What am I writing? This is something I often ask myself, not because my writing is that bizarre or incoherent, but because I'm trying to figure out how to categorize it. Some things are easy to figure out, like whether it's contemporary or historical. Age group is usually pretty straightforward as well.
So, once I know whether a story is contemporary or historical and what age group it's for, then comes the more difficult task of figuring out the genre. There are a lot of genres in the book world, and a lot of them share similarities. Take the manuscript I'm currently preparing for submission. The main character is in her early twenties, independent, and meets a guy and falls for him. This instantly brings to mind three genres: chick lit, women's fiction, and romance.
The relationship between the main character and the guy she falls for is more of a subplot than the main plot, so the story isn't a romance. It doesn't have the lighthearted, cosmopolitan feel of a lot of chick lit, either, so I'm calling it women's fiction.
Of course, if we take a closer look at the story, that brings in more possibilities. Since the main character is an immigrant and the story involves two cultures (at least on a cursory level), some people might consider it multicultural. Given the content and some of the situations I threw the main character into, others might consider it social commentary. I'm sure if I kept analyzing the manuscript, I could find more genres it might fit in. After a lot of thought, I'm sticking with the women's fiction label because I think that's the one that fits best.
Now that I know it's contemporary women's fiction aimed at the eighteen to thirty-five age group, I have one last thing to decide. This last category is possibly the most important since it has a strong bearing on where I submit and how I word the query. Is it Christian or mainstream?
This is one I struggle with a lot. I tend to write from a Christian perspective, because I can't get away from my own faith. I don't want to, either. The problem comes in because my main characters aren't always Christian nor do they necessarily become Christians by the end of the book. But there is generally at least one Christian in the story who is important to the main character, either as a good friend or a relative. Sometimes my main character will attend church or just live by Christian values (i.e. live a moral life). However, my stories rarely include an obvious Christian message. I prefer to have a subtle, show-your-faith-by-living-it approach.
Which leads me to my submissions dilemma. Is that subtlety Christian enough for the Christian market? Are the subtle message, occasional Christian character, and possible church attendance too Christian for the mainstream market?
As much as I love Christian fiction, I feel most of my writing is better suited to the mainstream market. I have a few manuscripts that I know are destined for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) when I get them revised to my satisfaction. The rest of them, however, leave me feeling like I'm sitting on a fence between the CBA and the ABA (American Booksellers Association). Depending on which way the wind blows, I could fall either way.
I know that's not really how it works. Book publishing isn't left up to chance. Plus, even as I struggle to know which market my writing belongs in, I have one comfort; God knows exactly where each manuscript belongs. And when the time is right, it'll be published by that publishing house, whether it's in the ABA or the CBA.