When I was trying to find a literary agent for my novel Rest and Be Thankful, I worried a lot about genre: what genre was my novel? Did it "fit" properly into a specific category of fiction? How should I market it? Was it like other novels in that particular genre? My novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, and part travelogue. It doesn't really fit the "cosy" mystery or "hard crime." The main character is 13, but the story isn't solely about the "teenage" stuff other young adult novels seem to be about -- romance, fitting in at school, etc... -- although it does cover some of these topics. It's kind of a mixture!
But mixtures don't always work in the literary world. While writing queries, I struggled with trying to market my book -- sometimes I said it was "women's fiction," since the main characters were all women. Other times I called it "literary fiction" because I felt it was quite literary! But it's also plot-driven and, at it's heart, is an adventure story. I got lucky -- Pilrig Press, based in Edinburgh, chose to publish my novel as "crime fiction"!
Right now, I'm reworking the novel for the American market and am aiming it more for young adults. It still doesn't feel like the "typical" YA novel I see in bookstores, but choosing a specific audience has helped me focus my writing better. After reading one of John Green's YA novels, I realized I had just scratched the surface of my characters' lives -- writing for a younger audience, while telling the same story, made me feel a little freer to dig deeper! So, maybe genre isn't just an annoying marketing ploy by the publishing industry! Maybe it helps writers to really focus on who they want their audience to be. Any thoughts?