Even if you're not writing true "genre" fiction, you need to be able to position your book for readers and agents (if you're going to look for one). Specifically, you need to know:
- where your book fits in the marketplace (similar authors, comparable titles)
- on which shelf it should appear in a physical bookstore.
- in which category it should sell on Amazon or other online book stores.
For this article, we'll use my manuscript-in-progress as an example. The book's working title is "The Loneliest Planet: A Handbook for the Chronically Single."
At a writer's conference I pitched it as a comic novel offering "the personal journey of "Eat, Prary, Love" with the sexual frustration of "Portnoy's Complaint." One agent told me those titles were too old. Another said that all she could remember about "Portnoy" was the masturbation scene. I also worried that the term "comic" might lead people to confuse it with a comic book as opposed to a satire.
Tools for Finding Your Genre
1) Lists of genres
Wikipedia List of Literary Genres: Probably the best place to start. Scroll to the bottom of the Wiki genre page for clickable links with explanations.
Sparknotes: The top part of this article is a little tough to read, but the bottom offers a useful list with definitions.
Virtual Salt: More detail than most people need. This page includes a list of genres, styles, and other literary terms with examples.
2) Similar Authors
Literature Map: This site allows you to enter a popular author and the site generates a list writers considered to be similar in style and genre. In the screen shot below, I search Philip Roth, the author of "Portnoy's Complaint," found the contemporary author Jonathan Tropper, whose books are selling well and, much like my book, cover topics such as dating and single life.
|A search on authors similar to Philip Roth produced both familiar and unfamiliar names.|
3) Comparable Titles
Genres of Existing Books: The Library of Congress Web site allows you to search for authors and then drill down to find genres of their books. The results are not always helpful and the ease-of-use and speed are, well, what do you'd expect from the government, but the site is worth a look.
|A listing of genres associated with "Portnoy's Complaint" from the Library of Congress Web site. I didn't find this that useful, but you might.|
Live Plasma: Worth a look. When I entered "Portnoy's Complaint," the site generated a lot of older titles. When I entered a book by Jonathan Tropper, the produced nothing.
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Other Online Book Sites: Key Things to Look for:
- On Amazon: Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
- On Barnes and Noble: Related Subjects
More On Genres
1) Applying This Information to an Agent Search
Once you've got a list of comparable books and authors, Google the author's name and the word "agent" or "literary agent" and consider pitching that agent.
2) Hot Genres
Upmarket Fiction: I've been seeing this is a lot of listings for what agents are looking for. Upmarket is kind of a catch-all for books that are too smart to be straight commercial fiction but not smart enough to be straight literary fiction.
High Concept: Another popular, but confusing term. High Concept is really low concept -- a story that can be described simply and succinctly. I've developed a description for my book that might be considered high-concept: A never-married hypochondriac takes a trip around the world looking to change his luck with love. Click here for a succinct description from former agent Nathan Bransford.
3) How I Put This Together
At present, I plan to put the following sentence, which includes my genre and market positioning, high up in my query letter:
The "Loneliest Planet" is a satiric novel that will appeal to fans of Sam Lipsyte, Shalom Auslander, and Jonathan Tropper.
*Art attribution: Weird Tales image by Weird Tales, Inc. (Scanned cover of pulp magazine.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. (I put it down here because putting this text under the image creates a mess when the article is sent out over Feedburner.
For More of My Book Marketing Tips, See:
- Book Marketing: My Six Month Progress Report
- Query Letter Confusion: When One Agent Says "A" and Another Says "B"
- Twitter Tips for Those Who Hate Social Media