Friday, July 10, 2015

Playing the Genre Game

A shopper stops at a table in a bookstore where an author is having a book signing.

Shopper picks up the book. “What’s your genre?”

Author smiles. “It’s sort of a cozy, romantic, mysterious thriller for new adults.”

Shopper frowns. “Excuse me?”

Author continues smiling. “You know, something for everyone. Trust me, it’s a great story.”

Shopper puts book down, shakes her head, and walks away.

Bottom line: Many readers have expectations as well as definite genre preferences. We need to present our work in a way they can relate to.

Some writers know their genre and write accordingly. Others incorporate the guidelines of a number of genres in their books, possibly in hopes of gaining readers from multiple genres who are willing to cross the line to read a “great” book. A few even try to create a new genre/sub-genre to accommodate their work. Has it always been this confusing?

In the heyday of traditional publishing, publishers determined genre, as well as the guidelines required for that genre. At that time many writers played by the rules. However, the game has changed. The lines between genres have been blurred and rules have left the building with the advent of widespread independent publishing and the glut of books that now clutter the marketplace. But back to our topic: genres.

One website notes three main genres: fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. Then we have numerous sub-genres, which are uncounted because the number keeps changing as new ones are added. Another site includes a daunting list, which, curiously, doesn’t contain a single “cozy” anything that I could find. (What? No cozy mysteries?) Even Wikipedia gets into the act with another lengthy list. And so the game continues.

Realistically, it may make sense to research the main requirements of the genre in which you want to write and thus meet the expectations of readers who could well become fans. Another possibility is to meet the requirements a single genre, yet include elements of others. (Many writers do this quite successfully.) Mysteries and thrillers, for example, can be lightly peppered with romantic scenes. On the other hand, one can simply write an uncategorized story from the heart in such a compelling way that it draws readers in from the first p
age and keeps them engaged all the way to the end. This may cost the author some die-hard genre readers who insist on knowing exactly they’re getting, but some creative marketing may bring in a flood of new readers who put story above genre in order to read an extraordinary book.

Are you confused about the genre game?

Do you write in more than one genre? If so, do you use the same name or a pseudonym?

Have you ever crossed the line and incorporated more than one genre in a book?

Do you enjoy reading books that cross genre lines?

How do you choose where to shelve your book? (Heidi's post)
And, in case you missed Elspeth's Beginner's Guide to Genres, have a chuckle now.

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at


  1. Very nice post, Linda. I do wonder about writers who are making a tossed salad out of their stories. It's almost a fad now to be able to say pretty much what your fictitious author said at the beginning of your post. I still think it is best to not mix too many genre elements in one book. But then I'm old, and I'm from the old school. LOL
    As a reader, I don't mind a mix of two or three elements. I just read a good mystery that had a touch of paranormal as well as some romance. All the elements were woven together seamlessly and nothing seemed forced, which is what made it work for me.

    1. I, too, come from the distant past where blurred lines, whether in music or book genres, almost never happened. Today, it's a different story. With that in mind, I think you smacked that proverbial nail on the head with "all the elements were woven together seamlessly." Successfully weaving "foreign" genre threads on a literary loom requires significant skill to create the intricate fabric of a great story--which gives even more depth of meaning to the admonition to "hone your craft." And, hey, at least the old school had guidelines.

  2. Genre, schmenre ... I wrote two books without giving a thought to genre ... then had to determine what they were about after the fact ... tough to do, but that's the way Homey rolls. Of course, sales are almost as low as my opinion of genres ... so, there's that.

    1. Genre does challenge us with some quirky limitations, doesn't it, Christopher? In my book (pun intended), an excellent story wins out over genre requirements every time. :-)

  3. Great post, Linda. I will admit that GENRE is something that is often hard for me to pinpoint. Mostly because, and I know this might sound cheesy, but life often contains various genre elements, and when I write a story, I'm examining the life of the main character and so many genres may play a role. My two novels are mysteries, and that's the genre I place them in; however, I see many other genres at play, too. Is it too difficult to say I'm a "life writer"? LOL

    1. Life writer? I like it a lot! Especially well said because if our stories don't reflect real life on some level, our readers will have nothing to relate to. If they can't relate to our stories or our characters, what incentive do they have to buy our books?

  4. I believe if I write a good story, genre will follow. I'm lucky so far that my stories have fallen into pretty specific genres. In any case, if I spend too much time thinking about the genre, then I start worrying about the audience. When that happens I'm tempted to become that kid who struggles to figure out how to get everyone to like me - and I can be pretty annoying in that mode. For me, it works best to strive not to think about what people want but about how I will communicate clearly, so that once I find the audience who wants the kind of stories I like to write they'll be able to enjoy it.

  5. You make a good point, Cara. Overthinking the genre game won't make a good writer or a great book. It's easy to get overly involved in the mechanics of those requirements and sacrifice the story in the process.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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