Sunday, February 03, 2013

Oh Category, how evil are your ways

From the incoming queries today came a novel categorized as a "realistic fiction novel."

Of course the juxtaposition of fiction and novel pretty much assured my first reaction was downright horror and revulsion. I managed to control myself long enough to have second thoughts.  Maybe the querier meant "realistic fiction" and that it was a novel (not a memoir.)

Fair enough.

Don't do that.

There's no such category as "realistic fiction." I know this cause I've spent some time in bookstores.

When you think about it, and I hope you're thinking a LOT about how books work, fiction has to be believable, not necessarily realistic.  Is it realistic that Jack Reacher always wins fights? No. Do I believe he does? You bet.

And more important: I don't read novels to get a dose of reality. That's what I have the New York Times for. I read novels for lots of different reasons but reality isn't on that list.

What does this mean for you? Don't over-think category. It's really ok to call your work a novel and leave it at that.  If you write genre novels, use the broadest category you fit.  Don't try to be clever.

Clever is how you get your blunderbuss aimed at your Buster Browns.


Philip Heckman said...

You just saved me the embarrassment of querying about my manuscript of "funny line break poetry."

Elissa M said...

Too many writers insist their work "can't be categorized", as if that was a good thing. I don't suppose anyone following this bog needs to be told that a category is where in the bookstore the book will be shelved. Like you said Janet, don't over-think it.

If a writer doesn't know what their own book is about (i.e. the category), how do they expect anyone else to know?

Sam Mills said...

To agree with Elissa - yes! Think like the readers you want to attract. If you read genre this is a no-brainer: when I want scifi I go to the scifi, I don't wander the general fiction hoping I'll find a fictionalized comedic romantic memoir with strong themes of science fiction. If you don't write genre then just call it fiction and don't be coy about it.

Michael Seese said...

Hmmm. Maybe I should re-think my "reality-based futuristic science fiction."

Christine Monson said...

How do you feel about abbreviations (i.e. YA or MG) used in query letters?

John Vaughan said...

Realistic and fiction are two words that should never be together, in my opinion. It's like saying made up nonfiction. doesn't make any sense to me !