Must a novel be classified in only one genre?

“Life is more than one genre.” – Juliette Power

The inspirational author Juliette Power has lived a life that one could say encompasses many “genres.” She could be labeled with one or all of them – high school dropout, teen runaway, child of suicide, factory worker, world traveler, memoir writer, seer of angels. She can’t be defined by only one of her experiences.

I like to think of my life as also defying a single “genre” classification. I am a wife and a mother. Should one of these relationships define me?  I am also a lawyer, educator, and author. Should one of these careers define me? I am a Christian and an American. Should one of these affiliations define me? I believe it would be difficult to view me through only a single lens. My life, as Juliette Power said, is more than one genre. In fact, I contend that everyone’s life resists a lone classification. We are all “more than one genre.”

Books are filled with the stories of people whose lives are rich and complicated. These characters cannot be easily consigned to one category. Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant deductive who is also a drug addict. Scarlett O’Hara is a spoiled recipient of wealth based on the enslaving of her fellow human beings. But, she is also a fierce, independent woman during a time when those traits were not valued. The characters written in novels are often complex, so why are books these characters inhabit often pigeon-holed into a single, simple category.

Books, like people, should not be restricted to only one genre. Yet, how many bookstores organize their shelves in a way that a book may only be included in one area of the store? I once worked at a large bookstore and was often confused by such placements. For example, P.D. James is considered a crime fiction writer, so her dystopian novel Children of Men was shelved with her other books in the “mystery” section of the bookstore. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was placed in the “classic literature” section while Stephen King’s novels were shelved as “horror.” The novel Possession by A.S. Byatt could just as easily be classified in mystery, romance, or historical fiction genres but was to be found in “general fiction.”

As I consider how to proceed with seeking literary representation for my middle reader novel, Sarah Finn, I find myself in a quandary as to how to complete the genre question on many agent query forms. How should I classify my book? It takes place in 1963 Oklahoma and weaves in events occurring at the time, especially as they relate to the civil rights movement. So, should Sarah Finn be considered historical fiction? But, my main characters are involved in their church and rely on their Christian faith to get them through the many traumas they face. In fact, they often quote Bible verses to guide them through these challenges. So, should Sarah Finn be considered Christian fiction? Cathryn, my main character, is eleven years old, and my novel is told through her eyes. But, there are adult themes explored such as racism and redemption. So, should Sarah Finn be considered general fiction?

Since my questions remain unanswered, I decided to look into which trending genres could include my novel. A manuscript submission relating to these genres might find agents more receptive to its consideration. Since Sarah Finn could be considered Christian fiction, I went online to research that topic. My readings included “Religious Children’s Publishing Continues to Grow,” an article by Cathy Lynn Grossman found online on the Publishers Weekly website. Ms. Grossman stated, “Faith-based children’s book publishers, which stand on stories of inspiration, joy, and adventure that are threaded with spiritual and biblical ideas, have had steadily rising sales.” (https://www.publishersweekly.com/paper-copy/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/84385-religious-children-s-publishing-continues-to-grow.htmlthe)

Sarah Finn may also be categorized as historical fiction. So, I went to the website encyclopedia.com regarding the subject “Historical fiction for Children.” That entry found the historical fiction “…format still remains popular and has found a growing role in the classroom as an alternative means of presenting history to children.” (https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/historical-fiction-children)

Since both my novel’s genres appear as “trending,” my questions were still unanswered. So, I reflected back on Juliette Power’s statement, “Life is more than one genre.” I don’t try to fit my life into one “genre,” so why should I stress about fitting my novel into only one category?

I now intend to query agents interested in works of both Christian fiction and historical fiction. And, those pesky blanks in manuscript submission forms requesting a statement of genre will just have to have enough space for listing two. After all, my novel, like my life, is more than one genre.

by PortiaLily Taylor

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

3 thoughts on “Must a novel be classified in only one genre?”

  1. Oh yeah. Even in non-fiction, I’ve always written for the no-niche niche. Sometimes we don’t fall into any one category, and it’s good to embrace that. Thanks for this post!

    Like

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