Genre Genre, Who’s Got the Sub-Genre?

If you write on the Fantasy side of Science Fiction and Fantasy, like I do, sometimes it seems as though there are a myriad of sub-genres to bucket yourself under.  I attended a webinar last month where the presenter talked about different sub-genres within Science Fiction and Fantasy.  She explained there were only two modern fantasy subgenres: either ‘paranormal romance’ or ‘urban fantasy’.    

On the same day, I read a blog post by another agent who was equally adamant that ‘contemporary fantasy’ is the correct term, and yet another online article mentioned ‘speculative fiction’ is the only correct term for modern-day tales with speculative elements.  One of my online writing sites subdivides Fantasy into High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Fairy Tale, Urban/Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, or Comic Fantasy sub-genres. 
On the other hand, Amazon groups their Fantasy department into Alternate History, Contemporary, Epic, Magic & Wizards, and Anthologies.  Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (and other works) are described as “dark dystopian fantasies” and generally found in the literature section of my local bookstore, along with David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (a story with supernatural horror elements, with a blurb written by Stephen King himself!). 
Then there is the whole post-apocalyptic and zombie categories, none of which seem properly categorized as Science Fiction, so they also seem to fall under the ‘Fantasy’ brand, yet certainly do not seem to be in the same category as Urban Fantasy.  Charlaine Harris’ Harper Connelley  mysteries are called supernatural mysteries, yet when I pitched the Fate manuscript as a ‘Paranormal Adventure’, I got corrected by the agent I submitted it to. 
In a class I attended taught by super agent Donald Maass this year, he opined that eventually, there will be NO genres, as mystery (for example) lurks at the heart of most good stories, as does adventure, thriller elements, and romance.  He says good writing transcends genre.  I like that.  I like the idea that if the writing truly speaks for itself, the reader (or agent or publisher or editor) won’t care what the genre is.  After all, millions of adults have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, even though, her series is arguably a YA-SPECULATIVE-CONTEMPORARY-FANTASY-WITH-PARANORMAL-AND-MAGICAL-OVERTONES-AND-ROMANTIC-ELEMENTS. 
In the meantime, as we send out query letters to our potential future agents and publishers, we have to call it something.  For now, I’m going to stick with ‘Urban Fantasy’, and pitch it to agents and publishers who specialize in that sub-genre.  If the writing’s good enough, they’ll call me to tell me I’m wrong when they offer to take me on as a client.  If the writing’s not good enough, it doesn’t matter whether I call it by the right sub-genre or not.  The writing speaks for itself. 
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2 Responses to Genre Genre, Who’s Got the Sub-Genre?

  1. Thanks for trying to break it down. Obviously, it’s the industry that forces us to come up with a label. I don’t think we should be too concerned with their varying definitions.

  2. I agree. It seems nowadays there are so many sub-genres it’s impossible to keep track! To add to your list, there’s also steampunk and cyberpunk, and I’m still trying to figure out how horror is differentiated from paranormal and certain types of fantasy. I liked Don Maass’s viewpoint, and can only hope to make my mss’s good enough to “transcend” ;-))

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