I've got two projects ready to query for agents, and it has made me think about the importance of knowing what genre your book is.
There's a tendency among writers to want to write what we want to write, regardless of the readership. And that's great. It's totally fine.
However, if a writer does have the goal of getting published it's important to have the end-product in mind. For publishers, writing is a commodity, and it needs to be marketable. The very first thing a publisher needs to know to evaluate whether the book will work for them is the GENRE.
What is a genre? It's a type. It basically dictates who the audience of the book will be. Here are some examples of fiction genres, with my general assessment of the audience they target:
Picture Books (books with pictures, aimed at kids)
Chapter Books (longer books for young readers)
Middle Grade Fiction (that means for grade schoolers, the protagonist should be age 11)
Young Adult, a.k.a. YA (teen readers, the protagonists should be age 15-16, very little wiggle room there)
Literary Fiction (novels where the internal conflict of the main characters takes center stage)
Commercial Fiction (novels where external conflict for the main characters is most prevalent)
Thrillers (like Baldacci)
Suspense (like Hitchcock)
Paranormal (ghosts, etc.)
Dystopian (where the world as we know it is broken, like Fahrenheit 451)
Fantasy (where the world-building is a main part of the story, often a quest or epic battle)
Science Fiction (where futuristic technology plays a major role)
Magical Realism (regular world with a dash of magic)
SteamPunk (not quite sure, but often set in the past with current technology involved; is it like Cowboys and Aliens?)
Historical (set in the past, usually educating the reader about the time period)
Romance (where the end isn't a surprise, but the joy is in the journey of girl getting boy)
There are others, and there are sub-genres of these classes as well; for instance, within Mystery, there is a sub-genre called "Cozy Mystery" where the blood isn't too gory, and you can imagine reading this curled up next to a fire with a cup of tea on a rainy day. There are also "Hard Boiled Detective" mysteries, like the Sam Spade stories of Dashiell Hammett. Or you've got "Procedurals" where the emphasis is on the medical evidence. Doesn't Patricia Cornwall write those? They're a little gritty for me and my cotton candy reading taste.
There are also gradations of Romance. Everything from "Sweet," to "Christian," to "Hot," to "NASCAR." The genres of Romance seem almost limitless. And it's a big market.
Okay, now. This morning I sent my first query to an agent. In my letter I noted the genre of my book. In order to even know which agent to query, I needed to know what genre she agented, and what her interests are. It really narrows things down. It's an important step in getting published.
Yeah, I can see how it feels constricting to some of us who would like to think of ourselves as "genre-bending" writers, but the problem with that is that when a reader picks up a book, he or she has a certain expectation and desire to be entertained in a certain way. For instance, some nights I stand in front of the Red Box thinking, "Do I want a comedy or an action movie?" There's an expectation, and it's part of the contract between the reader and the writer, as William Noble said. The deal is, the reader says, "Tell me a story," and the writer does.
Now, onto more important topics. Sometimes I stand in front of the Red Box and realize it's across the street from McDonalds and all I can think is how much I am craving a Fruit and Yogurt Parfait. I love that crunchy granola they put in the packet to keep it crispy and slide the spoon through the little plastic wrapper to keep them together and ready for me to combine and eat. Sometimes the chunks of strawberries are still frozen. I know, I know, some people are haters about The Golden Arches, but don't dis the Yogurt. That stuff is gooood.
Check out the Deliciousness