What’s in a genre?

Genre conflict

So, when I thought about self publishing my story, it occurred to me that I needed to pitch it at a genre. Nobody is going to find it, let alone read it if it’s in the “Travel Urban Steam Science-Fantasy” section, mainly because there isn’t one. So I looked at the book and thought about it.

It’s set in the future, in the asteroid belt, on Ceres, in a bubble-dome city. Naturally I thought “Sci-fi”. No-brainer, right?

But then I looked at what I was actually writing about, and I realised it wasn’t. A sci-fi reader wouldn’t be interested in it.

Unlike Sci-fi, which tends to eschew magic in favour of high technology, my story has that stuff, but it also has dragons and mythological characters and evil demons plotting the destruction of all that we hold dear. Where sci-fi tends to deal with what-ifs in the realm of technical plausibility, my story has that, but it’s really looking at what-ifs in the realm of the supernatural. What if enough powerful science could actually create a kind of legit magic?

So it’s Science fantasy then? Well, not really. And thank my hairy feet that it isn’t, because next to nobody reads that genre since before I was born.

And so despite the sci-fi setting, I figure it’s urban fantasy, and here’s why:

  • It’s 95% set in this one city.
  • It involves the supernatural hidden beneath the mundane.
  • It follows the adventures of an uninitiated person becoming involved in the magical world
  • It has scary monsters and big-bads galore
  • Most of my strongest writing influences are Urban Fantasy authors, and this is what has coloured and shaped the work

I think that what I haven’t done well, and what I need to do now (what we all need to do with our respective genres I guess) is to sharpen the book-pitch so that it highlights the Urban Fantasy-ness of the story. I probably also need to put a bad-ass/sexy looking protagonist on the cover somewhere, because that seems to be the done thing. That way it can find readers who like books of a similar ilk.

Okay, waffle over. Let me know what you think, and how much you’ve pondered over genre issues yourself.

Best regards,


About D.R.Sylvester

A Clinical Research Associate by day (google it), writer by night, D.R.Sylvester lives in Sydney, Australia with his patissiere wife and Siberian Wolf. His interests include travel, music (predominantly Metal), reading, & archery.
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9 Responses to What’s in a genre?

  1. You could go with a YA fantasy genre? If you don’t think it’s right for YA, then I would suggest fantasy is the way to go.

    • Thanks for the thoughts, I definitely appreciate getting some other ideas on this thorny topic…
      I’m not sure I could squeeze the protagonist’s shoulders into the YA mold, as he’s mid-twenties, and his adult relationship counter is already into the double digits… His place in the world is also fully established, so if anything this is more like a quarter-life crisis novel than a coming-of-age story. Not sure if my understanding of YA is as comprehensive as it could be; it’s been a while since I read Tamora Pierce or John Marsden.
      Yes, I agree that there’s some merit in just aiming at the fantasy genre, but I don’t know how easy it would be to market it that way. It’s not the Tolkeinesque High-Fantasy formula, and it’s not even set in a fantastical world: It’s set in our own world, many years from now (admittedly with supernatural elements).
      I’ve since thought that maybe Space Opera is a good way to classify it (an off-shoot of Sci-fi, and diametrically opposed to Hard Sci-Fi), because this genre can get away with a bit of Magic (eg. Star Wars), but the Soap Opera connotations grate on my nerves.
      All in all I’m still confused as hell, and just following my gut about which niche it might be able to nudge into!

  2. Megan Sutherland says:

    Thought provoking post and great comic pic. I’m not sure you can please everyone by fitting into one specific genre. Don’t all stories have elements of action, drama, romance? It gets tough when you have science, sci-fi, and fantasy all rolled into one. Sounds like you’ve done your research though. I’m not quite sure what urban fantasy/steam punk is, but I have heard of it. I think the Writer’s Digest magazine addresses this. Maybe in your pitch, you can address where you think it fits and say, “with elements of…” Or “with hints of…intertwined”. I’ve never pitched so you got me there. Good luck to you!

    • Thank you! I do enjoy a good scribble on my lunch break. The post was written last night, but I didn’t have a picture to go with it.
      I think you’re right, all stories should have whatever elements the characters bring to them. If that’s romance, put it in there. The problem I’m struggling with is more that I’ve created this setting which is a little bit unusual.
      I don’t know anything about steam-punk either to be honest, I’ve only ever read Mortal Engines ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/287861.Mortal_Engines ), but I’m fairly sure the science fiction mixed with elizabethan / edwardian stylings and colonial era narratives is an element that particular genre shares with my works. My stories are set out in the colonies though, so more Canton & the East Indies than London.
      Writer’s Digest you say? I will have a look. And I think that kind of language in the pitch would be a great idea. Thank you!

      • Megan Sutherland says:

        I’m not on my computer but I found the breakdown on the Writer’s Digest website. I searched for “Sub-Genre Descriptions | WritersDigest.com – Writer’s Digest”. It should show a list–pretty interesting. Not in the tree formation but still useful I think.

        I think there’s two ways to go about publishing: either jump on what’s hot at the moment. Or go with what you enjoy writing about. There’s a market for nearly everything, or so I hear 🙂

      • Haha I think that’s the problem: I’ve gone with what I enjoy writing, and now I have to shoe-horn it into a category. Will check out the list. Thanks again

  3. gpeynon says:

    What about supernatural sci-fi? I have named the genre for my upcoming book – which in a nut-shell is 18th century sailing ships in space – swashbuckling sci-fi, or maybe even maritme sci-fi. I’m not quite sure yet… Nevertheless, I think that if you have a ‘main’ genre in there somewhere for the websites and search engines, then you can sub-classify it as you please. It is your world after all.

    • That sounds like really good advice about picking a broad genre and then going from there. I remember Jim Butcher describing his Dresden Files series as “Semi-auto Magic”. Swashbuckling scifi is a cool one 🙂

  4. Pingback: What’s Up Wednesday #2 | WRITES & RESPONSIBILITIES

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