Genre Basics - What is a Genre? - article

What is a Genre?

At its most basic definition, a genre is a way to group things with similar elements. Your book’s genre is the way that it’s identified or categorized, both to your readers and to the bookstores or online retailers that are going to sell it.

Your book’s genre will likely have a large impact on its audience and searchability because people tend to choose books based on ones they already like. Genres are a great way to help readers find your book and know what to expect when they read it. 

Do You Need a Genre?

When you publish your book, it will be assigned a genre (or you will choose a genre if self-publishing) from the outset. Publishers, agents, and booksellers all use genres in different ways, but they all use them.

Your book’s genre will determine aspects like where your book is sold and the ways that it is marketed. It may also dictate certain rules or standards for its length, point of view, language used (particularly in the young adult market), and even the type of characters.

When you walk into a bookstore, you’ll notice numerous aisles of books categorized and shelved based on genre. This is to help readers find what they’re looking for and make it easier to browse and discover books they may not have otherwise found.

There is usually a Fiction side of the store that includes genres such as Romance, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Thriller. The Nonfiction side will include Biographies, Memoirs, Cooking, Travel, History, Self-Help, Religion, and more.

While it may be tough to fit your book into one category and you may be resisting categorization, it’s necessary for your book to have a primary genre to be easily discovered. Bookstores are not going to shelve your book in multiple genre sections. While the genre you choose may not fully encompass what your book is about, it should give readers a good idea what to expect when they pick up your book on a shelf. It's also important to note that online bookstores such as Amazon allow you to choose multiple genres and sub-genres for your book, which can help improve your book's rankings

Choosing the Right Genre

Although the genre seems like a small detail, it will determine not only your book’s placement in a store or online retailer, but also whether or not it’s widely sell-able and how you write the story. That’s why it’s important to decide right from the beginning—before you even start writing—what you want your genre to be.

This will help to ensure that you’re following the guidelines set out for the genre at the start and avoid having to make changes later.

Take a look at the list of genres below to get a sense of the most popular genres and which one your book may fit into. Click on the genre name to read more and help you decide whether that’s the one you’d like for your book!

Fiction Genres

Mainstream fiction - Mainstream fiction is a generalized genre that encompasses many different types of fiction. Includes authors that are recognizable or books that are appealing across broad audiences.

Contemporary fiction - Contemporary fiction is, technically, any fiction of the time we are in. Believability is one of its cornerstones, meaning stories that attempt to recreate reality.

Women’s fiction – Any fiction story targeted for women. Usually include a strong female protagonist.

Urban fiction - Tells the story of life in the inner-city, generally with a gritty, dark tone, shining a light on the harsh realities of life in the city, including hard subjects such as drug use, gangs, sex, poverty, and violence.

Poetry – Text that uses rhythm and rhyme to evoke emotion and meaning. Includes sub-genres such as narrative, dramatic, epic, lyric, and verse.

Science fiction – The cohesiveness of the genre is not plot driven, but include any story that explores the effects of science and technology on civilization. Often take place in the future.

Fantasy - An umbrella genre for books that are set in alternate realities, include unrealistic places, and have intricate and involved plots.

Historical fiction - The genre takes a fictional story and sets it in a true historical setting. The amount of blending, or real history and fictional invention, can vary.

Western – Usually identified by the book’s setting, such as the Old West. Often include war, quests, and romance.

Adventure - Quick-paced stories that involve a series of actions outside the usual happenings for the protagonist.

Mystery – Centers around solving crime and the time leading up to the critical event, causing anxiety that things won’t resolve in time and the villain’s evil plan will work out.

Cozy mystery – A sub-genre of the mystery genre that involves many of the same aspects, but is set in quaint little towns that experience a murder or other mysterious happening with less intensity.

Suspense – Similar to Mystery, but focuses on the events after the crime has been committed, such as figuring out who did it.

Thriller – Stories similar to mysteries but with huge stakes, such as the end of humanity. They are often full of apprehension, creepiness, and violence. Sub-genres include psychological thrillers, crime thrillers, and legal thrillers.

Horror – Thriller novels with elements of serial killers and explicit murder scenes. Tend to be extremely suspenseful and contain gory or graphic violence.

Romance - The main plot involves two individuals falling in love and building (or struggling to build) a lasting relationship.

Erotica - Any genre can become an erotic genre, as long as it puts an emphasis on explicit sex scenes. Sub-genres include women’s erotica, erotic fantasy, erotic memoirs, and erotic romance.

Young adult/Teen – Any fiction story targeted for teens or young adults. Usually, the protagonist is in the same age group as the target audience.

Graphic novels - A comic with a book-length, complete, and single story.

Nonfiction Genres

Memoir - A collection of personal memories related to specific moments, themes, or experiences in the author’s life, told from the perspective of the author.

Autobiography -The author’s retelling of his or her life with a focus on facts and entire span of life, rather than particular, important moments.

Biography - The story of events and circumstances of a person’s life—usually a historical or public figure—written by someone who is not the subject.

Religious, Inspirational, & Spiritual – Books that are associated with one specific religion or an inspirational theme with underlying religious lessons or ethics. Also includes books that encourage spiritual growth.

Self-help - Books written with the intention of helping readers solve a specific personal problem.

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