The Genre Dilemma

Several months ago, I read a blog post about do's and don'ts for conference panels.  I would cite the author and post if I could remember where I found it, so I'm terribly sorry.  It may have been Janet Reid's, but I can't be sure.  One of the no-no's was asking a question that was truly a thinly veiled pitch.  

Example:  "How do you think a story about robots that pick your nose would sell?  I can show you what I'm talking about, as I have the manuscript in my hand."

Earlier today, I participated in my first UF Chat on Twitter.  It was a blast and the discussion was great, and the other participants seemed very knowledgeable.  Several of them are published, and I had a question I wanted to ask regarding the genre of my novel, The Rider of Nealra.  I was afraid to ask, just in case I might look like Robot Pitch Girl above.  Just before I actually asked, though, my toddler woke up and I had to leave.  Several participants were game to help, however, so I'm posting the question here.

What genre does my novel call home?  I used to think it was close to urban fantasy, and now I'm not so sure.  I may even need to change the title of my blog.

The Rider of Nealra Description
Called home to operate the family ranch and denied her only dream of becoming a musician, the hapless Ellie soon finds that the strange lights in the Badlands and the mutilated animals are harbingers of horrors to come.  On her own except for the mouth-breather Sven, she is helpless to hold back the tide of fear that washes over Wibaux, Montana.  When Ellie and Stinky the mustang pursue creatures that shouldn't exist, they tumble through a rift to another world, where magic is an infection fueled by the souls of the dead.  Ellie must choose between seeking a way home or saving an entire people from annihilation.

It's not urban fantasy, as it takes place in a part of Montana that is so isolated that "rural" isn't even a good descriptor.  The setting in the other world is like an amalgamation of equatorial Africa and Brazil.  It doesn't fit well with any other fantasy novels of which I am aware, so comparing it is difficult for me, but I'm hoping someone else has read another novel to which mine could be compared.

Do you have any ideas or opinions as to what genre my novel should call home?  I'm really leaning toward contemporary fantasy myself.


  1. Yes, it definitely doesn't fit with UF, but not just because the rural aspect. Some definitions of UF (the one I follow for my own story) say that it's fantasy that takes place on Earth - i.e. *this* world but different. As your story sounds like it doesn't all take place on Earth, UF wouldn't apply even if it started off in NYC.

    All that to give a long answer to - Yes, it sounds like contemporary fantasy would be the right fit. :) However, I'm not familiar enough with Non-UF fantasy to know if that's considered a real sub-genre. If yes, you're set. If not, then maybe calling it fantasy would work, as your description makes it clear that it starts off on Earth (which would get across the contemporary aspect).

    Does that help?

  2. I agree with Jami, in that it does not sound like UF. I do think that contemporary fantasy would fit it well.

    If you are determined to fit it into the UF genre, you could change your setting, have it start in a city, she escapes to the ranch, then go from there. It would be a rewrite, but possible.

    Also, you might want to check to see if it might fit under the Dark Fantasy category. Some works fit well in that.


  3. Thanks for your suggestions. I don't think I can change the setting. Being the rancher's daughter is central to her character, and I'm not sure I want to at this point.

    I really appreciate your perspective. It's very hard to step away from it and see it from a neutral standpoint.

  4. I'd agree with Jamie and Shadowflame, and call it a "contemporary fantasy." It's a real thing -- I've seen it on book sites, and such, and even in a book store once.

    On the whole, though, I wouldn't worry overmuch about genre. Just write a story, and let the editors and publishers figure the rest out. ;)

    -- Marci Sischo

  5. Another vote for "contemporary fantasy" from me. I'd slot your book into the same category as de Lint and Gaiman and The Magicians—modern times, our world, not necessarily urban. Shifting between worlds is fairly common, or at least it is in the contemporary fantasy I've read.

    The closest book I can think of to yours (that I've read) is Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica. Semi-rural Oregon and a woman confronted with magic.

    I'm also with Marci about not worrying. There's a lot of genre and subgenre crossing these days and your agent/editor/publisher will have a better idea of correct placement. But contemporary fantasy's probably a good genre to be querying with, all the same. (My WIP is a mash-up of three genres, btw. I'd say you're doing well! lol)

  6. Anassa, the query was precisely my worry. I was afraid that I would send it to an agent that was very specific with the genres he/she represents and have it be declined because it wasn't really urban fantasy.

    The more I think about it, the more I think you all are correct. I'm really leaning toward contemporary.

  7. I think a lot of agents that rep urban fantasy also rep contemporary. You should be fine. :)

  8. is the fantasy world a contemporary setting? If it's like an alternate present day setting, then certainly contemporary fantasy, which most agents who rep any sort of fantasy would look at. If it's a totally made up world, and not particularly modern, it would probably be more straight fantasy imo, assuming that's where most of the story takes place. Again, most agents who take straight fantasy also do modern fantasy stuff as well.

  9. Good points, jnduncan. The fantasy world is a world tied to our own, and time is somewhat constant. Though the other world is larger and has longer days, when someone falls through it's not as though they enter the past or future, but it does mess up their sense of time.

  10. The other way to look at this is as YA, which depends on the content and the nature of the telling. YA doesn't have th boundaries that genres have because it is an age-group, not a genre, but only you know whethr it is suitable as a YA story.

    Contemporary fantasy works well. If you want parallel examples, the most obvious is Narnia where a wardrobe is the gateway to a hidden land where magic is accepted. Other examples

    Alan Garner, particularly The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
    Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising
    Mark Chadbourne, The Age of Misrule
    Charles de Lint (mentioned above)
    Emma Bull, War for the Oaks

    You should find things there that chime with with where you're going. Agents and publishers aren't nearly as hung up on sub-genre as you might think, they just want to know where it goes in the bookstore - you could just call it fantasy and that'll be okay.

  11. It is most definitely not YA. A friend of mine who was a beta let her daughter read it. Though she really liked it, that particular draft didn't have a few key graphic scenes yet. There's nothing sexual, but one scene is a little gory. Some pretty nasty things aren't shown, but I hint at them.

    Thanks for the other authors. I'll check them out ASAP.


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