Help! I Need A Genre!

I am looking for an agent to represent “Finding Kate,” my adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and in the last week or so, I’ve been doing a lot of research to that end.

And I’m in a little bit of a panic.

I had originally conceived of “Kate” as a young adult novel, because the characters are young and the story is very much one of self-discovery.

But at an SCBWI conference, a very well-respected agent told me flat-out, “Teens don’t read Shakespeare.  Teens don’t buy Shakespeare.”

When I tried to push back with, “Their parents do,” she replied, “Teens don’t read books their parents buy for them.”


That, combined with the fact that every woman I have ever spoken to about this gushes “Oh! I would love to read that!” made me think that maybe I was trying to reach the wrong audience.

So I rewrote and started in on my adult market research.

But here’s the thing.

“Kate” doesn’t fit any one genre.

The setting is historical, but historical fiction for the adult market tends to be terribly serious.  It generally opens with an incident in the main character’s childhood which either illustrates a theme or introduces the love interest.  It then jumps ahead in time to the teen years (which for the middle ages were really the dawn of adulthood) and there is an arranged marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, and in the middle of this there is war and death and hardship and more hardship and maybe an illicit love affair, and ultimately some kind of grand resolution years later.  While there may be moments of joy, historical novels are not generally known to be light-hearted and amusing.

“Kate” is historical, but it’s funny and fast-paced.  It jumps right into the middle of her problems in the here-and-now and solves them in ten days.  So although it’s got a historical setting, it’s really more of a comedy with a couple at the heart of it.  A romantic comedy, if you will.

So I looked up romantic comedies on Goodreads.  There are pages and pages of books tagged as romantic comedies, but they are all, without exception, contemporary.  I’ve read several of them.  You know the ones:  your books by Meg Cabot, your “Shopaholic” series, your “Bridget Jones’ Diary”s…   While their tone is exactly right, their setting is completely wrong.  Their covers are graced with bright colors and icons of the modern world:  shopping bags, cupcakes, coffee cups, high heeled shoes.  A woman looking for a contemporary romantic comedy in a store is probably not going to be attracted by a book with medieval Kate on the cover in her silk and velvet gown.

Ah!  A gown on the cover:  historical romance.  Historical romances, while set in the right time frame and with the right images on the cover, are pretty much all about the sex.  The setting is just there to get beautiful people into beautiful clothes… and then out of them again in a variety of interesting ways.  And there is nary a ripped bodice nor a throbbing manhood in my novel.  Lots of flirting, lots of wordplay, but no sex.  Sorry.

And this worries me because publishing is a business, and as much as they are looking for good work, they also want to be able to slide it into a genre, a label, a defined category.  They want to know which shelf in the bookstore to put it on, which keywords in the search engine will find it, which people to market it to.  And who can blame them?

I have a historical romantic comedy.  Anyone looking for one of those?

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11 Responses to Help! I Need A Genre!

  1. Christina says:

    I find this to be one of the hardest parts of the publishing process- having to label your work. Good luck! 🙂

  2. orwell1627 says:

    I suggest either tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited 🙂

  3. mabelgygi says:

    Oh, Maryanne, Maryanne. You are just one-of-a-kind, and your Kate is too.

  4. That is tricky, Mare! I totally agree that romantic comedy isn’t the right fit (I think that’s just a renaming of chic lit.) I love Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding, but I wouldn’t expect to see anything historical near them on the shelves. Can you think of a book that’s similar that would be a good comp title? That might help you both in finding the right agent and in knowing how to name the genre. As I read I thought of Diana Gabaldon, which an older aunt described as “a thinking woman’s romance novel”. She has lots of history but also lots of romance. That’s not quite it. Prisoner’s in the Palace also came to mind– but that is considered YA and I guess historical?
    I searched “shakespeare” on and found only two agents that are looking for shakespeare-adaptations. So, perhaps that agent is really onto something.
    When I searched “historical” there were 8 pages of hits. So, maybe selling it more as historical and less as shakespeare?

  5. I am planning on spending a day at the library/bookstore to find some comp titles because I think that will be key not only to finding an agent but to communicating in a query what the book is like. Thanks for all your thoughts!

  6. I’ve just been through this myself. I was at a conference this weekend where I watched agents shoot down manuscripts simply because they were labeled by the wrong genre. I fretted in the hotel room all night researching furiously so that I did not mislabel mine at my pitch appointments the following day. I opted to label it generically YA fiction unless otherwise pinned down. It worked. In your case I would say that if the characters are teens and the content of the book is PG 13 it is most likely YA however the voice has to be consistent with that label (as I was told by an agent at the conference.) Would it be an easy fix to make your character like something besides Shakespeare? Or would that change the plot of the book?

  7. To be fair, it’s not exactly unusual for books to be labelled with genres that don’t really give the full picture. I agree with Margie: if all else fails, try describing it as a YA work and go from there.

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