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Thread: What is Mainstream/Contemporary?

  1. #26
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    I'm having a problem defining my novel, too. I've referred to it as "women's fiction" in my query letter but I'm not sure it really fits there.

    An agent who rejected it said that it wasn't commercial enough for her, but I don't know if that referred to the style (though I can't see my work as being "literary") or to the plot (selling a book that revolves around suicide and mental illness will be difficult). So if it's not commercial fiction, then what is it?

    I worry about this only because agents and publishers want to know that the authors are knowledgeable about the market and where their book fits in.

  2. #27
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin fantasycreature's Avatar
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    What is my genre?

    OK, I'm so confused here but it appears my novels, which I thought should be pitched as Young Adult for older teens through adult of all ages, are contemporary and fall between commercial and literary. I don't know if they're mainstream or not, as they have a sixteen year old female protagonist, but after looking at books sold out there, it seems the YA label will hurt my chances with agents if I submit it as YA. I see other books (like book of the month club selections or Oprah's choices) that are like mine, some are sold as YA, some as general fiction. I don't see the average YA, many that are romances, horror, etc. resembling my books though there's a small element of chick-lit, which are between the style of a Secret Life of Bees and from reader friends commentary seen as resembling a contemporary take on Dickens novels.

    However, they are falling in the 50,000 word count range which is ok for YA contemporary but I don't think this is ok for commercial or mainstream? Can anyone advise?

    My novels are anecdotal as well as black humor in their telling, but take place in the early nineties (is this close enough to still call them contemporary?)

    In any case, I was told Young Adult is not a genre but "literary" is. Is "commercial" a genre as well? I don't want to sound like an idiot with my first query. Thanks.

  3. #28
    The Anti-Magdalene KellyAssauer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fantasycreature View Post
    I was told Young Adult is not a genre but "literary" is. Is "commercial" a genre as well? I don't want to sound like an idiot with my first query. Thanks.
    Commercial means that it can be sold in today's market.

    YA is most certainly it's own genre - although many a novel with a teenage MC has found it's way into a host of other genres and labels.

    Literary is not a well-defined genre. It remains mostly a modifier that attempts to describe a number of possible characteristics to the writing. Many, if not all, of these so-called 'literary characteristics' can, and have been, used in other arbitrarily classified writings.

    Do yourself a favor: write your book.

    Then query it in whatever way you feel best describes the story within, and let the people who have to place it on a labeled shelf worry about what it's going to be called.

    Personally?

    I want mine to be 'called' Best-sellers...
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  4. #29
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin fantasycreature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KellyAssauer View Post
    Commercial means that it can be sold in today's market.

    YA is most certainly it's own genre - although many a novel with a teenage MC has found it's way into a host of other genres and labels.

    Literary is not a well-defined genre. It remains mostly a modifier that attempts to describe a number of possible characteristics to the writing. Many, if not all, of these so-called 'literary characteristics' can, and have been, used in other arbitrarily classified writings.

    Do yourself a favor: write your book.

    Then query it in whatever way you feel best describes the story within, and let the people who have to place it on a labeled shelf worry about what it's going to be called.

    Personally?

    I want mine to be 'called' Best-sellers...
    Thanks I have a finished novel, and my second which is a sequel is a few chapters from completion, so they are written and I've begun research as to who to submit them to. I just don't want to sound like an idiot when I query. Everyone has said YA is not a genre in itself, you're saying differently. I hear what you're saying about letting the agent decide, however, I need to know what my novel is to choose the agent I should send them to in any case, and do want to appropriately submit. I don't want to call the novel contemporary if a novel set 20 years ago isn't considered such, and an agent doesn't handle historical novels for example. I don't want to submit to an agent who only handles literary if it isn't literary enough. I'm still confused as to what my genre is though I've described it within my post to get that feedback here. Thanks.

  5. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by fantasycreature View Post
    Thanks I have a finished novel, and my second which is a sequel is a few chapters from completion, so they are written and I've begun research as to who to submit them to. I just don't want to sound like an idiot when I query. Everyone has said YA is not a genre in itself, you're saying differently. I hear what you're saying about letting the agent decide, however, I need to know what my novel is to choose the agent I should send them to in any case, and do want to appropriately submit. I don't want to call the novel contemporary if a novel set 20 years ago isn't considered such, and an agent doesn't handle historical novels for example. I don't want to submit to an agent who only handles literary if it isn't literary enough. I'm still confused as to what my genre is though I've described it within my post to get that feedback here. Thanks.
    I wouldn't think that a novel that takes place 20 years ago would be considered "historical", but I could be wrong.

  6. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by fantasycreature View Post
    In any case, I was told Young Adult is not a genre but "literary" is. Is "commercial" a genre as well? I don't want to sound like an idiot with my first query. Thanks.
    Who told you that YA isn't a genre? Is this person a credible source? Has this person read the book and gotten a good sense of your voice and whether it works for a teen audience or an adult one?

    From your description of the book, you might pitch it as literary YA or just YA. Of course, if the tone of the novel is more appropriate for an adult audience, then there are different issues (like the word count).

  7. #32
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin fantasycreature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laura Droege View Post
    Who told you that YA isn't a genre? Is this person a credible source? Has this person read the book and gotten a good sense of your voice and whether it works for a teen audience or an adult one?

    From your description of the book, you might pitch it as literary YA or just YA. Of course, if the tone of the novel is more appropriate for an adult audience, then there are different issues (like the word count).
    This was on the YA forum here: YA/MG aren't genres; they're marketing categories based on age. Sci-fi/romance/literary, etc. are genres.

  8. #33
    practical experience, FTW Laurasaurus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fantasycreature View Post
    My novels are anecdotal as well as black humor in their telling, but take place in the early nineties (is this close enough to still call them contemporary?)
    Sorry to drag up a slightly old thread, but I've been wondering about this too. My novel takes place around the years 2000-2003. Would you feel comfortable labelling/referring to this as 'contemporary'?

  9. #34
    Queen of the Upmarket Bagladies HoneyBadger's Avatar
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    Contemporary can mean so many things- novels written post-WWII, novels set in the right-now-this-moment, novels that just *feel* modern. Alternatively, there is no such animal as a contemporary novel.

    Don't worry about it. When in doubt, call it a novel and call it a day.

  10. #35
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    Ah, excellent link. Thank you, HoneyBadger.

  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by gothicangel View Post
    I would just query it as a 'novel' and let the publisher worry about the rest.
    I was under the impression that agents want specifics. yes/no?
    However, I have not queried yet.

    I am also having some difficulty placing my work in a specific genre. After reading this thread, I suppose I can get away with "mainstream", but I have a touch of supernatural too. hmmm, what to do..

  12. #37
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    I guess as a last resort you could just describe it as 'mainstream with a touch of supernatural'.

    As long as the rest of the query is great, I can't see an agent turning it away based purely on your genre description.

    Although you do want the agent to think you know your market/genre/what you're talking about.

    Arg.

  13. #38
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    I think it's time to draft a petition to the Definition Gods pressuring them to update the delineation of "Genre". The music industry had to do it.

  14. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by rainsmom View Post
    Contemporary means set in current time -- in other words, not historical.

    I use essentially the same definition for mainstream as gothicangel. Think book club fiction. Think the fiction that is shelved in the general fiction section of the bookstore.
    This seems dead on. Book-club / popular / varied type fiction set in modern times that doesn't fall into a specific genre sci-fi, horror, fantasy, thriller, or romance is what I've always thought it was. I must admit I'm not exactly sure what constitutes and further distinguishes literary fiction though, other than maybe being less accessible and more complex/artfully written than the typical mainstream fare.

  15. #40
    The Anti-Magdalene KellyAssauer's Avatar
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    Anytime you sit down to try and figure out all the different labels for fiction, the first thing you have to do is ask where the labels originate!

    Some come from Book Stores, some from College courses, more yet from writers and agents trying to be as specific as possible with what the book offers.

    Fiction has its groupings by age:
    Children's,
    Middle Grade (MG)
    Young Adult (YA)
    New Adult (NA) *until I'm told otherwise, I'm keeping New Adult under this age listing since the subject of NA novels can differ greatly between published samples.

    -Oddly- most book stores would classify any book written to these specific age groups as being in the children/MG/YA/NA section. The theme, or setting, or 'manner' of story does not matter. The style of writing can vary greatly.

    Once the story becomes written for an adult... then we get more classifications!

    Genre fiction:
    Action-adventure
    Crime
    Detective
    Fantasy
    Horror
    Mystery
    Romance *Note: Contemporary Romance as a sub-grouping within the 'romance genre' has come to mean a romance that is: not historical, and does not contain any paranormal or suspense (thriller type) elements. (per Gingerwoman post 43).
    Science Fiction
    Western
    Inspirational
    *one might include erotica here as well*

    Fiction novels which make this list of "genre fiction" offer a theme or setting that are somewhat 'expected' by reader. However, the style of writing can -again- vary greatly.

    Contemporary fiction


    Some say it's fiction set during 'our' time period - meaning the lifespan of anyone living today - which is quite a stretch. Others say that the 'Contemporary' label can be attributed to any fiction novel that was written with a setting equal to the times it was written in. Meaning any fiction novel ever written that had an internal "setting" that was of the same time period of the writer... is also contemporary. Also, these can be written in many different styles.

    Mainstream Fiction:

    Means it's for the adults, but... it's not genre fiction!
    It could be contemporary! Mainstream fiction also implies an acceptance of the story and characters by a wide range of people or large audience. You could call it 'general' fiction.
    Yet, it too, can be written in many different styles of prose.

    Literature:


    Once upon a time, somewhere in the hallowed halls of academia, learned scholars decided that a course in 'Literature' needed to exist. (If for no other reason than to bore students to death) "Literature" now is often offered as a shelf of books that are assembled together in a historical or academic grouping. The texts chosen for this honor... have for some reason stood the 'test of time' and the themes, or the audacity of publication, or the truths told, or an appreciation of the language therein... etc. etc. etc. have somehow marked these works to be considered "literature" - or to have some 'literary' merit - but these should not be confused with the writing category or bookstore shelf of 'literary fiction'. Novels on the 'Literature' shelf can and have been plucked from all the subgroups mentioned above!

    Literary Fiction:

    Isn't exactly a genre, and it isn't exactly a well defined sub group. We can 'tell' by reading these books that maybe they aren't so 'mainstream' but they can be contemporary.

    Many different things apply to what may be 'literary fiction' but most people agree that perhaps the fiction has a very peculiar style to the writing. Or perhaps there isn't so much plot and it's the characters that are the plot... or perhaps it's the unusual way that the time sequence is jumbled together or perhaps it's sub-plots upon sub-plots, or the level of difficulty in the reading or that the 'reading level' is far advanced or complicated...

    Oddly... any of these 'perhaps' qualities can show up in any of the above sub groups... so what exactly is on the Literary Fiction shelf may be the whim of the book store owner, or perhaps these are the works of an author that has previously won a big award and now everyone just assumes that all of their work should be 'literary'... or maybe these are stories that just do not fit mainstream? There as many reasons why an author might end up on the 'literary fiction' table as there are reasons why the fiction is defined as literary...

    Now...

    I know you may not all agree with the ways I just defined the fiction novel... so if you can provide clear evidence and examples as to why I should change a definition...

    I'd love to hear it!

    Let's get this craziness out of our way so we can all agree on it... and then get back to writing our kind of fiction!! =)
    Last edited by KellyAssauer; 06-12-2013 at 03:05 AM.
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  16. #41
    figuring it all out wishingonasupernova's Avatar
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    Kelly, that is the best breakdown of the genres of fiction I can ever recall seeing and clears a couple things up for me, nice job.

  17. #42
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    Unhappy

    The only thing I would add to all of this, is:

    For the purpose of submitting to a publisher look at what they are asking for and be honest about what you have written. As long as your novel generally fits into what that publisher states they want, then submit. If a publisher is looking for SciFi and you've written Romance, don't submit.

    I think Kelly has laid out a good categorization of genre: beyond that, don't be hung up. I write what I think is "literary" (I don't know what that means, but I know it when I see it ) and as I have been submitting both my novel and novella (to no avail, so far ) I only submit to publishers who state that they are interest in literary.

    Anything I've read here on AW, or on some of the blogs that AW has linked to, clearly states that the key is to understand what a publisher is looking for before submitting. And I think that is the only thing to focus on. After that, how it gets categorized when it is published is: who cares? You've been published!
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  18. #43
    Wicked Safari release date March 17 gingerwoman's Avatar
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    Contemporary Romance as a genre in romance has come to mean a romance that is not historical and that does not contain any paranormal or suspense (thriller type) elements.
    Last edited by gingerwoman; 12-05-2012 at 10:51 AM.
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