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Why Is "Fiction Novel" Redundant?

Once upon a time, I was an aspiring author who didn't understand why "fiction novel" is considered an automatic "you shouldn't be querying if you don't know why this is wrong" thing. I read a lot of agent blogs and would see it listed as a "don't" but no one ever explained it. Rather, it was constantly referred to in a veiled way (see: "you shouldn't be querying") that questioned my intelligence. When it finally clicked, I felt pretty silly but it didn't seem worth weeks of feeling inadequate. I still see it frequently mentioned on blogs, and now twitter, and rarely do people stop to explain why it's a no-no. This post is for any aspiring author who hasn't made the connection yet.

Let's look at the definitions from Merriam-Webster.

Fiction:

"Something invented by the imagination or feigned; specifically : an invented story."

Novel:

"An invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events."

The problem with the phrase "fiction novel" is that novels are, by definition, fictitious. Following? So saying you have a fiction novel is redundant, like saying you're giving someone a "free gift." I think the reason people get confused is because they've come to interchange the word "novel" with "book" and forget that while a book can be any type of work, fiction, non-fiction, or otherwise, a novel is comprised of fictitious prose. Or expected to be, anyway.

When you specify what kind of novel you have in your query, you should use the genre and/or age category.

"My literary novel..."
"My middle-grade novel..."
"My contemporary young-adult novel..."

Agents will know your novel is a work of fiction.

Questions? Leave them in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this. Will be changing that in my query today. I wondered about that myself as I originally wrote it, but was thrown by all the requests from agents looking for the specifics of what category the work falls into. Maybe THAT'S why no one's picked it up yet...ha!

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  2. You're welcome, Robin! Glad I was able to help. It was nice meeting you at SCBWI-LA last summer. Best of luck as you continue to query!!

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  3. Great post. I wondered the same thing for a while, but came to the conclusion eventually. I also think that for agents, they want to see that a writer understands nuance and word choice. And placing "fiction novel" beside one another *could* illustrate an inability to make deliberate word choices to an agent.

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  4. Casey, I'm going to rant a bit on this, so don't take it personally. I know you're not advocating this position, your just educating people.

    I can see why this terminology is redundant, and why it could show that someone isn't particularly experienced, but I think saying it's a red flag is ridiculous. People internalize phrases that they've heard, and they regurgitate them without conscious thought. That doesn't mean they don't know how to write, it just means they're human. To make an across-the-board generalization that saying such a thing means they're not ready is just as ignorant as using the phrase. To me, this illustrates a haughty, self-important attitude. I know plowing through queries is a pain in the butt, however that doesn't give anyone a right to become a snob.

    Okay, rant over. :) Thanks for educating everyone, Casey.

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  5. Oh, the fun little things you have to know before you query. You do a great job explaining this. :)

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  6. You may be right, but I can assure you that my novel would most accurately be called a fictional novel ‘cause, well... I haven’t exactly written it yet.

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  7. Thanks for the clarification ... I've never called my piece a "fiction novel", but I do struggle to ascertain which genre it fits in. I'm going with literary fiction (which also sounds kind of redundant), but that might change ...

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  8. Great post, Casey. Lots of people say this phrase without even realizing it's redundant. I hear it on TV all the time!

    Lisa, I totally hear you, and if you sent to an agent an awesome query with brilliant sample pages but called your book a fiction novel, I doubt that agent wouldn't ask to see the rest of the book. Ultimately, the book is what counts.

    But when agents and editors say to steer away from that terminology they just mean that, if you want your work to stand out, you want it to be the best and to show that you're the most knowledgeable. As I said, I hear reporters and talk show hosts on TV saying fiction novel all the time, and they use that and which wrong too, and use dangling participles ... I could go on.

    But as writers, we strive to be better, and to look like a professional in the book industry, it's best to get the terminology right.

    So, thanks again, Casey, for clarifying.

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  9. Thanks for sharing this. If you don't read blogs a lot, you wouldn't know this is a no-no. And it's already so hard to get an agent's interest that you don't want to blow it by doing something that is so obviously going to get you a "no thanks."

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  10. Excellent, my dear. A lot of people need this sort of information. It's easy to slip up, too. But I think we need to see more posts that are aimed at those just getting into publishing. There's a lot of information out there, but as the bloggers become more experienced at breaking into publishing, a lot of their advice becomes aimed at more experienced people as well. Yet there's still a lot of people who are new to it!

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  11. I love these little tidbits. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. I had also heard about this query no-no. So now, every time I write "my Women's Fiction novel" I feel self-conscious. But I believe this is an exception (please tell me I'm right! Ha!)

    Lorena

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  13. Love reading all your thoughts and opinions on this!!!

    Lorena, I think "Women's Fiction novel" is fine since fiction is in reference to the genre. Though, I think you could find another way of phrasing it. Hm... tricky one!

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  14. I am writing on behalf of Ben Wood.
    Ben has recently started his own fiction story site called Army of Puppets.
    http://www.armyofpuppets.com

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  15. I was just at a conference this weekend and an agent said the main pet peeve she has is when writers say they are writing a fiction novel, she won't listen to anything else. I thought how harsh...but felt dumb asking why, so when I got home and found this information on your blog I felt relieved and thank you very much for posting it! Dana -

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    1. Dana, I'm glad you found this post. It's a shame the agent didn't explain since writers attend conferences to learn. Best to you!

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