SF/F Genre Glossary

The Genre Discussion

I’ll admit it. My reasons behind starting the SF/F Genre Glossary Project were not altogether altruistic. My hope was that by defining these subgenres it would be easier to better target submissions to the most appropriate publications. In the case of magazines, it’s good to read them before hand, but for lack of time and money, I can’t read them all.

As a reader, I’ve never paid attention to subgenres. I’m pretty willing to read anything as long as the premise sounds intriguing.

How useful are subgenre classifications?

I do believe they have some value. You have to know what the rules are if you want to break them. You should know what is expected, if you want to do something fresh.

On the other hand, what I find interesting usually happens at the edges, the meeting places, the muddy blending’s between. You may have a different opionion.

Should you care about subgenres while writing?

I don’t know. Sometimes. The discussion on sword and sorcery inspired a short story in which I made a conscious effort to subvert the standard tropes. Not all stories are, or should be, about that.

Perhaps genre classifications are more useful for categorizing work after it is written? Perhaps they’re more useful for publishers than writers?

What do you think? Are genre classifications helpful to you as a reader or as a writer?


  1. As a reader, the main benefit of sub-genres is in helping me map the mental space a story will occupy. I’m relatively omnivorous when it comes to speculative fiction (though I treat “horror” and it’s subgenres as the “fats and oils” section of the food guide pyramid: I consume them rather sparingly). But it’s nice to have an idea of where a story is going. Some readers, and I have trouble getting this, omnivore that I am, are very specific in their dietary intake, and will only read stories in specific genres or subgenres.

    That’s where the subgenres are useful as a writer: they are a marketing tool. They tell an editor or agent: “Okay, I know what this is, and I know how to market it.” This is particularly relevant, I think, in the speculative fiction world, where even when people say they’re looking for something knew and different, what they really mean is something just a little new and a little different, but mostly the same as what’s come before (judging on the popularity of those stories and novels that simply build on existing genre tropes rather than forging whole new worlds of weird… although that has been done, too).

    1. I am also an omnivore so I share the same confusion when it comes to people who prefer only “meat and potatoes” and nothing but. I think you hit upon something key there, that people may not want something completely different, but only slightly different.

  2. You see, I think that’s the key to genres, in general. If that weren’t so, there would be no need to classify things in genres and subgenres. Frankly, now that I think on it, it’s just as true of people who read mainstream fiction as of those who read speculative fiction.

  3. For me there are not helpful at all, because I write what can be best described as cross-genre. There may be a genre that can be sensed, but then again it is not that specific genre entirely. When I submit I watch for Open for All Themes or just the usual trio Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, which means that they would be open to work that is not so easily defined. Or at least I ration like that.

    1. That’s the sort of fiction I like to read. The hard part is picking it out of the masses because it’s usually marketed in one genre category which may not be entirely fitting.

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