In a query letter, authors are often instructed to include the book’s details — title, word count, age category, and genre. This is to help the editor know internally where the book belongs in terms of imprints; it helps marketing know how to promote the book, and it helps booksellers know where to shelve your book in stores / libraries.
Recently, I’ve seen two trends:
1. This information is lacking or missing completely, or
2. The information is incorrect.
So, I thought I’d take some time to define these two terms and talk about them each a bit.
AGE CATEGORY: This pertains to the age of both the characters and (most often) the readers. It dictates the tone, word count limits, and sometimes the content.
There are 5 different age categories…
- Picture Books / Early Readers / Chapter Books — This is often encompassed as “children’s books” and will vary from publisher to publisher. These are the books with shorter word counts, typically 5,000 words or less, and lots of pictures.
- Middle Grade (MG) — These books have slightly longer word counts but typically stay under the 55,000 word mark. MG books are geared toward kids aged 8 to 12.
- Young Adult (YA) — Books geared toward teens aged 13 to 18, they can range from 50,000 words up to 120,000 words, depending on the genre. These books tackle topics and situations that today’s teens face.
- New Adult (NA) — While there is a lot of discussion as to whether this category even truly exists, I believe it does. NA has characters aged 19 to 25 and deals with topics that new adults face, such as college, first love, first jobs, gap years, living alone for the first time, etc. Word counts range from 50,000 to 80 or 90,000 words, depending on the publisher.
- Adult (A) — This category is aimed at adults with adult characters. Word counts can vary from 25,000 for novellas up to 120,000 (or more), depending on genre and publisher.
Every single book MUST have an age category. But please, use only ONE. I can’t tell you how many queries I receive that say something like: My book will appeal to tweens, teens, and adults alike! Okay, sure. We love books that have crossover appeal, but if you can’t nail down what category your book falls into, neither can we. So, again, please be sure you know who you’re writing for.
GENRE: This is the content of your book.
There are entirely too many genres to list all of them, but a few of the most common are: romance, fantasy, mystery, thriller, etc. Each genre also has multiple sub-genres. For example: romantic suspense, historical romance, inspirational romance. While each of them are encompassed beneath the main romance umbrella, each one has different rules.
Knowing your genre allows an editor, agent, and reader to know exactly what they’re getting before they ever start reading. With a romance, for example, the person reading knows it will be primarily about the journey of the couple finding their happily-ever-after. With a mystery, we know there will be a crime and the book will be about solving said crime. In a fantasy, we know it will be a new world with new laws and rules and maybe even new species that probably involves some sort of quest.
As with everything else in this industry, there are always exceptions to every rule. It’s absolutely okay to write a book that has crossover appeal, and it’s absolutely okay to blend genres. But, in order to do this, you first need to know that you’re doing it, know the rules of every genre you’re bending, and be able to succinctly state in your query that this is an intentional choice (rather than simply not knowing what you’re writing).
Stay tuned to the next few blog posts because I’ll be discussing various genres in depth. And as always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments 🙂