View Full Version : What genre am I in?

06-15-2009, 01:24 AM
Feel dumb for asking this but...my protagonist is psychic and has a personal tie to a crime. What genre would I be in?

06-15-2009, 01:30 AM
If the story is the protagonist trying to solve a crime, it's mystery. If he's trying to prevent a crime, it's generally suspense or thriller.

06-15-2009, 02:40 AM
Thanks Alleycat! So does that mean my story would be a paranormal mystery? I'm confused because I've read some threads that sound like that's not a category but my story is not a thriller.

Clair Dickson
06-15-2009, 09:56 AM
There is no paranormal mystery. If it's got paranormal elements, sorry, but it's no longer a "mystery" story. While there is paranormal romance, there has yet to be much in the way of 'paranormal mystery.' Usually it gets bumped off to urban fantasy for classification.

06-15-2009, 06:23 PM
Thanks Clair. Boy, this is confusing:)

06-18-2009, 05:31 PM
IMHO paranormal, vampires, fantasies, ghosts, or any other non worldly devices do not belong in Mystery/thriller/suspense, no matter how much mystery they have in the story. They should be in their own genre: paranormal, vampires, fantasies, ghosts, etc. Once you cross the line into those genre's that is where your book belongs. A person picking up a book in the mystery section, is not interested in psychics or vampires.

Clair Dickson
06-18-2009, 08:53 PM
I challenge the assumption that "a person" picking up a book in the mystery section could not possibly want or enjoy psychics or vampires.

Romance has a sub-genre (and the spines of books are labeled as such) called Paranormal Romance. Paranormal elements are leaking out of the "Horror" and Fantasy sections into other cross-genres. I'd have no problem with Paranormal Mystery-- put it on the spine so I know what I'm getting and it's all good. IMHO.

Of course, the Mystery genre tends to be very... rigid, old-school, and inflexible. =) This from a modern mystery writer who's been chastized by mystery writing/reading veterans for not doing things that have "always been done" in mysteries. Because, y'know, we can't change things up and still call it a mystery...

Dick Stodghill
06-19-2009, 02:43 AM
Clair, there is no reason you can't call it anything you want, but if it doesn't fall within the parameters of a mystery it isn't a mystery. There are 13 sub-genres so surely the work you are speaking of must fit in somewhere. I think people worry too much about classification unless it in in regard to qualifying for membership in a professional organization.

Clair Dickson
06-19-2009, 05:11 AM
So, Dick, you don't think that genres sometimes should change? That they should stay stagnant? This seems silly to me, as definitions of nearly all things change over time. Mystery is a relative newcomer to the genre game, anyway, having started "officially" back around Poe's time. Who says that a vampire detective can't be classified in the detective genre... oh wait, it can't because the protagonist, not the plot, determines the genre. Except, again, over in Romance, it's the plot (romance) not the characters (vampires, werewolves, etc.) that determines genre.

But, again, I think that things are bit stuffy over in the Mystery genre. Maybe it's because I'm a young'un who loves the idea of mysteries but rarely finds books that ARE willing to break out of the conventions. Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean is the only or even the best way to do it. As the old readers die off, it's the young readers who are NOT flocking to the old-school mystery stories...

06-19-2009, 05:42 PM
I have nothing against a book labeled paranormal mystery I would know what I'm buying (if I bought it). When I pick up a mystery or suspense novel, I expect the protagonist to work his way through the mystery or problems, using his wit and human abilities, not superhuman means. If I wanted to read about superhuman abilities, I'd by paranormal or vampire books.
Placing books with paranormal themes in with mystery and suspense books, is like putting chocolate icing on yellow cake and placing it on the chocolate cake shelf. The buyer will be surprised and disappointed as soon as he gets a taste of it.

06-19-2009, 06:19 PM
Well, I think their must be exceptions to that rule. I just read a cozy where the protagonist is a vampire, and I bought it from the mystery section at Borders.

06-19-2009, 07:02 PM
Generally, a back-of-the-book blurb brings clarity to what kind of book you're getting. Paranormal and weird elements are quite common in suspense, take Dean Koontz and John Saul, but mystery tends to be more straight-up.

Copydiva, you could say your book is mystery with paranormal elements. I can't think of any offhand, but I know there are novels along these lines. Oh, although it's heavy with a romantic thread, Heather Graham's Haunted is a mystery with a psychic and ghosts. I haven't read it, but I recall the reviews.

Clair Dickson
06-19-2009, 08:22 PM
I don't know if bookstore shelves are entirely reliable anymore... at least not in the traditional "go find where your book would be placed in a bookstore" method of categorizing a book. When I was in Borders the other day, I saw the same book shelved in THREE locations (YA, Horror, and Mystery/Suspense.) I'm sure it was a ploy to get bring the book to the attention of readers in all sections-- ones who may shop exclusively in YA, but never wander into the Mystery Section. I also saw Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Indians' book with a snazzy YA-looking cover, stocked in the YA section... and over in Mystery it had a normal, old-school mystery cover. Hmmm...

You could always query a mystery with paranormal elements as such, but some agents (from what I've read) may reject you for not knowing your genre. See the above posters who insist that mystery cannot have paranormal elements? There are agents who surely define mystery the same way.

06-19-2009, 10:16 PM
You could always query a mystery with paranormal elements as such, but some agents (from what I've read) may reject you for not knowing your genre. See the above posters who insist that mystery cannot have paranormal elements? There are agents who surely define mystery the same way.

I think you should mention it since it's going to be pretty obvious anyway from your query blurb, synopsis, or sample pages whenever they are sent. If an agent doesn't think paranormal should be in any mystery, it won't matter if you mention it in the query or not.

And frankly, I think excellent writing and compelling stories trump all else, including genre definitions.


Ruv Draba
06-20-2009, 04:25 AM
It's the old craft vs marketing question. You can craft it as a mystery, and it can be as good a mystery as anything without whimsical elements. But where it goes on the shelves depends on where publishers and booksellers think it will sell the most.

From a craft perspective it's silly to say 'It's not a mystery' when it clearly is.

Team 2012
06-20-2009, 08:45 AM
Obviously whimstery fiction. There's an interstice crying to be filled.

Dick Stodghill
06-21-2009, 02:23 AM
Clair, I can't imagine where you got the idea that young people aren't reading mysteries. They certainly are. You will also find many successful young writers of mysteries.
You might try thinking of it this way: If the action and the solution are not based on hard facts it isn't a mystery. A mystery must be explainable by cold logic, not by something beyond the normal happenings in real life. In essence, that's fantasy. There is nothing at all wrong with writing about a paranormal detective. By all means do so. Expecting it to be reconized as a mystery would be a mistake, but why should that matter to you unless you hope the story will qualify for membership in an organization? If you can sell an editor, why worry? I do think you are making a mistake in believing mystery classifications are old fashioned. It just isn't so.

06-21-2009, 03:22 AM
There seems to have been a huge explosion in themed cozy mysteries right now, and also something of any upswing in historical mysteries. I think both of those genre lean young in readiship (based on people I know).

06-21-2009, 12:01 PM
I think there is a market for cozies in YA; but I agree with Clair. I'm in my 20's and there is nothing that makes me run faster to the thrillers than the thought of cozies/mysteries.

Paranormal suspense? Aren't these called Chillers?

Dick Stodghill
06-21-2009, 06:13 PM
Gothic Angel, I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that all mysteries are of the cozy variety. That is just one of the 13 sub-genres. Thrillers are another. I've been selling hardboiled and noir for 30 years and cozy they ain't. Like you, I am not fond of the cozy variety.

Clair Dickson
06-21-2009, 07:26 PM
And most of the hardboiled and noir mysteries feature worn out, washed up old(er) men. I mean, I love Chandler and Hammet, but that's not all I want to read.

13 sub-genres is all fine and dandy, but look around the board. What're most of the younger writers writing and reading? Is it just me or is the mystery board pretty dead most of the time? I could be wrong, and, young person that I am, I do have my own biases about the "Traditions" of the mystery genre.

I don't write anything paranormal. Maybe I should. If I added some superpowers, I bet I'd have a better chance getting published...

Dick Stodghill
06-21-2009, 07:51 PM
I misunderstood you, Claire. I thought you did wrote paranormal mysteries. I'm not sure if you are open to suggestions or not, but I have one. Unless you are already an associate member (maybe they call it afiliate, I forget) of Mystery Writers of America, you might benefit by joining. That way you would receive The Third Degree, the monthly publication, and other things from time to time. You would find much of interest to a newcomer - tips on agents, marketing, what's new in publishing, etc. - in TTD. This would also make you aware of anthologies that are open to submissions. You aren't too terribly far from Chicago so you could attend chapter meetings and these are most beneficial. I have never met friendlier, more helpful people than mystery writers so you could pick up all kinds of assistance. It doesn't cost much and I believe you would find it quite helpful. Nearly every month there is a list of associate members who have been published by one of the accepted companies and move up to active status. TTD also contains a list of that month's books and short stories published.
For pete's sake, though, don't say anything about washed up, old(er) men. The numerous women who write in those genres would be up in arms, not to mention some of the younger men. The really old guys won't care, we're beyond being insulted.
I can tell you're serious about writing so give it some thought.

06-21-2009, 08:01 PM
Wrote that post before dashing off to work, sorry!

I like my psychological mysteries. Not keen on who/how dunnits; but a sucker for why-dunnit.

I think mysteries are in need of a re-brand! I work in a British bookshop and cozies are rarely bought (I sell more M&B!!!)

Clair Dickson
06-21-2009, 10:23 PM
Dick-- I'm talking more about washed up, worn out protagonists-- I don't care who or how old the writer is. (Though I have a rant about "modern" books set "today" where the sleuth never once utilizes the awesome power the internet!) But thank you for the advice.

With over 60 shorts published in the last 3 years and quite a bit of study of my genre-- both in reading and researching what to read-- I'm wholly in the camp with gothicangel: Mystery could seriously use some rebranding.

But, hey, it's only the kids that are the voice of dissent. And there doesn't seem to be enough of us to make waves. =)

06-21-2009, 11:11 PM
From my research into crime fiction the jaded, grisled cop (i.e Rebus) is a big turn off to agents/editors now.

They're looking for something new. Hopefully that's me!

Dick Stodghill
06-21-2009, 11:57 PM
Checked out your website, Clair. Interesting and well done, but keep that Bo away from my protagonist. He's already got a girlfriend and Bo might be too much for him to handle.
Still think you should check out MWA at www.mysterywriters.org

06-22-2009, 04:54 AM
Thanks all for your input!

Dick Stodghill
06-22-2009, 09:29 PM
Maryanne, if you have a story in mind, write it. Let the finished story do the classifying.