elf, dwarf, guy in plate mail, or all three, and make the font a typical fantasy font, congrats, it’s fantasy.

      If you make it photorealist, but out of focus, and stick a shirtless male model and sexy-looking woman in front, put the font in a more cursive-style, it’s romance. Stick some glowy magical light effects on the same pair of people and stick in a wolf head or full moon, and shift the font to grunge, and you have paranormal romance.

      Keep the glowy light effects and the grunge font, Make the guy clothed, and give the gal a weapon, and it’s an urban fantasy.

      The point being, if you have to say “There’s a sniper in there”… your cover isn’t telling me there’s a sniper in there. If you have to tell me there’s magic, then your cover isn’t telling me that. You can go a ways toward fixing that with typography and title, but it’s much better to look at the top 100 books in your subgenre, and think “What’s the common theme to the art? How can I make my book look like it belongs on this shelf, instead of misfiled under travelogues and through-hiking memoirs?” Then, from there, start tweaking your cover to signal to potential buyers that you’ve got what they’re looking for.

      1. > photograph is run through a filter
        > to look like an oil painting,

        I know that’s popular now… but most of that kind of stuff I see trips into the “uncanny valley” or something. Probably 90% of the time I’ll go WTF? and slam it back into the shelf or click away.

    2. Changing up the colors a bit might make it work– or run it through one of the “make it illustrated” filters and have some sort of a magic-looking gold rod to one side. (It doesn’t even matter if the amazon priestess USES a “magic staff,” it’s just saying “magic forest.”) If you’re serious about the sniper thing, then have something to symbolize the weapon– a golden bow and arrow, crossbow, wand….

      It might say “80s fantasy,” but that’s better than “travelog.”

      1. Or possibly have a border effect. Old Victorian frame would make it an old-fashioned romance; a border with runic elements speaks to fantasy or New Age depending on the styling. Borders made up of objects such as the aforementioned staff or bow & arrow would also signal fantasy.

  19. One On Different Strings reviewer (otherwise fairly positive) said my book was mislabeled: “it’s a love story, not a romance”. I asked her what the difference was, and she basically gave me the Potter Stewart answer (“I know it when I see it”).Then I looked for a list of definition of romance subgenres, which contained the entry “mainstream novel with strong romantic elements”. Seeing what you wrote clarifies a bit further.

    1. 1. ) Does it have a Happily Ever After, or a Happily For Now ending? That is, do we see the character together at the end, having overcome the flaws that kept them from being fulfilled as a couple?

      If yes, romance. If no, love story.

      2.) Is the main plot the emotional arc of the characters – their meeting, their rejection of each other, their consideration of being a couple, their determination to try, and then overcoming the obstacles to end up as such?

      If yes, romance. If no, it’s some other genre with a romantic subplot.

  20. I feel that there are weaknesses in the description of the children’s market, and that these might be addressed by discussion of foreign markets. The only actual genre I intend to describe is not for children.

    Shonen, sometimes mistaken for a genre, is a demographic. Means boys, I’m not sure the age range. I’d guess 12 plus or minus four. Shonen Jump is a comics publisher that has developed a fairly distinct style after decades of targeting this demographic. Not all Shonen Jump titles involve fighting, have teenage cast, or have a magic system built around combat. (Makibao was about a race horse.) These are serials. They often rely on being able to convince the reader that the protagonist can lose to dire consequences for the short term storytelling. They do this while sometimes selling to people who are old enough, and have read enough of their stories to know that the protagonist is very likely to win somehow. The long term story telling is often relationships. Former enemies are now allies. Has he betrayed us to our enemies, or is he secretly betraying our enemies from the inside? Who in this enormous cast will die? At what cost will be victory? (Naruto and Bleach ended when a question of friendship was settled, then timeskipped forward for the protagonists to have kids.)

    Light Novels are a format, with a short text and a few illustrations. I’ve a weak grasp of the genres, and I’m not sure of wordcount. These are often marketed towards the older YA market. Some with sex, some without. (Campione gets a lot of mileage out of kissing. However, it has lots of overpowering puzzle monsters, danger, and destruction.) Like Shonen Jump, a lot of appeal in western markets, sometimes with no sexual content.

    Magical Girl is a genre, which I could define if I had more spoons, and felt it necessary.

    Xianxia is a Chinese genre. Means immortal hero. Where Wuxia is about the martial path, Xianxia is about the immortal path. Often enough starts with the characters very young, or incarnated in a young body. Tends to have very strict hierarchies of power and influences, with many people sucking up and shitting down. Tends to have very discrete power levels. When the main character grows strong enough to kill or suppress his former competition, he then comes into contact with a new level of competition whose power dwarfs his. Tends to have the acquisition of a unique and overpowering technique, object or physical condition as a very early plot point.

  21. On cover design, check out the “The Horny Taboo Elf Stepmom” series on Amazon. Almost all of them SCREAM exactly what they are– fantasy erotica. With a massive dose of over-the-top lurid drama. (Example title: Elf Maidens Defiled By Orc Lords)

    Incidentally, Amazon seems to have expanded their Kindle library to all prime members, and you can search in what they have…but there isn’t a lot of results for “elf”…..*blushes furiously*

    1. Oookay. That’s one that could have a plain brown wrapper, and I think I’d figure out what it is…

      Then there’s one series I read the first few of (the price was right). Cover has a very sexy, lightly dressed woman at a bar table with an insectoid alien. Plus the title, it seems to promise something – that is not delivered. (Now, that did not disappoint me, as that is not what I was looking for. It actually is a fairly good light SF read, at least the first few. Hmm, need to review them along here someday when the backlog is cleared out.)

      BTW, the cover for all of those are only one work – the writer just runs it through different color filters each time. Maybe he spent a chunk on the original, if it is actually done by an artist – but he’s certainly getting more than his full value out of it.

  22. Sword & Sorcery deserves a mention. Even though it hasn’t been published much in recent years.

      1. I’d disagree with the high fantasy comparison. Sword and sorcery usually has more primitive civilizations where life is cheap and much of the world remains unexplored. The main characters work in the shadows and prefer avoiding the attention of the corrupt powers-that-be. Magic is very powerful and its practitioners are people you’d rather not meet. While monsters are prevalent in S&S, other races are not so common.

        S&S is more like ‘fantasy noir’ to me. The character’s goal is survival in a dark, dangerous, and uncaring world. Put more simply, I can’t imagine a peaceful place like the Shire existing in Conan’s world. Nor can I imagine sylvan glades with dancing elves–unless the elves were dancing around a human they were sacrificing for eldritch purposes.

        There are similarities, but they’re at least as far apart as noir mysteries and cozy mysteries.

          1. Nothing to apologize for. Your reading goes farther afield than mine and your column taught me something new about several genres I don’t read.

            1. You can always go on Amazon and look up books that are good examples of the sort of story you’re telling, see what they look like.

              I’m not a huge S&S fantasy reader, so Conan is the only one to come to my mind– they’ve got what looks like the classic paintings set into a vaguely leather brown window.

              Game of Thrones, if that fits in the category your story does, seems to go with the “simple gold, stylized picture of a mace, a sword or a crown with some gemstone accents” type theme.

  23. I think it’s important to remember that these genre designations are just a reflection of how books have been marketed in the past. They are entirely arbitrary. The majority of them were started because something that didn’t fit into an existing pigeonhole became embarrassingly popular and marketing departments had to scramble to catch up.

    John Grisham wrote “A Time To Kill”, which wasn’t a classical mystery (we knew who the murderer was from the first chapter) but people were buying it and looking for more books like it, so suddenly Courtroom Drama got its own shelf at Borders. There were courtroom dramas before that, but they didn’t get their own designation until Grisham–they were filled under Mystery or Literature, depending on some marketer’s mood that day.

    Anne Rice wrote a novel where the hero was a vampire, which broke the main rules of Horror, so all of a sudden, presto, we have Urban Fantasy. There was plenty of Urban Fantasy prior to Interview With A Vampire, it just didn’t have a home.

    K W Jeter was writing Steampunk back in the 1970s, but it took Gibson and Sterling to make it a “real thing” with “The Difference Engine”.

    Now, I’ll admit that these examples are off the top of my head before I hustle into the day job, so I may be wrong about the novels and genres in question. However, I think the principle applies–genre is reactive. It tells you what sold well ten years ago.

  24. In my first novel I ran into a cross-genre sort of problem that bears mentioning and should be warned against: If you’re doing hard SF with some sort of rationale for a concept broadly considered impossible, make sure you explain that rationale clearly and early in the plot. Don’t leave it as a mystery to be slowly revealed. (One exception is FTL; the concept has a long pedigree and most people will give you a pass on it. It does help if your hyperdrive has a rationale of some sort.)

    A crucial plot element in The Cunning Blood is that when people die, they are uploaded to a computational substrate that defines our universe, where they continue to exist as computational (they’re not really artificial) intelligences. The process is purely physical, granting that there was some speculation about the shape and underlying nature of space. What I was actually doing is taking Extropian uploading to new extremes (that was a really big deal back when I wrote the book in the late 1990s) and damned if a few readers didn’t think I was talking about an honest-to-God supernatural afterlife. They were supremely annoyed.

    My mistake lay in an attempt to make it a mystery and reveal it slowly by dropping hints, and in fact I intended to continue to reveal it bit by bit in the sequel, which is now almost 20 years late. So I had people dying and then continuing to communicate with living characters. I caught some significant hell over this, which I now realize was my own fault. SF is about stretching the limits of the known and the possible, but without a fairly explicit explanation early on, what I had proposed was a stretch WAY too far, and (more important, perhaps) carrying WAY too much cultural baggage.

    All that said, the book has been a success, but be warned, and be careful.

  25. I stumbled across Lindsay Buroker a while back. She’s (apparently) a Romance write who has branched out. The Emperor’s Edge series is excellent, but the covers! A couple of books have spun-off the main series and they have good covers.
    The first book and a spin-off book.

    It’s a difficult genre pick. I’d call it SF&F. There is a romance sub-plot (that moves very slowly – as in across several books – and doesn’t really “drive” anything), but I think a Romance reader would be very disappointed.

    Let’s see what she picked…

    Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Steampunk
    Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Steampunk
    Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Military > Space Marine

    I can see “Steampunk”, but “Space Marine”?!? There is neither space nor marines. Those are going to be unhappy readers.

    Is one required to drill all the way down? Could you stop at Science Fiction? If possible, is it unwise?

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