Are you looking to sell thousands of copies of your novel through traditional publishing, either with or without an agent? Or even through self-publishing or any other method for publication? No matter what route you choose, your ability to pick the genre for your work can be the difference between gaining a publishing contract and never reaching an audience with your book at all. As I said, knowing your genre is vital.
First of all, let's define our terms. Genre is the style or category of a piece of art, music, or literature. It is the type of story you're writing -- the category in which it falls. To learn which genre fits your work, see the following list of most common genres (yes, I tried to put them in alphabetical order as best as I could) and make an educated decision of which fits best for you:
- Fantasy - fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
- Fiction - a work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
- Historical Fiction - a work with fictional characters and events in historical setting.
- Horror - fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread and sometimes fear in both the characters and the readers.
- Humor - fiction meant to entertain and cause laughter and enjoyment.
- Mystery - fiction dealing with solving a crime or unravelling a secret.
- Non-Fiction - under this broad topic falls biography/autobiography, speech, textbook, reference book, etc.
- Novella - Ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 words.
- Poetry - Verse and rhythmic writing that evokes an emotional response from the reader. (Of course, there are many sub-themes to this.)
- Problem Novel - work of fiction in which any social problem (think gender, race, sexuality, prejudice, etc) is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel.
- Romance - novels that place their primary focus on the relationships and romantic love between two (or more :P) people. It must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
- Science Fiction - Story based on imagined or potential science (usually set on another planet or in the future).
- Short Story - fiction that is, well, short. There are no subplots or overtly-many characters involved, and it usually takes place in a single setting. It generally ranges from 1,500 to 30,00 words, though other sources swear to it being anything less than 20,000 words (and it is usually published in collections or with others in literary magazines). If shorter, it is considered flash fiction.
- Thriller - a work that uses suspense, tension and excitement as its main elements.
- Young Adult (Juvenile Fiction) - fictional work written, published and marketed to adolescents and young adults.
What Makes Genre So Important
Agents tend to specialize in specific genres. If you know your genre, you will suffer less rejections (sending it to the right agents rather than to the ones that will not even consider your work anyways). Furthermore, if in your marketing plan or intended audience outline you write that your work is "for any/every audience" and "fits into numerous different genres" this is merely an indication that you are not fit for publication. If you don't know where your book fits, you don't know your audience. If you don't know your audience, your marketing will outright suck. Neither agents nor publishers will want you if your marketing is lousy and ineffective. There won't be any sales. No sales is no money, meaning no income for either them or you.
What is most important for selling your book? An audience. In other words: your ideal audience will only even learn about you work if you clearly convey your genre, which they use to find your book. Say you love romance novels. You'll maybe search "best romance novels," or ask some of your friends (or a librarian) for a suggestion. You might be in a rush, quickly asking the librarian for a suggestion before you have to leave (in other words: no time to aimlessly search the shelves). She might point you towards the "romance section" of the library, which is where you'll go (the ONLY place you'll go). Now imagine the best romance author shelved his or her novel under the genre thriller. You, looking for a romance (thinking "pfff, I don't want a thriller") will miss out on reading the book (and the people interested in thrillers picking up your novel will in turn be disappointed that it is in fact a romance novel!)
Choosing Your Right Genre
Consider all the above genres (and more. Certainly search the internet to make sure you're not overlooking the best-fit genre for your work). For example, have a look at Amazon's Book page (or any other book page) and scroll down the page to see the major classifications. Try placing your work in one of them, and see what is the best-fit. Read specific book descriptions in the genre and see if yours is similar. According to Write to Done:
For example, James Patterson’s NYPD Red 2 is on the list for “Mystery, Suspense & Thriller.” The description features crime scenes, brutal slaughter, and shocking murders.Now glance through the Romance list. Nora Roberts’ The Collector also involves solving a murder.But it describes “the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one” and “Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her.” The focus is obviously the passion between the protagonists rather than the resolution of the case.Once you’ve looked through a few book descriptions, you’ll understand which elements are most important to each genre’s readers.
The following is a quick recap of how to identify you genre (outside of being familiar with each and everyone):
- Identify genre elements in your work (and use them to see where your novel fits).
- Identify your target audience. Think to yourself: what type of reader would be most likely to pick up and enjoy your book? Why? Be smart about your approach, and rely on marketing techniques rather than luck.
- This might also be a cool exercise for you: think of three novels your "greatest fan" would enjoy if they liked your book (similar in style and content of course). See what category they are in on Amazon or any other bookshop and, with this, identify the genre of your own work.
How do you identify the right genre for your novel? Let me know in the comments!
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** This post is part of my e-book "The Ultimate Guide to Publishing and Marketing Your (e-)Book." For your own copy of this guide, click here or buy it directly through the button below **