by Karin Beery
It’s not enough to call yourself a fiction editor. “Fiction” can be broken into numerous genres, each with its own guidelines and expectations. If you want to be a successful, in-demand editor, you need to understand those guidelines and expectations so you can provide the best service to your authors.
What is a genre?
At its core, genre is a promise. When a book is labeled young adult or historical romance, it promises the reader that the book meets certain expectations.
What do editors need to know about fiction genres?
To edit fiction well, it’s important to understand the basics of each genre. Those basics include:
- Book length: Not all lengths work in the same genre. If you receive a 120,000-word contemporary romance manuscript, the editor should tell the author that the manuscript is too long—romance readers expect shorter novels. Writer’s Digest regularly provides word-count ranges for book genres.
- Point-of-view: There’s no right or wrong POV when it comes to fiction, but there are POVs that readers prefer in their favorite genres. First person works well in young adult (YA) fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, but third works too. Speculative fiction, general fiction, and women’s fiction can go either way depending on the character arcs and plot. Third person is the preferred POV for romance novels (contemporary or historical). Unlike the other genres, there are romance readers who hate first person; they will not read a book in first for any reason.
Beyond the basics are reader expectations:
- In a murder mystery, there should be a dead body at the end of the first chapter.
- In a romance novel, the boy and girl must get together at the end of the book (it doesn’t have to be an engagement or marriage, but there needs to be a romantic commitment).
- In YA fiction, the main character cannot be twenty-five years old.
- In historical romance, the historical elements are as important as the romantic elements (i.e., you can’t put a contemporary romantic situation in an 1850 setting).
- Too many to list here!
How, then, do you learn about genre expectations?
Not all fiction is created equally. Read craft books and take classes on that focus on the genre you want to edit. Then, read books in that genre. Make sure you understand the mechanics as well as the reader experience.
One Last Thought
Fiction editors don’t have to edit all genres. It’s okay to say no to a genre you don’t like or understand. You’ll enjoy your time more if you edit genres you like, and authors will appreciate your honesty if you refer them to better-suited editors.
Owner of Write Now Editing, Karin Beery’s passion is fiction. As Managing Editor for Guiding Light Women’s Fiction and a PEN Institute instructor, her goal is to help authors create engaging novels that captivate their audiences. She specializes in substantive fiction edits, helping authors with big-picture issues like characterization, plot holes, and authenticity while honing fiction-writing techniques, such as showing, point of view, dialogue, and more.