ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Literature Genres and Their Definitions

Updated on February 24, 2013

OVERVIEW

So you have finished your manuscript and it is time to send out query letters to agents and publishers. You have your handy reference guide that details everything that each agent and/or publisher is looking for, and you notice that most agents specialize in a particular genre of literature. Makes sense since we all can’t be everything to everybody. However, as you look over some of those genres you realize you don’t have a clue what they are?

Welcome to this article! My goal is to clarify some of the common genres in the literature world so that you can make better decisions when sending out your query letters. If you are a typical writer, you may have a hard time deciding which genre your novel fits under, and it is entirely possible that your book may span two or three different genres at the same time. For example, maybe your novel is a western but has a strong romance thread running throughout. Would it be considered a romance novel or a western? Knowing the distinctions just might be the difference between a query letter that garners a response and one that fails and is never read.

Shall we begin?

Stehpen King:  He doesn't look so scary.
Stehpen King: He doesn't look so scary. | Source

CHILDREN’S

Books that are written for little children, usually defined as between the ages of toddler up to eleven years of age. The main characters are usually children of the same age or childlike animals. Pictures usually dominate these books and simple moral lessons are common.

FANTASY

For lack of a better definition, think “that which is not real.” As the name suggests, there is something fantastic about the story or characters. The characters may be human or some imaginary species, and they usually have talents that we do not see on Earth in the year 2013. Most of these books will have a good vs evil component to them.

HORROR

Scary and then scarier; that is horror. There is something unsettling about the book, something that will have you looking at shadows after you read a chapter or two. Again, this is classic good vs evil, but in many horror books evil comes out victorious.

MYSTERY

Mysteries solve puzzles, whether that puzzle be a serious crime, unsolved murder, or some unexplained event. The reader is led, step by step, along a series of clues until the solution is revealed at the end.

ROMANCE

If you know the song by the Turtles entitled “Happy Together” then you will understand romance novels. These can lean towards the erotic and steamy, and the characters matter very little. The message is clear: I want you, you want me, let’s get it on and find happiness after a series of trials and tribulations.

SCIENCE FICTION

This genre usually refers to a book that has new and different concepts but, at the same time, those concepts are scientifically plausible. It can be about aliens or just some dude in Iowa who can levitate tractors with his pinky. The setting can be here on Earth or in some far-off galaxy, and the characters can be human or from the Planet Xanadu.

THRILLERS

This genre also includes suspense and action/adventure. There is an emotional thrill involved in this genre, and perils will emerge and heroes will be tested, but ultimately the hero will conquer whatever obstacle he/she had to face.

WESTERNS

Time and place define the western genre. Almost all are set west of the Mississippi between the years of 1800 and 1890. However, there have been space westerns like Firefly that completely flew against the norm, so remember that those dates and places are merely generalities.

YOUNG ADULT

These serve the market comprised of youngsters between the ages of twelve and eighteen, and the main characters are usually of that age too.

MAINSTREAM

If you are a first time author then this genre is not for you. Mainstream is a genre reserved for those big name authors who are quite famous in the world of literature. Often the novel is very long, but other than that there are few guidelines in this genre.

LITERARY FICTION

Prose is more important than story or characters in literary fiction. These stories are often emotionally intense, but what really makes them applicable to this genre is the quality of the writing. The word “wordsmith” comes to mind when I think of literary fiction.

EXPERIMENTAL FICTION

The best way of describing experimental fiction is to say the name e.e. cummings. This genre goes against the norm and the accepted, pushing the envelope and tossing convention out the window.

HIGH FANTASY

Think Lord of the Rings and you will have an idea about high fantasy. We are talking about other worlds here, with non-human characters and creatures.

MIDDLE-GRADE

Fiction for readers between the ages of 8-11. Themes are usually not real heavy, and sex and drugs are a no-no.

NARRATIVE NONFICTION

These are true stories using the tools of fiction. In Cold Blood is an excellent example, as is the trilogy about the Civil War written by Bruce Catton.

STEAMPUNK

Alternative history, usually told in Victorian England, using advanced technology powered by steam. Yes, this is quite the specialized genre and relatively new on the scene.

UPMARKET FICTION

Women’s or literary fiction that has the appeal and power to cross over to book clubs and mainstream appeal. We have seen more and more of this due to Oprah and other book clubs that have followed.

URBAN FANTASY

Think paranormal in today’s world and you will have urban fantasy. Think vampires in 2013 New York and you will have urban fantasy. Get the picture?

WOMEN’S FICTION

These are not just stories about women; they are stories that describe what it is like to be a woman, or what it is like to travel the journey of a woman. The primary purpose of these books is to help women grow and learn about themselves.

Self-help

When did this genre show up? Seems like the 60's or 70's, but it has definitely become a part of the literary world since then. As the title suggests, this genre has to do with self-development and the finding of one's own spirituality.

WHEN IN DOUBT GO WITH THE BEST GUESS

Are you confused yet? Well, if you are, it is perfectly normal. Many books that are written cross over the lines and include several different genres, and when that happens the only thing you can do it make a guess and hope for the best. In your query letter you can explain your dilemma and also explain why you believe your book includes several different genres.

Remember that you are dealing with professionals when you contact agents and publishers, so do the best you can and sell your work in a professional manner. Speak with authority and enthusiasm. As the number one promoter of your work, it is up to you to sell, sell and sell some more.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Proud Foot 4 years ago

      There's a couple there I didn't know existed! An interesting hub and will certainly come in useful in the future. A good read too, thanks for sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Proud Foot, I hadn't heard of four of these until I did the research. Glad you found it interesting and thank you!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 4 years ago from london

      Nice group billybuc. Good advice too. I did not see Yoga philosophy/spirituality. But, hey, I think you are aware of them. Great Article. Your second in this area. Must be working on yet another book, eh?

      I almost forgot. Your man Stephen King looks a bit like John Major, a past Prime Minister here in the UK.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I hope someday to right a book or an e-book, if the Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. I'm glad to know these definitions. Time for reading is difficult for me to find, so I'm a little out of the loop. Thanks for these explanations. As always, excellent my friend!

      Pearl

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Great advice and information, yes as you say the professional way is the best.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Excellent in definition, organization and super helpful, as an ongoing resource guide. A million thanks, Bill!

      Voted UP and UABI. Have a peaceful Sunday. Love, Maria

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Never realized there were so many different Genres. Thanks for the education and info. Great job.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, you are too sweet. Thank you for taking the time to read a rather mundane hub. LOL

      love always,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, thank you for stopping by on this Sunday! I hope you are well and happy.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pearl, that has always been one of my favorite sayings, passed down by my grandfather. Here's hoping the creek don't rise anytime soon my friend.

      Thank you and have a great Sunday!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, King always looked a bit deranged to me. :) Thanks for stopping by and the mention about philosophy. I appreciate it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Bill! There are actually more than this but I got bored writing it. LOL

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Billy, differenciating the genre is really hard because as you have pointed we writers stuff different themes in one book.

      I did not know what mainstream/steampunk/upmarket was.

      Thanks for this easy guide to genres.

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 4 years ago from Nevada

      I hadn't ever heard of Steampunk. Will be a long time before I'll be sending any query letters but thank you for the information. I have decided that I'm going to take a minimum of a few hours daily for my own writing.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Again, you educate us with style. I like your examples...think "In Cold Blood" or the song 'Happy Together"...something we can 'grab onto' or relate to. I know I"m getting old, but Steampunk? Really? Is there an over sixty category ;) Job well done as always Bill.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      So very informative and helpful Bill for anyone who is indeed writing and wanting to get published. Thanks for sharing this here and of course have done the usual with voting way up and sharing all over, too!!

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      I had never even heard of some of these genres.

      I like this: "I want you, you want me, let’s get it on and find happiness after a series of trials and tribulations." Sounds like the mission statement of a successful marriage!

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      That is useful. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vinaya, I learned some things in writing this hub and like you, I did not know about steampunk.

      Thank you as always my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      David, I think that is a wonderful idea. Who knows what genius is lurking in that mind of yours? :)

      Thank you buddy and I hope you are enjoying your Sunday.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, us baby boomers just have to have our own genre, but for the life of me I don't know what it would be called. LOL Thank you my friend and enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, nothing special, but for those who don't understand the difference in genres, maybe this will help. Thanks for sharing on your Sunday.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz.....LOL....it does sound like a mission statement. You make me laugh with every visit and for that I thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheri, it's my pleasure, and thank you for another visit.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 4 years ago from Canada

      Bill, very interesting article. There were some of these that I wasn't sure about and this is a great one to bookmark and keep for future reference. Voted up and sharing! Great job again.

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 4 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      I just read some Steampunk stories . . . my first time. So many genres.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      truthfornow, you are way ahead of me. I hadn't even heard of that genre until I did research for this hub. Thanks for the visit.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sharilee, it this helps then I am happy. Thanks for stopping by my friend.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      I want to spend a year in a cabin deep in a remote part of the mountains (but with heat, electricity, running water, internet and pizza delivery - as well as no wild animals getting out of hand) and write. Unfortunately, I have to go to work in the morning. However, I am going to bookmark this hub because the day is going to come. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Gail, I hope for your sake the day comes soon. I am very lucky in that I get to do this daily without interruption. I need to make the most of that time. Thank you!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Bill,

      Very interesting. Haven't heard of a couple of those there. Yes, a lot of writers do cross more than one genre in a novel. Thanks for the informative hub here once again. You are determined to get us all published. Hey, there's an idea, maybe in the future, you can be a publisher! I know your heart is really in writing.

      Voted up +++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This certainly helps clarify a lot of the meanings of these genres. Thanks for the heads up.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Deb! Not my normal type of writing but what the heck.....might as well throw it out there.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, if I had any funding I think that would be a great idea for a new career. Someone has to be willing to help out the new writers in this world.

      Thank you my friend. I hope you had a great weekend.

      love and blessings,

      bill

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      You keep on giving and that is wonderful. Thank you for a very useful hub...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby! You keep on giving to me with every visit.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      hi billy,

      very useful and informative article that you have here

      you never fail to amaze me

      great quality and voted up

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      torrilynn, you are too kind but thank you!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. One thing I really agree... Sell, Sell, Sell.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. One thing I really agree... Sell, Sell, Sell.

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      It took me all day to get here but I'm here and I learned some things. Who knew about steampunk and urban fiction? I give you high marks for the research and for organizing it so well. In spite of myself, I enjoyed it. :-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martin, sell indeed! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, you are a classy doll. I know how much effort it took to read this; amazingly 100 people read this and for that I am.....amazed. LOL Thanks Kindred!

    • adjoycepoet profile image

      Adriene (A. D.) Joyce 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for this article. There are so many new genres popping up all the time, so it's very helpful for the reader to try to sort them out!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      adjoycepoet, my pleasure, and thank you for following me. I have done the same. Welcome to HubPages and if I can help you in any way feel free to ask questions.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 4 years ago

      Love the way you described all the genres. I'm into fantasy at the moment. Voted up and shared :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vox, it's always nice to see you and thank you! I hope it helped in some little way.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Steampunk? Okay, never heard of that before so this was helpful. It really can get confusing outside of what we term as the norm for genres, so this list is helpful to everyone who writes. Thanks much.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you honesty! :) I had never heard of Steampunk either, and it is safe to assume I won't be writing in that genre.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I write women's fiction and non-fiction. I like the genre UpMarket better though I never heard it before. I'm always surprised how many men read, seem to enjoy, and comment on my books. They may not be my target market, but they seem to enjoy learning about women!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kathleen, you make a good point. I read a lot of mysteries, and most of those that I read are written by men. HOwever, when I switch to other genres I always read women authors. :)

      Thanks for the visit.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      A good organised list here Bill with good genre descritions. There are a couple here which I never heard of before like 'steampunk', now if you'd asked me to take a guess it wouldn't even be close to your description. Lol. I see you missed off chick-lit though, many still do not accept this as a genre.

      This is a great guide to genre and a useful resourse, thank you

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rosemay! Honestly there were four or five I had to double-check on, and definitely I did not know steampunk. LOL

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I had no idea there were so many different categories. I have problems separating thrillers from mysteries and/or horror. What a fantastic and useful hub!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, until I did the research I had no idea what some of them were and I agree, the hardest to differentiate are thrillers/mysteries.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I must have missed this the first time around. I don't see a comment from me. Thanx for answering my question, Bill!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      A second visit here, Bill.

      In London sone of the big names speak of Mind, Body and Spirit. They would include the self-help, motivational, life-coaching, inspirational, etc. Watkins, the really solid and long-standing spiritual bookshop in London, also have a category for Ancient Wisdom.

      Foyles would include some of the meditational stuff under Yoga also. Some agents know of this.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Sha...and still there will be confusion at times. Just pick the best one and go with it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you manatita, and for the life of me, I don't know why I left self-help out. Lord knows I've read enough of it. LOL

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      You didn't, unless you're teasing me. I took it from your Hub. It's here. And yes, I know that this is your other strong area also.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, a little fun my friend, although I have been known to forget things from time to time. :)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Although I sometimes write something political, I like fiction, and while my forte is the western, no genre is safe from my scribblings should I take the notion.

      I don't know how I missed this one, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, Will, you are here now and I appreciate it. I love reading mysteries, and am now writing my first. They are easier to read than they are to write. LOL Thanks my friend.

    Click to Rate This Article