What Is Your Genre?

One of the most important decisions a novice writer must make is to select a genre in which to focus her work. Here’s an example of a query letter an author should never send to an agent:

Please represent me on my first novel. It is a thriller set in early 20th Century San Francisco that combines the best elements of romance, science fiction, and action/adventure, with a Young Adult theme. You’re going to love it!

Not likely. Chances are the agent probably won’t even want to read it. If you want to successfully pitch your book, you must identify a genre. Agents cannot sell your book to a publisher unless it has a clearly-defined genre. Publishers cannot market books to readers unless there is a genre. Consumers buy books based in part on the genre. Walk into any bookstore and you will see the signs in the aisles: Fiction/Literature, Romance, Historical, Science Fiction, and so on.

Here are some of the more popular genres:

  • Young Adult (YA)
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Action/adventure
  • Crime/Mystery (includes murder/mystery,
    police procedural, detective)
  • Urban Fantasy

Other genres include:

  • Western
  • Historical
  • Erotica
  • Family Saga
  • Children
  • Inspirational (Christian)
  • “Literary”
  • Horror

A book can be focused on one genre and include elements of another, but authors should never pitch it to an agent as a combination
of two genres. How will you know what genre it is? You must answer the question, ‘What is the main focus of the story?’ Here’s an example. A story is built around the murder of a teen-age girl. It is told from the point of view of her former boyfriend, who is grief-stricken beyond belief. The action centers on the girl’s circle of friends and how they cope with her death. The genre is Young Adult. Now take the same murder and tell the story from the point of view of a burned out cop-turned-private investigator. The focus of the story is his quest to solve the crime and bring about at least some closure to the girl’s parents. The PI might be fighting his own demons as he grapples with the case. The genre is crime/mystery.

Should you choose a genre or write the book first? My advice is to write the book you want to write. Tell the story you are passionate about. Then take a look at it and see what genre it fits. If you start out with the idea you are going to select a genre you believe is popular and provides the best path to getting published, but you don’t have the least amount of interest in or passion about the genre, it will show in your work.

Should you write one book in a particular genre and a second book in a different genre? Agents and publishers will advise against this. The reason is that as an author you want to establish a brand identity. Focusing your work in a single genre is the best way to do that. However, I also believe writers should write about what they are passionate about (I’m repeating myself here). If you feel strongly about a story, but it’s not in the genre you normally write, why not give it a shot? You can always publish under a pseudonym, but that’s a topic for a whole different discussion.

In case you’re wondering, my genre is Family Saga. It’s what I like to read and to write. But I have this killer idea for a murder/mystery.

What is your genre? Why did you choose it? Or, did your genre choose you?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What Is Your Genre?

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said here, especially the part about writing the story you want to write and then placing it into a genre. Well, I did that, and discovered it fit into four genres and then I knew I was dead for getting an agent. I tried and they all wanted concise outlines which I knew would be the kiss-of-death for my books. So after four tries, without the success of getting even read, I gave up on the agent route.

    I will mention that the one and only traditional publisher to whom I submitted, I got a complete read. But I was passed over for reasons I already knew going in – they publish non-fiction new age stuff. Yet, they read my novels which does have all that spiritual stuff, along with a joy ride through the world of porn movies and what it’s like to work in a mental hospital.

    What’s the trilogy about? It’s a modern mythic odyssey, which is why I named the novels, Irv’s Odyssey.

    I’m tell you, marketing the books IS the odyssey!

    Irv

    • Irv,
      I know exactly what you mean. I try to stick to one genre, but my latest work-in-progress is a political satire–totally different from my previous work. My writing group loves it. We’ll see.

      Genre selection is crucial to getting agents to read your work.

      Good luck with your trilogy.

      Chris

    • Irv,
      I know exactly what you mean. I try to stick to one genre, but my latest work-in-progress is a political satire–totally different from my previous work. My writing group loves it. We’ll see.

      Genre selection is crucial to getting agents to read your work.

      Good luck with your trilogy.

      Chris

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