“My book is a lot of genres. I can’t pick just one.”

This is something I heard recently in a writing workshop. Now, I know where this person was coming from. There was romance, history, and a little magic in their book, so how were they to specify just one genre?

But let’s talk first about why it’s important to know, I mean really know, the genre of your novel.

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 and booksellers. And both of those people are going to want to know, without too much explanation, where your book will sit on the shelves.

Your book should have one primary genre.

The way you define the genre of your novel might be really broad, such as thriller or memoir. It might also be very narrow, such as LGBTQ+ romance or dystopian hard science fiction.Most books will have elements of other genres. You just need to pinpoint the main one.

Now you may already think you have a good sense of the genre of your novel, but I encourage you to work through these steps, just in case you learn something surprising.

  • Consider your ideal reader.

Write a list of 3-5 similar books 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.

  • Next, try writing out your genre in fewer than five words. 

One or two 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. My book Unspoken is 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).

Now that’s a lot of information, and again the genre of your novel may be a bit broader. Either way is fine, as long as YOU are as clear as can be.

  • Learn the rules.

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.

What genre is your current work in progress? Comment and let me know!

Does all this genre work feel like…work? Probably. It’s not the fun stuff. So, in case you missed it or need it again, here’s the pep talk I recorded about why we need to deeply understand our novels.

I hope you find it helpful.