Category versus description

Regarding your 9/30 post on Nomenclature for Novels, could you please tell me how important it is for a writer to identify the category of the manuscript in a query letter? I ask because I'm receiving contradictory messages on whether or not to mention the category, but also on what the category of my manuscript is (e.g., chick lit vs. women's lit vs. hen lit vs. marriage lit, etc.)

Categories are how books are sorted out at the library, or at a bookstore.
Non fiction
Science Fiction

Description is less formal, a shorthand way to convey content:
roman a clef
tell all

Lots of times there are certain descriptions that fall out favor: "I've seen enough chick lit, I never want to see another book of chick lit again" from an editor means that my novel is NOW categorized as something different. It's the same book but I'm not letting too many pepto bismal pink covers get in the way of making a sale.

In a cover letter I'd stick as close to category as possible. You can't call a memoir “science fiction” unless you’re born on Mars or beyond and you can't call a biography “fiction” so try to be accurate, but don't pigeonhole yourself.

Hen lit, marriage lit, lad lit, all are horrid names and I hate them.
I like "rip roaring, page turning, keep you glued to the couch, compelling fiction".
Feel free to cut and paste.


Elektra said...

Not to snarktradict, but Books A Million and Barnes and Noble actually have humor sections for people like Dave Barry and such

Elektra said...


Miss Snark said...

Since Miss Snark has no sense of humor she didn't know this.

I'll try to weasle out of admitting error by saying I was thinking of how libraries shelve things....

Elektra said...

You should definitely read Dave Barry. Very, very funny.

James Goodman said...

As a horror/dark fantasy fan, I find the categories at the bookstore rather disturbing.

I find myself digging through several different areas before I find what I want. Considering the number of works out there that fall into this category, it seems that they could at least do the customer the curtesy of assigning a sub category and placing them together for greater ease of purusing. Prime example, last week at Barnes & Noble, I picked up horror books, in Fiction & Literature, Science Fiction and Mystery.

It just seems like there would be an easier way to sort categories.

marcille said...

Miss Snark,

Is the term thriller widely taken to mean plot-driven, as opposed to character-driven? If so, how should a character-driven thriller be described in a query letter? (Rip roaring, page turning, keep you glued to the couch compelling fiction?)

Your blog is sweeeet, as my twelve-year-old would say.