Saturday, July 11, 2015

Age Category AND Genre

I just wanted to take a moment to talk about classifying your manuscript. In Query Kombat submissions back in May, we got a larger number than ever of entries that only had an age category on them. Meaning their genre line only said Young Adult or only said Middle Grade. That's not really the best way, whether you're entering a contest or sending a query letter.

There should be two parts to classifying your finished and polished manuscript: the age category and the genre. Now it's not so much a problem to get them wrong as it is to put nothing. So let's talk a little about why you need both.

First off, the age category. That tells an agent what manner of voice and style you used to write your manuscript. There are very different expectations for a middle grade story than for an adult one. Obviously you aren't going to have sex in a middle grade, while the story may take longer to get started in an adult book. 

The age category describes what age level of audience you are attempting to reach. It's the more broad of the two types of classifications as there are fewer choices--adult, new adult, young adult, middle grade, chapter book or picture book. 

As Captain Obvious would say Adult is aimed to adult readers. New adult goes out to the college age or young twenties to 18 crowd. Young adult features main characters from 13 to 17. Middle grade hits at anywhere from 8 to 12 years old. And chapter book and picture book are focused on the very young.

That's the first part of the information you want to label in your query letter or contest entry. Now we need to talk about what type of story you wrote--the genre. Here's where things can get really complicated, because so many manuscripts can fall into multiple genres. But it's important you attempt to find the right label for your story and use it. Genre tells the agent about what smaller audience you're trying to reach within the age category.

Are you attempting to hit the teenager who likes romance or the middle grade reader who prefers adventure? Will this story best suit adults who like mystery or adults looking for a feel good read?

Some of the main genres include--fantasy, science fiction, horror, contemporary, historical fiction, romance, mystery, literary, thriller, western, women's fiction and on and on. Within each main genre are dozens of subgenres, making for an ever more difficult choice to pin down your manuscript.

For instance within fantasy are contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal fantasy, my favorite epic fantasy, high fantasy, sword and sorcery, dark fantasy, medieval fantasy, superhero fantasy, Arthurian fantasy and more. The list is practically endless. 

I know it can be difficult to find the right genre and confusing, but that's what twitter is for. Talk to other writers. Get help from your critique partners. But this post is not really about helping figure out your genre. There are better posts for that. It's a reminder to newer writers to put an age category and genre. 

So for instance you would have something that looks like this: YA thriller or MG Adventure or Adult Urban Fantasy or NA Romance when you enter New Agent. We want to see your YA Space Opera or your MG low fantasy. Adult dark thrillers. New Adult cozy mystery. Those are just examples; we want to see age categories and genres of all sorts. 

So keep in mind the Experts don't want to see something that just says YA or adult.  

YA what? Adult hmmm? It's your job to find that out, though it can be difficult for even the most experienced writers. I have a story with magic that is set after an apocalypse that eventually reaches a dystopian government. I went with YA dystopian on it, but it could have been YA fantasy or YA post apocalypse. It's very difficult to decide sometimes.  

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I'll help as best I can. You can also use the #NewAgent hashtag to get suggestions from more folks.  


  1. Hi Michelle!
    I'm confused with epic vs. high fantasy, could you give a quick definition and/or an example for each, maybe?
    And this is the first item I see "medieval fantasy", would Tamora Pierce's Alanna quartet fit that one?
    Thank you!

    1. They are much alike. Epic fantasy tends to have a plot that effects the fate of the entire world/society. Epic will sometimes have less magic. High fantasy will often have fewer characters and be more character driven than good versus evil of epic fantasy.