books, reading, writing

How to Choose a Genre for Your Book

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So, you’ve written a novel. And survived to share the news! Congratulations! What next? Are you hoping to share it with others? Okay, go for it — self-publish or put it on Wattpad or something. Now, here’s the really hard part after writing and editing — marketing.

What’s the hardest part of marketing? “Tell me what your book is about.”

Many indie authors I see around the blogisphere have compared writing a summary of their novel/series with being tortured, suffering through a prolonged illness, or feeling that their very soul has been ripped out and displayed to the whole world.

In other words — it seems so easy (to the naive general public), but deciding what your novel is “about” can be almost impossible.

Here’s a major reason why — selecting the genre it belongs to. Genres are something apparently contrived by publishers to torture writers. “Genre” means a category. Humans love to put things in categories. But writers find “genre” a bit tedious, because, honestly, really good stories don’t follow a checklist of standards; they cross borders and fall into more than one genre. We often don’t like feeling limited by sticking to the expectations of a category.

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So, here’s how to decide which genres your novel falls into:

Consider the major elements of the story. Is the focus of the plot on solving a crime? (mystery) Is it set in outerspace? (science fiction) Does your world include inhabitants such as dragons, mages, and talking horses? (fantasy)

But do think about things like setting and premise as well — Is your sci-fi novel actually set in Victorian London? (historical fiction and steampunk) Are your characters solving a who-done-it they stumbled over on their honeymoon? (romance) Has your Narnia-inspired Earth actually come to be after a post-armageddon event circa 2234? (dystopia)

Don’t worry one bit about writing in more than one genre. Nowadays, readers are hungry for less-formulaic fiction, and the industry is catching on. On Goodreads, my first publication is listed under fantasy, YA, and contemporary, because yes, it’s about faeries and mythology, but it’s set in present day, and the target audience is ages 13 and up. You’ll actually reach more potential readers by writing a historical fiction murder mystery, or a dystopian romance.

Above all, stay true to the voice of your story. This is the most helpful “professional” advice I’ve received on writing. Stop worrying about what your novel “should” be in terms of trends or what your favorite authors are currently producing. Concentrate on the story you’re telling. If you just know it has to be a contemporary, or has to be fantasy, to properly explore the growth of the characters and who they’re meant to become, then stick to it.

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How to determine the age classification. This simply means, who’s it for? Is the intended reader an adult, a teenager, or a kid? And how you reach this conclusion should not be based on the age of the narrator or the protagonist. For example, The Book Thief and The Hunger Games are labeled juvenile fiction, purely because the narrators are very young, but the content and the subjects within those pages are very, very serious and not easy for juvenile minds to comprehend. It may actually be harmful for people under the age of 16 to read such books. The same with the Throne of Glass series, which you’ll find on sale or in the library next to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but has explicit sexual references.

(Go back to step one: Staying true to the voice of your story.)

As a parent, I really wanted to write something that I’d feel comfortable having my own kids read — now, not when they’re adults. For a few years, I toyed with the idea of making my series NA (new adult, ages 18 and up), but eventually I decided to make it YA (and a solid YA, acceptable for middle-schoolers to read). But there’s plenty for older teens and even adults to enjoy. My content is pretty conservative, so for adults who don’t care for tons of violence or sex or swearing in their fiction (like myself), there’s still adventure and mystery and some romance and clean humor. Although The Order of the Twelve Tribes can be found under YA, it still works for a broad audience.

Hope all of this helps our future bestselling authors! Happy writing!

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4 thoughts on “How to Choose a Genre for Your Book”

  1. I struggle with pinning down age categories SO much aghhh. But at least I can figure out genres fairly easily.😂 Except for my most recent magical library book set in modern times…is that urban fantasy? Paranormal? *shrieks from the hilltops and dissolves* But like the age thing is hard!! For instance: most of the narrators in Game of Thrones are actually teenagers or younger! But that is IN NO WAY appropriate for anyone who isn’t an adult. 😳 And like To Kill A Mockingbird is narrated by a 6 year old! So characters’ ages don’t always equal audiences ages. Just to make life hard for us right?! 😭😂

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    1. Yeah, it used to be understood that the age of the narrator doesn’t dictate the age of the target reading audience. It’s a major reason why teenagers who are forced to read classics with an adolescent protagonist don’t like the books, because the content is much more adult than they’re ready for. To Kill a Mockingbird is definitely, always was, meant for adults, and the author chose to have the story told through the childhood memories of Scout as a plot tool. That wasn’t really done in writing/publishing in the 1950s, so that was really groundbreaking. But also, the author certainly understood what she was doing, and who she was aiming the content at. I have to shake my head and wonder what publishers are thinking (apparently not thinking?) when I see books like The Hunger Games and Throne of Glass labeled/marketed as YA.

      As an author, a reader, and a parent, I think there’s a lot of value in writing an adult book from a child’s POV, or creating a story for kids told (still appropriately) by an adult. I think the idea that “oh, the hero is 13, so we’ll market it to 13-year-olds” is incredibly naive on the part of publishers, and frankly, socially irresponsible.

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  2. I much prefer choosing the genre AFTER doing the writing, though too, because otherwise you really shoehorn yourself into producing “expected” content. I’ve read quite a few blog posts that say before you write you should have the genre all picked out and I think this is such a mistake. I mean, one of my current WIPs is fantasy, but since I was approaching it with a totally open mind, the thought of including modern time travel stuff seemed completely natural. But for my other novel, I’ve fallen into thinking about it as “contemporary” and that has really beaten down some of my innovation. But yes, overall the genre thing kills. And I do SO WISH the lines between age and genre could be loosened–like, I want to read adult fiction about teenagers and little kids, and overall…this isn’t really a THING. Whhhyyyyyy.
    Great post, as always♡
    ~Hermione

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    1. Thanks! “Genre” just means it’s easier for publishers to “categorize” their products, and it’s something humans seem obsessed with. Whenever a genre gets too controlled by “formulas,” it means it’s going to become tired and readers will be looking for something new. Age and genre seriously need a reconsideration. It’s damaging the integrity of good novels honestly written for children, and blurring the lines too much on what’s “acceptable” for adolescents to be reading.

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