This post originally appeared on Medium in April 2021. Highlights are from readers.
There are three steps we should all take to clarify and confirm the genre of the books we are writing.
Let’s talk first about why it’s important to know, I mean really know, the genre of your book. Ultimately, you want your book to reach readers. Whether you self-publish or go the traditional route, there are people standing between you and the reader. Those people are publishers, librarians, and booksellers. And both of those people are going to want to know, without any complicated explanation, where your book will sit on the shelves.
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Whether you like it or not, the genre of your book is really one of the first things you should know because the business of reaching readers is just that…a business.
That said, the way you define your genre might be really broad, such as “thriller” or “women’s fiction.” It might also be very narrow, such as “open-door romance” or “dystopian hard science fiction”. You may already think you have a good sense of your genre, but I encourage you to work through these steps, just in case you learn something surprising!
What does your ideal reader read?
First, I’d like you to consider what types of books your ideal reader has read and loved. Your “ideal reader” is an avatar for the group of people who make up your intended audience. The more specific you can get about about these people, the better. Who are they? What do they most want, most love, most strive for?
Once you know who your ideal reader is, try writing a list of three to five titles similar to your book that they have read and loved recently. How are those books categorized? You can easily find that information online, using something like Amazon or Goodreads. This will help give you a sense of what genre you are aiming toward.
Name Your Genre
Next, try writing out your genre in fewer than five words. One or two words is great. If the age of your reader matters (in other words, if they are children or teens) that will play into your genre description as well.
If the first one doesn’t sound right, keep rewriting it. For my current work in progress, I’ve landed on it being a quiet contemporary middle grade novel. It encapsulates the age of my readers (which isn’t necessary if your readers are adults) as well as the general tone of the book (it isn’t an action-adventure) and the time frame in which it’s set (as compared to historical or futuristic).
You know that stereotype of a young woman writing her fantasized married name in all of its variations? That’s what I want you to do here. Get out your padlocked diary and get to work.
Use caution with blending genres. If you are adding sci-fi elements to a romantic comedy, then you need to know which one of those genres is the primary one. The secondary one is not going to be the genre; rather you’re going to borrow elements from it and weave them into your primary genre.
Learn the Genre Inside Out
Finally, learn what you need to know about the genre you’ve landed on. Most genres have general rules and guidelines that readers come to expect. Read avidly in that genre. Research the rules. And, I can’t say this strongly enough, if you are someone who wants to break the rules, you have to know them first. This goes for both blending genres and breaking genre expectations. It’s not enough that you read the genre, you have to study what makes it what it is.
Having a clear sense of your genre is essential in the writing of your book. Not only will it help you sell it, it will help you write it in a way that makes the most sense. And that’s what I want for you, because your story matters.
Unsure of your story’s genre? Let me help!
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