As a child, the only distinction that you had to worry about between literature was The Dewey Decimal System’s shift between Fiction and Non-Fiction. Now you’re an adult — an author — and have more genres on your hands than you know what to do with (Lucid Fiction, anyone?).
Most authors have some sort of idea as to what they want to write about, so they pick a mainstream genre that they think will suit it best and go from there. Got a quest story with a fire-breathing dragon? Time for some Fantasy. Have a coming of age story set in the middle of WWII Poland? Better go with Historical Fiction.
They have no idea that by sticking to such a broad genre, they’re missing out on the chance to cater to a very specific (and often very loyal) audience.
To some, picking a genre might be the last item on a very long list of the writing process — something that Writing Coach Jeni Chappelle cautions against:
“As with many aspects of this publishing thing, there’s the art of writing and then there’s the business of publishing. There is nothing wrong with just focusing on the art side of writing. But if you want to publish, you have to work with the rules of the game. And one of those rules is – you have to decide on a genre.”
But how does one do that, exactly?
Picking a Genre
If you’re just starting a new novel or are a new author in general, you couldn’t have picked a better time to decide on a genre to write under. Plenty of facts and theories abound as to which genre is the most popular (read: best-selling) but, as author Karen Woodward says, “Writing a story is great. Writing a story that sells is even better.” And as a new writer, choosing your genre now will allow you to grow as an expert in your own personal corner of the literary world.
For a writer who has just written the last sentence of their manuscript, however, the choice isn’t so much a decision as it is a realization. Rather than asking yourself what genre will best benefit you, you need to be asking what genre will best benefit your story — especially if you are gunning for an agent.
“If you don’t know where your book fits, you’re saying you don’t know your target audience,” novelist Cathy Yardley says. “And without understanding your target audience, you won’t know how to market your book. This will make an agent think twice about signing you.”
Whatever writing stage you’re at, the only way you can properly pick a genre is to research them. Look for the one that strikes a cord with you and your story; look for the one that makes you want to take the genre and make it better.
Of course, sometimes the agent will choose for you, but it’s better to come at them with some idea of where your book might fit rather than not.
Create Your Own
So, what are you supposed to do if you can’t find a genre to cram your story into, let alone a specific genre of a genre? Well, you could always custom-fit your story by making one up. Steampunk is a great example.
Be warned, writer: this could be the best decision you’ve ever made or the worst. By creating a genre specifically for your book (series, we hope, else it’ll be a whole lot of energy burned for very little), you’re potentially putting it on the map. It’s like coining a new hashtag, and it’ll always have the potential to grow as future writers slip their own works under it.
Or, it could die, and only you would ever know that it even existed.
Luckily, social media can help you there. Spread your new creation on Twitter, on Facebook — anywhere that you are already spreading news of your book, and help it take off. Heck, give it a hashtag.
‘Till next time! #happywriting