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Picture books, Easy readers, and Chapter Books. Picture books are written for children ages 2-8. They contain illustrations and usually have 50-1000 words. Easy readers are a little more advanced, for ages 4-8, and have more text (200-2000 words). Chapter books are for children ages 7-10. They contain 4,000-15,000 words. As the name suggests, this is the first time stories are broken up into chapters for children. If your word count is longer and targets slightly older children, go to Middle Grade.
Commercial Fiction is usually plot driven. A protagonist has a goal or is trying to overcome a challenge and there is often a good deal of action involved. This should be an easy, entertaining read.
Unlike Science Fiction, Fantasy usually includes the use of magic. Fantastic beings and strange worlds with their own set of rules are common in this genre.
This category is both literary and commercial. If an agent mentions literary commercial fiction or commercial literary fiction, it will go here.
Book club also falls under this category, since it can easily be read in a month but also has enough depth to provide fodder for discussion.
In General Fiction, your manuscript doesn’t have a strong genre element (such as romance, mystery, or thriller), but combines two or three genres. The emphasis is often on character development rather than plot. (If your narrative is driven by plot, go to Commercial Fiction.)
Historical Fiction is a story that takes place in the past, at least 50 years ago. So if you’re writing about events in 1970 or prior, you’ve got a historical fiction book on your hands.
You should have done some research to lend authenticity to the setting and characters, but other than that, everything else can be completely made up. It might even include some fantasy.
What defines historical fiction is the realism of its time period.
As with our General Fiction category, Literary Fiction emphasizes character over plot. This does not mean it doesn’t have a plot, of course it does. However, readers of Literary Fiction give writers more leeway to spend time exploring the character’s inner world. In Commercial Fiction, this is risky because the pace cannot lag for too long, but Literary Fiction allows the action to stop and linger on a close-up or some past event.
The prose in Literary Fiction must be finely crafted. It may even draw attention to itself which, once again, slows the pace of the novel, and once again, this is exactly what a reader of Literary Fiction wants. They want to appreciate the language, as we might appreciate poetry.
Commercial Fiction and writers of genre make their prose as transparent as possible. It’s “workmanlike”, clear and to the point, encouraging the speedy, breathless kind of reading that’s vital to a page-turning story.
Middle Grade is for ages 9-12. The protagonist is in this age range as well. The length is 40,000-80,0000 words. The younger the audience, the lower the word count. This is one of the most popular genres for agents.
In Mystery & Crime, there’s a crime that needs to be solved -- and it’s often a murder. Puzzling elements are presented, along with plenty of twists, the antagonist is usually unexpected, and we only learn the whole truth at the very, very end.
Fun Fact: Edgar Allan Poe is credited with inventing the modern mystery in a story called The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This is one of the examples in my video, How to Surprise Your Reader (worth a watch if you’re writing in this genre!).
Practical Non-Fiction teaches readers how to accomplish something. It’s about taking action and applying the advice to one’s life in an effort to grow and change. Self-help falls into this category, as do How-to’s, business books, health/wellness and spirituality.
Who doesn’t love a good romance? The emphasis here is on a romantic relationship. We get to know two characters as they start to fall in love and overcome internal and/or external obstacles to get their happily ever after.
Sci-fi explores the impact of science and technology, either real or imagined, on people and society. It’s often set in the future. Extraterrestrials, time and space travel, and technologically advanced societies are common here.
James Patterson said it well: Thrillers create an intensity of emotions, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill (paraphrased).
You may be writing any kind of subgenre (a romantic thriller, legal thriller, action-adventur thriller, political thriller, high-tech thriller), but all Thrillers & Suspense keep their readers on the “edge of their sats” through unreliable narrators, red herrings, burying information, plot twists, and managed reveals. This is all done so we can punish the villain at the end and the protagonist can finally be safe.
(For more on how to master these elements, watch my video How to Surprise Your Reader).
Women’s Fiction is about the female journey, usually about someone flawed and deeply relatable who tugs on a range of reader’s emotions.
There is usually another female character, although she may not be an antagonist. There could even be a romance, but the romance is the subplot here. The heroine needs to be the central focus of the story. This is about the part of a woman’s life that’s all her own.
Young Adult is written for ages 12-25 (but we all know older readers indulge as well). We consider this category fiction YA only, and it can be written in any genre (fantasy, romance, historical). These manuscripts usually deal with adolescent concerns.
Narrative Non-Fiction reads like a novel, except it’s all true. It’s as compelling and entertaining as a story while dealing with real people and events. It can also be called Creative Nonfiction or ‘fact-based storytelling’.
This is what journalists do in longform articles when they set the scene and develop the characters, taking the time to make true events feel like you’re reading fiction.
This is a true historical account of the writer’s personal experiences. It’s usually an account of one’s own life. Autobiographies fall under this category as well. Memoirs will focus on key moments in one’s history while autobiographies will span their life’s entire timeline to date.