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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.
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:
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.
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?