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Why Genre Matters

Any time you start talking about your book or trying to market it, one of the first things you will be asked is what genre your book falls into. Why is it considered so important to know the genre of your book? It’s all about the audience you hope to attract.

Labeling your book under the right genre helps readers know what elements to expect in your books. No matter how amazing the prose, someone looking for Historical Fiction isn’t likely to pick up Fantasy Sci-Fi. Of course a reader can enjoy more than one genre, but much like choosing what to eat for dinner, most readers pick the book that matches their current craving.

Publishers use genre to determine how to market your book, what fellow authors to compare you to, sometimes even how much of an advance to offer. Stores separate shelf space by genre, and authors often socialize online in genre-specific groups.

Each genre includes common conventions that publishers and readers expect to see. When they pick up a Horror book, they have reasonable expectations of what they're about to read. Not having a genre category for your book, or having the wrong one, can repel readers and publishers alike, and even tarnish your reputation as an author.

To a degree, there is a certain formula your story is expected to adhere to depending on the genre. It can even influence the syntax, pacing, and even the type of character growth your MC experiences. This article lays it out for you in no uncertain terms:

Classifying genres is like tumbling down a pyramid. There’s a cap stone - the most broad term for the genre - followed by main categories, and then layers of sub-categories and cross-genres. The genres represented by these pyramids are: Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Media. I’m going to focus on the Prose pyramid.

Below the Prose cap stone are the main categories: Crime, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Western, Inspirational, Historical, and Horror. For most writers, their books will fall under the umbrella of one of these genres.

To target your audience the most effectively, it’s suggested you categorize your book with as much precision as possible. This means delving into sub-categories and if your work could be labeled cross-genre or multi-genre. For example, a sub-category of Fantasy is Urban Fantasy. If your story is clearly within the realm of Urban Fantasy, but also includes a hard-boiled detective tracking down crime, it could be cross-categorized into Crime. This ever-narrowing labeling is most commonly used on sites like Amazon, where you can choose several genre categories to list your books under.

As mentioned earlier, readers expect certain elements in each genre, aside from great characters and enticing prose. Going into detail on the definition of each one would turn my usually brief blog into a textbook, which is something neither of us has time for. However, to help you better understand where your book may fall, here are some links to websites that offer a rundown of what each of the main sub-categories entail (these will seem copies of each other, but I like to give a variety of choices, especially for those who prefer not to use Wikipedia):

Now for the final question. Should you always stay neatly within genre lines? Depends on what you want out of your writing career. It used to be any story that didn’t fit neatly within a genres parameters would be turned away by publishers, but independent publishing has helped to change that some as more authors experiment with storytelling and self-publishing. Bending genre rules and plotting unusual combinations is becoming increasingly popular, which is leading to some very interesting reads. But, as with all things new and experimental, it’s still not a strong enough market for some authors. The security of a for-sure sale the tried and true genre conventions provide is alluring for many career authors. The decision on if to stay within expectations will ultimately depend on the story your want to tell and the risk you’re willing to take.

What do you think about genre “rules”? Is there a genre you prefer to write or read? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

Keep writing!

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