2018 Contest Categories and Genres

The following definitions are meant to give contestants a guide for selecting the category and subgenre of their entry as well as give judges some criteria for judging the genre questions on the scoresheet. Please note: The genre ‘Other’ should only be used when the story doesn’t fit any of the listed genres, but still falls under the guidelines of that category. Read through all the categories carefully to be sure you give your story the best opportunity to do well in the contest.

Category: Mystery/Thriller
Mystery/Thriller is the literary genre that fictionalizes crimes, their detection, criminals, and their motives.


Thriller — A thriller creates an adrenalized mood of excitement, anticipation and thrills to tell the story. In thrillers, the reader knows who the good guys and bad guys are. It's the outcome of that conflict that's in question, whereas in a mystery, a whodunit, the reader knows the good guy and tries to figure out who the bad guy is.

Spy/International  espionage and shady government conspiracies.

Mystery/Suspense  Mystery fiction usually involves the investigation of a crime or a series of crimes by either a professional (police or private eye) or an amateur detective. Generally, the reader knows who the good guy is and tries to discover along with them who the bad guy is (different from a thriller where the bad guys are usually known and the good guy has to stop something from happening.) In suspense, the emphasis is on mood and creating suspended tension and the reader is often made aware of dangers unknown to the protagonist.



Category: Mainstream & Other Fiction
This category includes several of the smaller audience fiction genres as well as mainstream (non-genre) fiction.  Some of these are easily identifiable and may attract a limited readership, while mainstream is typically hard to define and appeals to a wider audience. If your story isn't concerned with a particular fiction genre such as mystery, sci fi or romance and aims for a general readership, it could be mainstream--think book club fiction. Sometimes, mainstream fiction may contain literary elements but literary fiction is not typically considered mainstream.


Comedy/Satire — novels that have a traditional dramatic narrative structure but that use humor and satire to tell the story.

Coming of age — an adult novel that concerns the passage from youth to adulthood. The subject matter might be too mature for the young adult genre.

Contemporary — set in current time, about modern issues.

Historical — a fictional story that takes place in a historical setting which may or may not contain actual historical characters. Period detail, manners and social customs are presented in detail

Multicultural  features alternative cultures and ethnic groups, a minority viewpoint.

New Adult  The story focuses on a protagonist (usually female) between the ages of 18 and 25. Plots tend to focus on aspects of life important to that age group, like going to college, getting a first job, getting a first apartment, etc. Can be longer and contain more graphic sex than YA. The protagonists will generally be younger than in adult fiction and less settled, still going through situations of leaving home and maturing into adulthood. Can be any genre.

Western  set in the historical American West.



Category: Women’s fiction
Focuses on a female protagonist's journey of self-exploration using relationships of all kinds. Gets into a woman's head and heart. These are richly layered stories in which the plot is driven by the main character's emotional journey. Women's fiction is a wide-ranging genre that includes various types of novels that generally appeal more to women than men. Women's fiction taps into the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women today.


Romance  Romances are relationship stories. “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” (Romance Writers of America).

Magical realism  magical elements are part of an otherwise realistic, even mundane world. The magical aspects are not dominant, which is what separates it from sci fi/fantasy.

Chick lit  addresses modern womanhood, often in a humorous way.

Contemporary  the story is set in present time.

Erotica — the story focuses on the protagonist exploring aspects of her sexuality that might be considered "taboo" or unusual, like BDSM or menage a trois.

Historical  the setting is a past time period.

Inspirational  the story involves a search for or dependency upon faith, religion, or spiritual beliefs.



Category: SciFi/Fantasy
SciFi/Fantasy encompasses a broad range of fantastical fiction, everything from hard science fiction to werewolves and vampires to swords and sorcery. If your work has been described as 'weird fiction' or paranormal or space opera, this is the category for you. If you imagine your novel being made into a movie that would be heavily promoted at sci fi/fantasy conventions, this is your genre.


Alternate history  speculates how historical events might have turned out differently.

Fantasy  set in a fictional world, serious in tone, and lengthy. Frequently involves magic, dragons, swords, quests and epic battles.

Fairy tale  retelling and reworking of fairy tales or fairy tale tropes, sometimes modernizing them or using them to comic effect.

Futuristic  includes near-future technical, dystopian and post-apocalypse. Near-future: sci fi but based in "the next 30 seconds" and typically set on Earth. Dystopian: bleak future societies often dealing with totalitarianism. Post-apocalypse--the end of civilization as we know it, whether through war, plague or other disasters.

Horror  horror attempts to create deep feelings of dread and terror--a good outcome for the main characters is not certain. Often supernatural elements such as ghosts, witches, werewolves and zombies are involved.

New Age/Spiritual  combining metaphysical and spiritual concepts with a strong story.

Science fiction  deals with what is possible in science and technology: space travel, time travel, genetic engineering, androids and aliens.

Space Opera  an adventure sci fi story set mostly in space or on an exotic planet. Formerly a defamatory term, it has lost its stigma.

Steampunk  futuristic technology existing in the past, often the Victorian era. Elements of sci fi or fantasy.

Urban fantasy  fantastical elements in a realistic urban setting, usually present-day. Though it might contain many of the same supernatural elements and characters as horror, the story question isn't necessarily about exploring the things that scare you.



Category: Young Adult/Middle Grade
Young Adult: YA features protagonists and situations of interest to a teen audience, generally from 12-18 years old. Can be any subgenre. YA books tend to be shorter than adult fiction and there are some restrictions on content, such as graphic sex, language and violence (though those lines are getting blurred).

Middle Grade: If the protagonist is still in middle school, your book will probably be Middle Grade fiction (8-12). Can be any subgenre. These books concern the age group between children and teens, tweeners. Generally shorter than YA and with less focus on sexuality and tough subjects like sex, drugs and suicide. (We don't accept younger than MG, i.e. early readers or children's picture books.)


Coming of age  the main character(s) undergoes a maturing based on experiences and overcoming obstacles.

Contemporary  realistic, set in the present and dealing with current issues facing children and teens.

Historical  The focus is on coming of age, but in a historical setting.

Mystery/Adventure — action or mystery-solving involving children and teens.

Romance (YA only)  as with adult romance, the romantic relationship takes center stage and will be the focus of the story question.

Scary stories (MG only)  campfire tales, ghost stories, horror but geared toward young folks.

Sci fi/Fantasy — includes science fiction/futuristic, epic fantasy, dystopian/post-apocalypse, steampunk and urban fantasy/supernatural. (See SciFi for genre definitions.)