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Don’t Know Your Book Genre? Here’s What To Do

book genre

As you know, we at Writer’s Relief often write about genre. However, sometimes a writer simply doesn’t know what genre his or her book fits into. And while it certainly can help your cause if your book fits neatly into a single genre, we don’t necessarily think it’s a deal-breaker if you don’t know your book genre.

The Dangers of Overly Obscure Book Genres

The number of book genres and subgenres out there is dizzying (especially for novels!). There are so many genres, we wager that even literary agents and editors have a hard time keeping them straight. For certain books, pigeonholing a project into a genre that’s too narrow or obscure might suggest to literary agents that there isn’t a big market for it (if they haven’t heard of the genre, they might figure nobody else has either).

The Dangers of Overly Broad Book Genres

If you write in your query letter: Please consider my 100,000-word adventure, sci-fi romance with a touch of steampunk that may be suitable for young adults and adults because it appeals to everyone, then an agent or editor might think, How on earth can I market this book successfully? There’s no niche.

Rather than boasting, Everyone will love this book, think, Who is the best reader for my particular kind of novel? If I were in a bookstore, which shelf would this sit on?

That’s your genre.

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What To Do If Your Genre Is Mixed

Sometimes, the line between book genres can be thin. For example: A women’s fiction novel may have as its centerpiece a strong romantic story. Is it romance? Is it women’s fiction?

If you think your book genre is romance and a potential agent thinks it is women’s fiction, there may be some unwanted friction or misunderstandings (especially if the agent thinks the book genre label you picked doesn’t fit your actual book!).

When you’re pitching a book and you’re not totally certain of the genre, it may be best to simply leave your specific genre off of your letter and leave it to the agent to decide (or mention that the book could be positioned, carefully and deliberately, within more than one genre). 

What matters is that they like the book—regardless of genre. If they like it, they’ll help you figure out the best place to position it. Just be sure that the blurb or minisynopsis in your query letter is strong in order to give them an idea of the direction of your book.

Learn More About Genre

Find our posts about genres of various forms here:

Genre Fiction Rules: Find Out If Your Novel Meets Publishers’ And Literary Agents’ Criteria For Publication

Short Prose Genres: Defining Essay, Short Story, Commentary, Memoir, and Mixed Genre

How Do You Know If Your Novel Is Literary Or Mainstream Fiction? How Long Is A General Fiction Book?

The Genre Paradox

To some extent, the genre of your book can depend less on what’s between the pages and more on what a publisher decides to do for marketing and positioning. That said, knowing that your book genre is ultimately up to your publisher is no excuse to be uneducated about genre if you’re trying to make a career as a writer. You should be familiar with the nuances of your favorite genres through reading. Don’t write off genre entirely. But don’t stress too much about it either. Read books that will help you write good books. That’s what matters.

Questions for WritersQUESTION: Some people say writers should perfectly adhere to book genre forms. What do you think? Take a risk by breaking out of genre? Or play it safe in hopes of an easier path to publication?

8 Responses to Don’t Know Your Book Genre? Here’s What To Do

  1. Twilight was not new, that plot (what little there was of it) was not original either. Sparkling vampires is not original.

  2. I totally understand what’s being said about playing it safe, especially to get published the first time. However, I think it’s worth noting that every book that made it big in the market in the last decade has broken out of its genre. Maybe ‘break out’ is the wrong phrase. Rather, the author took a well known genre and it made it their own, often breaking all the rules. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight. All of these books took a genre and did something totally new and different with it. The results are so compelling that people just can’t get enough.
    I’m all about breaking the rules of a genre. I completely understand knowing the basics first–it’s essential if you are to know HOW to break out of a genre–but in terms of publication, the more rule breakage, the better in my opinion. That’s one reason I won’t write genre romance. I don’t have anything against the genre itself, but there are so many strict rules to be considered that genre, that it’s creatively stiffling. Breaking out of a genre encourages creative ingenuity and is fantastically liberating! And it doesn’t have to be about the weirdness of the genre. Just because you’re doing a cross over or hybrid doesn’t mean that you can’t make it appeal to the masses. In fact, if the above-listed titles are any indication, the out-of-genre book may be the rule for popularity, rather than the exception. :D

  3. What about the readers? I understand that authors want to write what’s in their hearts and not worry about the marketing end of things, but that’s an undeniable part of it. When I buy a new book, my mood determines what genre I’m looking for. Is it so bad that I want to know that I’m using my money on something I want to read, and that the author isn’t going to switch from sci-fi to romance in the middle of the book? I don’t think authors should necessarily have to write FOR the genre, but, the better you “label” your book’s genre, the more success you’ll have finding and keeping readers.

  4. Writers have to do both: adhere to genre and break out of it just enough to keep things interesting. I guess if you just know your genre really well and then trust yourself and apply your own creative spin to it, you’re probabaly in the right territory.

    But I like what Mary Ann says about getting the basics down first. You can’t break the rules until you’ve mastered them!

  5. It’s a fine line between paying attention to genre rules and just following your muse to write a good book. But nothing’s more important that being true to yourself, even if that means breaking genre rules (and never getting published).

  6. QUESTION: Some people say writers should perfectly adhere to book genre forms. What do you think? Take a risk by breaking out of genre? Or play it safe in hopes of an easier path to publication?

    I’m a fairly new author and since I’ve yet to publish a book, I’m all about playing it safe! If a publisher is going to take a chance on me I’d better first know the basics before venturing off on my own. I think once I’ve proven myself, then I can stray off the safe path!

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