Episode 006 | Genre 101
Updated: Jun 21, 2021
GENRES & SUB-GENRES: WHAT ARE THEY AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
There is always going to be a little wiggle room on what genres are out there. Things are always shifting, with new subgenres appearing and others all but disappearing. At their core, genres are simply a tool to help readers find the kinds of stories they enjoy. That’s it. I would suggest that while nobody gets too hung up on them, it is smart for writers to have a working knowledge of them.
Like I mentioned in the podcast episode, you will basically NEVER get bonus points from an agent or publisher for saying that your work “defies genre” or “has created a new genre.” Agents and publishers (including indie authors) are in the business of getting their books and stories into the hands of readers. When you say these things, you’re basically saying, “I need you to go create a new market from scratch.” #NotSoMuch #Pass #ThanksAnyway
Following are some great sites for familiarizing yourself with what genres are out there. I would suggest that you give special attention to the link that includes typical word count ranges. Especially if you’re looking to traditionally publish at some point (i.e. get an agent and publisher), you’ll want to be mindful of what they typically expect from debut authors. Once you’re a famous writer, you can (sometimes) get away with ignoring those typical word counts.
There are about a bazillion subgenes. For example, here are just some of the sub-genres of Science Fiction/Fantasy (and these do not include Amazon’s unique subgenres):
Alternate History | Arthurian Fantasy | Bangsian Fantasy | Biopunk | Children’s Fantasy | Comic | Cyberpunk | Dark Fantasy | Dystopian | Erotic | Fable | Fairy Tales | Game-Related Fantasy | Hard Science Fiction | Heroic Fantasy | High/Epic Fantasy | Historical | Mundane SF | Military SF | Mystery SF | Mythology | New Age | Post-Apocalyptic | Romance | Religious | Science Fantasy | Social SF | Soft SF | Space Opera | Spy-Fi | Steampunk | Superheroes | Sword and Sorcery | Thriller SF | Time-Travel | Urban Fantasy | Vampire | Wuxia | Young Adult
I keep a poster next to my desk to remind me of just how many different types of stories there are out there and how important it is to find the readers who enjoy the kind of stories I write.
THERE ARE READERS OUT THERE FOR ALL OF US. YOU JUST HAVE TO FIND YOUR AUDIENCE.
4 TOOLS FOR FIGURING OUT THE GENRE FOR YOUR BOOK
I have some secret (and not so secret) weapons for finding out what genre you write. Some are free, some aren’t. We’ll start with the easiest method and build toward methods that are more tech-savvy.
1. Librarians – Sometimes the simplest is the best. Just go ask your librarian, an actual honest to goodness human with specialized skills. If you have a good “elevator pitch” or even just a shortish, messy description of your work, now’s the time to bust it out. Failing that, be ready with some of your favorite book titles and/or the names of authors you admire that have inspired the book you’re working on. Once you give the librarian this info, be ready to be amazed.
2. Amazon – When you go to this page, scroll down a bit and look on the left-hand side of the screen. You’ll find something that looks like the picture below. Click on any of those that seem like a good start for you.
If, for example, you clicked on “Romance,” you would find yourself looking at a page that looked a lot like this:
You’ll again see a long list on the left-hand side. This time you’ll be seeing the subgenres of romance that Amazon recognizes at this moment. Clicking on any one of those will lead you to a page that lists books from that category. Take a spin around here and see if you feel your book could feel at home on the shelf next to these titles. Here, for example, is the page that comes up right now if you were to click on the Contemporary link from that list.
Note, also, that if you look at that left-hand column again, you’ll see different character types, themes, etc. that makes it even easier to find books like yours. Once you have that information, you might click on an individual book title that seems like it resembles your book in some key ways. Congrats, my friend. You have found your first “comp!”
Continuing on with the above example, here is a profile from From Scratch by Rachel Goodman, a title that falls under “Contemporary Romance.”
Scroll down a bit until you get to the part just above the author profile. It’ll look something like this.
You’ll see here that in addition to being listed under “Contemporary Romance,” this book is also listed more generally under “Women’s Fiction.” Women’s Fiction is generally considered to be a genre separate from Romance at this point, and it might be also be a good fit for a novel if it was very similar to this title.
Play around with Amazon. Love it or hate it, it’s an amazing resource for writers in a lot of ways.
3. NoveList Plus – Is a service offered by Ebsco that you’re most likely to find free through your library’s web site. If you dig around your library’s eResources section you’ll likely find it on your own. When in doubt, however, ask that awesome aforementioned librarian.
Among many, many other features, NoveList offers you something called “Readalikes” that I find invaluable. Here’s an example of one from Amy E. Reichert’s The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, a Contemporary Romance similar to From Scratch.
You’ll see that in the descriptions of what similar titles have in common with this book references to (among other things) a common genre. In addition to being filed in the Contemporary Romance subgenre, this book is also listed among the “Romantic Comedies” subgenre. You can explore this angle and see where it leads you. You might find this is an even better fit for your book.
4. KDP Rocket – In some ways, this one is just about as easy as asking the librarian or playing around on Amazon, but it makes it SO MUCH FASTER and SO THOROUGH. You pay a one-time fee ($97) to be able to benefit from the huge time savings, but especially if you’re thinking about being an indie author (self-publishing) it is worth every penny. I learned about it on the Book Marketing Show, hosted by Dave Chesson, author and creator of the KDP Rocket program. If you give it a try, you’ll find the home page will look something like this:
I chose to do a search using their “Competition” tab. It allows you to describe key elements of your story. Going with the example we’ve been using so far, I entered “romantic comedy chef.” It turned up tons of examples, and I chose Under the Table by Janet Evanovich:
In the bottom right corner, you’ll see that in addition to Romantic Comedy, this book is listed under the genres of “Humor” and “Contemporary (British) Fiction/Literature.” Two more categories you might consider for your novel, if this book seems like a good “comp” for your novel.
Finally, let me speak to one of the greatest assets to any writer. Ladies and gentlemen, I present…
Organizations that focus on an individual genre or a small subset of genres offer a lot of benefits and advantages in the following areas:
Community – Find both writers and readers that are passionate about the same types of stories that you are. This is a great place to find both critique groups, critique partners, and beta readers, as well as offer your services to other writers in these ways. It’s also a great place to find your next favorite author!
Craft – Most organizations offer free classes, workshops, and newsletters that keep you up to speed on both trends in your genre, but also help you to develop the skills necessary to make your story the best it can be. It’s so important to be aware of the norms and tropes so that you can break them in a way that’s fresh instead of in a way that leaves readers dissatisfied or cheated, leaving you looking like an amateur.
Publishing Opportunities – Genre organizations are often a treasure trove of information on contests, journals, agents, and publishers looking for the type of story or books you write. Additionally, many of them will offer marketing and business advice to both traditional and indie authors in their midst.
To the best of my knowledge (and my googling ability), the following is The Most Exhaustive List of organizations focused on genres. (That’s right, I did title case on that.) If I’ve missed some, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and let me know!
Fantasy/Science Fiction (Speculative)
I hope I’ve given you some good ways to start thinking about genre. Remember these two takeaways:
Genre is a tool designed to make it easier for readers to find books they’ll enjoy.
Don’t get too attached or rigid about identifying your novel or story in any one genre or subgenre. Your book will very likely be able to fit in more than one. Just go with the one that seems like the best fit for the situation you’re dealing with at the moment, whether it’s finding similar books to read, pitching to agents, or promoting your indie published book. Remember, if you’re traditionally published, you should expect that your agent and editor will have their own ideas about where you fit. You should most likely listen to them. This is what they do, and they are keeping their eye on the ultimate prize: getting your book into the hands of readers who will love it.
Until next time, happy writing, people!