If the Genre Fits…

“What type of book do you write?” It sounds like an easy question, right? “Romance.” “Thriller.” “Science Fiction.” All genres that bring to mind specific types of books. However, many genres crossover and most have sub-genres so whether you are tagging your book for an agent query or a self-published e-book, it’s not as easy a question as it sounds.

Let’s say, for example, your novel is a thriller, a broad genre most readers are familiar with. But within that broad genre, there are several sub-genres: political, legal, crime, psychological, scientific, and spy to name a few. The same can be said for the genres of mystery, romance, and science fiction. Each is loaded with sub-genres and to complicate matters, those genres can be commingled even further. Romantic suspense and young adult paranormal come to mind. Defining where your book belongs can be challenging but it absolutely must be done. You cannot describe your book like this: “Well, it’s set in the future but it’s kind of political, and oh yeah, there’s a romance in it.” What? It may all be true but your potential agent, publisher, and/or reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about. If you are using an editor, get their opinion. Poll all your friends and family that have read the book. Whatever you do, pick a genre and use it as your spring board.

Even after you’ve labelled your book, you may run into a few snags. Let’s say you’ve written a romantic suspense and are now ready to search for an agent (congratulations by the way!).  You’ve taken the time to research agents and divided them into 2 categories, those who represent suspense and those who represent romance. You may find some agents who do both but there will be a large number of solid agents who don’t. In fact, you may discover agents who represent suspense AND specifically state on their site, “No romance.” Hmmm. What do you do? If you find yourself in this situation, I would suggest having two versions of your query letter, one which plays up the suspense aspect of your book and the other which emphasizes the romance storyline.

What if you’re interested in self-publishing your manuscript as an e-book? You’ve edited, designed a cover, formatted and you’re ready to go. But now you’ve got to tag your book to maximize the most reader interest. No problem you think. I’ve written a psychological mystery, so I’ll tag it as a mystery. Ah, but with many e-services such as KDP, you can pick two categories and up to seven keywords (unless this has recently changed). Just to complicate things further, you may find genres are defined differently on various book sites. The Kindle site, for example, lists three categories of Mystery & Suspense: Mystery, Police Procedurals, and Thrillers. Under Mystery, you will find 9 sub-categories. This makes it easier, you say. Sure, if you fall into the Cat Sleuths category. Huh? Yes, there is a category called Cat Sleuths. No one can make this stuff up – who knew!

On the other hand, when you look at a site such as Kobo, Mystery & Suspense is broken down into only these genres (no sub-genres): Hard-boiled, Legal, Police Procedural, Suspense, Thrillers, Traditional British, and Women Sleuths. Barnes & Noble has a completely different and more substantial list. Ahhh! It’s enough to give anyone a headache.

So what’s the solution? Do some research. To get noticed by an agent, you need to know what they’re looking for, communicate it clearly in your query letter, and deliver a good book. If you’re self-publishing, research the e-book sales sites for books similar to yours (ideally traditionally published AND self-published) and see which search words bring those books to your computer screen. My instincts tell me that unless you know your target audience is small and specific, keep your genre somewhat general but accurate. Stopping at fiction for a police procedural, however, doesn’t make sense. It’s too broad and too large. If you can tag the book with several descriptive genres, do it as long as it’s not misrepresenting the content. Whether your book is on a shelf or on a website, it can’t be read if it can’t be found.

Although every book is unique and they are all one-of-a-kind, each must be labelled somehow. What type of book did you write?

3 comments

  1. I’ve run into similar problems with my first manuscript. I wrote a historical fiction with paranormal/supernatural elements, only it wasn’t a total alternate history (because major world events did not change). Suffice to say, I received a lot of rejections along the lines of: “This just isn’t what we/I do.”

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    1. I’m sorry about your experience, Ben, but I’m not surprised. I think they have a difficult time taking something to a publisher if they can’t label it easily or it doesn’t already fit into a known category. I wish you the best of luck and hope your manuscript finds a place.

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