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Is the "genre" a piece of fiction belongs to determined by the author, or by the editor and publishing house? Is there an established definition for each genre, or is it largely ad hoc?

I ask because the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook gives contact details for many publishers, sorted by the type of genre they will publish and/or are known for...

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

As far as I can tell, what genre your work is published in is usually up to the publisher, as a tool for bookstores and other retailers to label and categorize your work.

I've seen a lot of arguments about particular books being labeled in a specific genre and readers not really considering it to fit there. An example would be "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russel, which was published as 'sci-fi' and usually found in that section, but I've heard many impassioned arguments for it to be placed in fiction/literary fiction.

Fantasy/Sci-fi seem to have a lot of books that are both, so you tend to see books with both labels on them.

As for submitting your work publishers, it might be best to see what books they've labeled as what genres in the past. That might give you a better idea whether or not they'll consider your work as part of the genre that you intend it to be, or if they might consider it something else. (For example, if they consider your Steampunk novel to be sci-fi, or fantasy, or speculative fiction, or historical AU.)

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Kurt Vonnegut is another author whose work is really fantasty/scifi, but he's marketed as general fiction, out of the genre ghetto. So it goes. –  Neil Fein Nov 19 '10 at 0:55
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quoting wikipedia:

Genre ... "kind" or "sort", from Latin: genus (stem gener-), Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature, as well as various other forms of art or culture e.g. music, based on some loose set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.

So genres evolve as they come and go, and based on current cultural state - we could say there is a current established definition.

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