Last Saturday I had a writer friend say she wasn’t sure what to call her story in a query letter. She was debating between science fiction or futuristic, but mostly she wanted something that would give an agent a good idea of what the story was about.
Hers was a good question. Whether you’re writing a query letter to an agent or editor or self-publishing, it is important to know how to categorize your work; something beyond the basic categories of fiction or non-fiction. Of course, the first description would be if it was a novel or novella, short story, article, play, screenplay, poem, or whatever. Once that’s clear, how you describe your work—categorize it—becomes very important.
For a work of fiction, it could be classified as literary or genre (sometimes referred to as commercial fiction). Genre, however, is still too broad a category, so a more specific term is preferred: romance, mystery or crime, thriller or suspense, science fiction or fantasy, horror, action or adventure, historical, gothic, futuristic, dystopian… The list could go on.
What every writer wants is for the book to be easily found by people who buy books. If you simply say you’ve written a romance or a suspense, the book buyer (or agent or editor) doesn’t really know if this is what she or he is looking for. The more specific (to a point) you can be in your description of the book’s genre, the better your chances the book will stand out.
For example: simply listing a book as a romance on Amazon means the book will be one of more than a million titles. Call it a romantic suspense and it’s now one of seventy-five thousand books. Call it a romantic suspense ghost story and the list is down to fifteen hundred. So let’s call it a nineteenth century romantic suspense ghost story. Now, it’s one of fifteen.
The book will still come up under romance, and in the list of romantic suspense titles, and in the list of romantic suspense ghost story titles, so you haven’t lost the possibility of the book being found there, but if someone is looking for a specific century romantic ghost story, you’ve got a darn good chance that book will be found.
With my writer friend, I think she has written a science fiction story, but she’s going to have to look at the list of possibilities under that category to find ones that best define her story. (She should check BarnesandNoble.com as well as Amazon.com.) Once she sees what kind of competition she might have with various labels, she should be able to pick the ones to use in a query letter.
Here are two web sites that list categories and descriptions. Check them out.