Genre roulette

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Silk’s Post #33 — I’m confused about genres. Just a wild guess, but I’ll bet you are too.

It seems like genres have been hanging out with each other, no doubt under cover of darkness, and mating.

I can’t help but visualize Chick Lit and Horror making it on the floor of an abandoned, Gothic, beer-bottle-strewn party house under a cobwebby chandelier, and begetting this whole sex-obsessed Vampire offspring, for example. And that crazy Steampunk! It had to be conceived when the geeky sci-fi-addicted computer science major finally got that shy, Victorianaphile girl from the library tipsy on one glass of port, and then she doffed her spectacles and let down her hair and … well, you know what happened next.

Some of these genre couplings are yielding some pretty wild genetic traits. And that’s not even counting the scrambled DNA resulting from threesomes. Or the beasts issuing from inter-species liaisons. Talk about genre roulette!

No wonder there’s so much conflicting information out there about genres: what to call them … what they represent … who reads them … how hot they are. Writers hoping to be published are advised that they must be able to assign their work to a genre, for the convenience of agents and editors. And, of course, to aid the understandably confused book sales workers who must figure out which real or virtual bookshelf each title belongs on. By thy genre shall thy audience know thee, we’re told.

If it were only that simple.

First of all, what is a genre? A no less lofty publication than The Guardian provides an “A-Z List” of “Book Genres” numbering sixty-one. Sixty one! It includes such designations as Ballet, Paranormal Romance (children and teens), Fairies and True Crime, but no Steampunk. To me, the Guardian list looks like some poor editorial assistant finally gave up trying to classify books by genre, and just threw some genre names together with a mixed list of topics and audiences.

Remember: it’s all about eyeballs on bookshelves.

Popular reader website Goodreads looks promising when it comes to genre identification … at first. It does offer a genre short list for browsing purposes, which includes:

Art – Biography – Business – Chick Lit – Children’s – Christian – Classics – Comics – Contemporary – Cookbooks – Crime – Ebooks – Fantasy – Fiction – Gay and Lesbian – Graphic Novels – Historical Fiction – History – Horror – Humor and Comedy – Manga – Memoir – Music – Mystery – Non Fiction – Paranormal – Philosophy – Poetry – Psychology – Religion – Romance – Science – Science Fiction – Self Help – Suspense – Spirituality – Sports – Thriller – Travel – Young Adult

Okay, I can find my way around that. But then it also has a link to “More genres …”

Don’t go there!

It’s enough to send a writer looking for genre guidance into a catatonic state for a week. This “more genres” list turns out to be three very long pages with hundreds of listings (Goodreads calls them “shelves”), which includes such esoterica as Amish Fiction, Butch-Femme, Fat Acceptance, Geek, Lesbotronic, New Weird, Polyamorous, Post-Apocalyptic, Shapeshifters, Southern Gothic, Swashbuckling, Thelema, Urban Legends, Viking Romance, Whodunit, Yaoi, and the ever popular Zombies.

Well, at least I know what Whodunit means.

I like the approach to book genres found at the website of independent editors BubbleCow. They show separate lists of genres under “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” that seem to hit an appropriate and understandable level of categorization. They even have created a cool word bubble graphic of genres that appears to distinguish the mainstream of literature from its smaller creeks and tiny rivulets.

Oh, but wait. At the end of their list, they provide a link to that amorphous list from The Guardian with the advice that it “should help.” Aaaargh!

The ever-reliable Wikipedia provides sensible genre lists in “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” flavours, which actually attempt to define each genre in a few words. However, it seems to be missing many of the common genres listed in other sources; for example it oddly lists Tall Tales, but not Thriller, as a fiction genre.

But just keep scrolling … whatever weird and wonderful genre you may be searching for can be found in the Wikipedia section titled “Genres and sub genres”. Steampunk, for instance is shown as a sub-sub-genre of Science Fiction (itself a sub-genre of Speculative Fiction). And Steampunk even has its own sub-sub-sub-genre offspring: Clockpunk, and her siblings Dieselpunk and Atompunk. 

This got me thinking about all the promising genres that haven’t yet been invented, but are sure to evolve as existing genres continue to mate and as our speed-of-light media culture continues to stoke the genre fire with the newest crazes.

Here are some speculative predictions for genres yet to be born. Remember, you read it here first …

Dystopian Cookbook Cormac McCarthy meets Martha Stewart in this genre featuring roadkill recipes for survivors of the Apocalypse.

Junkpunk – A Steampunk specialization inspired by “Hoarders” programs.

Vegan Porn – Rude photographs of vegetables.

Alternative Legal Universe – Constitutional law as a fan fiction work-in-progress, dramatizing the tragicomic results as the constantly changing legal canon plays out in courtrooms.

Religious Erotica – Oh, wait. We already have that.

Anti-Freedom Conspiracy – Exposés documenting insidious plots of the Liberal Media, Academics, Tree Huggers, Unions, Ethnic Groups, Queers, Judges, Feminists and other Factions to take away Freedom-Loving, Law-Abiding Citizens’ most basic, God-Given human rights, like packing in shopping malls. Or wherever said Citizens freaking well want.

Women’s Fit Lit – Narrative amalgamation of diet books with inspirational fiction designed to empower generously-endowed women. Like a whole Oprah genre.

Orange Pulp – Pulp fiction specifically set in Orange County, CA.

Financial Suspense – Reality-based how-to books for amateur investors that focus on the dramatic tension and excitement of wondering whether you’re making a fortune, or losing everything (may be classified as either fiction or non-fiction).

Wuxia Romance – Martial arts meet marital arts.

Query Thriller – Heart-pumping, rollercoaster tales of writers’ quests for publication, coupling the soaring highs and wrist-slashing lows with sound and helpful advice from actual literary agents and editors (additional fees may apply).

13 thoughts on “Genre roulette

    • Thanks Bev. I started out to write a serious post on genres, but was quickly reduced to hysterics when I started reading all the lists of wackadoodle sub-genres.

  1. I remember when paranormal was just under fantasy. Now it has to be its own thing! I can’t even tell you if my contracted novel is paranormal romance or dark fantasy, but I’ll let my publisher decide that for me. Personally, I’d like it to be dark fantasy, but I had to play up the romance to get the ending to work the way I wanted it to. But it’s a sub-plot! So I don’t know. YA never even used to be divided up in genres. Curse this genre roulette.

    • I think the industry has created a bit of a monster with this categorization obsession. But we writers have no choice but to wrestle with it. You gotta laugh or cry, and I choose to laugh.

    • Many years ago, Playboy ran a photo feature of vegetables posed to look like naughty bits. Never forgot it. As you can imagine, zucchini had a starring role.

  2. Oh, my. Does it ever get easier for us writers? But, what goes around comes around. The only thing new about some of these genres is their reinvented fancy title. Take Steampunk. Who hasn’t read Jules Verne and H.G. Wells the fathers of science fiction? Most people did, probably in school, only it wasn’t called Steampunk until the late eighties. Why make it simple if you can make it complicated? In my search for an agent, I will try to refrain myself from Vegan Porn and Religious Erotica. It will simply be boring old Suspense.
    Nicely put together, Silk. Fascinating topic.

    • Hey, we live in the era a branding … everything must have a unique brand, right? If nothing else, at least these genre names are quite entertaining.

  3. LOVE your post Silk. You had such fun writing it I can tell. What’s great about writing in a room on your own is that you can laugh until your stomach hurts and you don’t have to explain yourself. No crunches for you today.

  4. Fun take on a frustrating area for many upcoming writers! This reminds me of the “lumping vs. splitting” in biology. Make fewer distinctions and you have a “lumped” taxonomy. Make more, it’s split. Genres are definitely in a splitting mode—perhaps along with infinitives?

  5. At a get-published seminar, we were told to list comparable titles in our queries. When I replied that my story was unique, and that there were no comparable titles, I was abruptly told never to say that. So if I don’t fit into a recognized genre, how do I find comparable titles? Lying comes too easily to mind. Whaddaya think?

    • Lying? Hmm. Wait a minute, aren’t we FICTION writers? Stretching the truth a bit should be second nature, right?

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