Questions from writers: What’s genre? Can you embellish an autobiography?

Over the past few months I’ve received questions from new writers. Here they are, with my answers.

1. What’s genre?

According to Merriam-Webster:
noun \ˈzhän-rə, ˈzhäⁿ-; ˈzhäⁿr; ˈjän-rə\
: a particular type or category of literature or art

When talking about books, genre refers to the subject and style: mystery, science fiction, fantasy, humor, romance, “literary fiction,” historical, and so on.

In the world of modern publishing, think of genre as describing where a book will be shelved in a bookstore or library (thanks to Suzy Spencer of Texas Writes for that one).

When talking to authors, try not to ask them whether their books “transcend the genre” or when they’re going “to stop churning out that genre trash and write a real book.” Because authors look undignified rolling around on the ground wrestling with people who ask these things.

2. If I’ve written a series of novels about a character, will it be more difficult to find a traditional publisher if each novel is in a different genre?

Yes. Frankly, publishers will hesitate to publish a series where Book 1 is a mystery, Book 2 an epic romance, and Book 3 a time travel military thriller.

3. If I’m not a writer but have an amazing life story, can I get a professional to write my autobiography?

Yes. But be prepared to pay the professional writer a fee up front, or when the finished manuscript is delivered. Do not say to a ghostwriter/co-author, “I’ll tell you the story, you write it up, and when it sells, we split the profits.”

4. If my life story would sound more exciting with fictional adventures thrown in, should I embellish it?


No, no, no.

5. Will you read my manuscript?

No. On the advice of legal counsel, I do not read unsolicited, unpublished manuscripts. Doing so only leads to grief.

6. How about reading just the first chapter?

No. See above.

7. Not even to tell me how to fix the book?

Sorry, no.

8. Then how will I find ways to improve the manuscript?

Take a writing class or workshop. Attend a writers’ conference. Join a critique group, in person or online. Find a knowledgeable and competent reader to vet the manuscript and give you their opinion. Hire a freelance editor (such as Ann Aubrey Hanson or The Edit Ninja). Read books on the craft of writing (here’s a list of what’s on my bookshelf).

Then throw yourself on that manuscript and rassle it like a crazed mofo until it shines. Good luck!

5 responses to “Questions from writers: What’s genre? Can you embellish an autobiography?

  1. Okay, so trying to think of a witty response to number 4 has given me an interesting idea for a fictional protagonist!

  2. If I didn’t embellish my autobiography, no one would read it.
    Did I ever tell you about the time I snuffed Michael Jordan?

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