The Zebulon Genre Guide

The purpose of The Zebulon is to give writers an opportunity to prepare a manuscript and then focus on producing a marketable product. If you don’t know what type of story you have written, then you really need to consider the marketing aspect of your story.

Decide who your readers are—who would buy your story? Where would they go in a bookstore to find your book? The categories reflect publishing genres.

Middle Grade

  • Stories with themes and characters appropriate to readers seven to twelve years of age.
  • Middle grade readers read well and do not require short sentences or limited vocabulary.
  • Middle grade readers are ready to explore what they think and feel about the world and their places in it.
  • Stories may be suspenseful, but not terrifying.
  • The protagonist primarily faces external conflicts.

Young Adult

  • Stories with themes and characters appropriate to readers eleven to eighteen years of age.
  • These readers are learning how they influence and are influenced by the larger world.
  • Stories are introspective and morally complex.


  • Attracts a wide audience and sells in large numbers.
  • Book club fiction. Easy to read. Plot easy to follow.
  • Conventional storytelling techniques.
  • Stories about people and their conflicts but with greater depth of characterization and background than genre novels.


  • Literary fiction emphasizes the prose itself, with refined language and the story as art.
  • It may feature in-depth studies of how complex, introspective characters develop in response to universal dilemmas.


  • Stories set against historical backdrops.
  • Characters must behave in accordance with their times.
  • Research and attention to detail are essential, but characterization and plot reign preeminent.


  • A love story in which two protagonists come together and find happiness.
  • The story must engage the reader’s emotions and provide a satisfying, optimistic ending.
  • While other elements (mystery, suspense, horror) may be present, the relationship is the dominant driver of the story.

Women’s Fiction

  • Stories involving women’s issues and relationships.
  • While these stories often contain romantic relationships, other relationships (family, friends) may be equally or more important.
  • They have satisfactory endings, which aren’t necessarily happy.


  • Stories usually follow the discovery of a murder or serious crime, its investigation, and its logical resolution.
  • A police officer, a private investigator, or an amateur sleuth solves the mystery together with readers, step by step.


  • In the suspense genre, the characters strive to stop a crime or horrible act as opposed to attempting to solve it.
  • The stakes for the main characters need to be spelled out early on.
  • Sometimes the protagonist(s) in the story are the potential victims of the horrible act.


  • Thrillers involve extraordinary situations with high stakes and broad scope.
  • Strong characters join the chase.
  • Fast-paced action offers emotional thrills for the reader.

Science Fiction

  • Imaginative use is made of scientific knowledge or conjecture.
  • Stories often take place in the future, incorporating technological advances that influence the characters and their world.


  • The primary element is fantastical, not part of the ordinary world.
  • These stories are often set on a world created entirely from the writer’s imagination.
  • Frequently involves creatures of great power, fantastic abilities, or based in some part in mythology, folklore or fairytales.

Urban Fantasy

  • Stories combine a realistic setting and a modern viewpoint with elements of fantasy and the supernatural.
  • “Ordinary people” are generally unaware of the supernatural events, abilities and creatures around them.
  • Can be set in an alternate historical past or a near/distant future, as long as a fantastic element is present.


  • Stories play on the reader’s fears and phobias.
  • Supernatural monsters or horrendous humans prey on the unsuspecting.
  • Evil might not be vanquished at the end.


  • Set in the real, modern world, but with paranormal elements such as vampires, ghosts, or other supernatural concepts.
  • Can be similar to Urban Fantasy, but does not need an urban setting or magic. (The Dresden Files is Urban Fantasy, but the X Files is Paranormal.)

Online Resources


Writers’ Digest

Examples of Successful Query Letters (Writers’ Digest)

Writer’s Relief: Author’s Submission Service

Genre part 1

Genre part 2

“The Genre Hurdle” by Linda Rohrbough

Nathan Bransford, blog

Contest At a Glance

The Zebulon Contest will be open for entries September 15th, 2016, through 12:00 p.m. MST on November 1st, 2016.

Looking for more information about our fictitious agency and the agents that "work" there? Find it here!

If you're going to enter the The Zebulon, you should read our rules and check out the frequently asked questions.

We've also put together a handy genre guide as well as the scoresheets by which the entries will be judged.

About Zebulon Pike

Pikes Peak, the majestic mountain west of Colorado Springs, is named for General Zebulon Pike, an Army captain who led the Pike Expedition to explore and document the southwest US. His published account of this expedition was so popular that it became required reading for all 19th century explorers who followed after him. We've named our contest "The Zebulon" because even though he failed to reach the summit of Pikes Peak, he's been immortalized as an intrepid explorer and as an author, revered by his peers.

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