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How to Choose the Right Genre for Your Book

Does genre matter as much as it used to? 

What if your idea seems to fit every genre? Or none of them? Will it really benefit you to choose your genre before you start writing? Why not just write what you what to write and decide on a genre when you’re done?

In the not very distant past, genre was vitally important: not only did it dictate where in the bookstore your book would be shelved, it was also often a factor in whether your submission was read by an agent in the first place. Sending an epic fantasy to an agency that only handled mysteries and thrillers was nothing but a waste of paper. You had to nail your genre (out of only a handful of choices), ensure your story slotted perfectly into that genre, and then select the right representative for it. 

With indie publishing? That narrow stricture has, somewhat, fallen away. You’re free to test a variety of different genres and subgenres (and there is now a huge list to choose from) and let your sales figures and reviews guide you. Even better is the chance to surf trends: psychological thrillers might be popular one month, cyberpunk the next. If your book has a little of both, you can switch and win. 

So, does that mean it’s a good idea to include a bit of everything in your book, to make it easier to switch genres? 

No. It’s a fine line, but diluting your book too much will leave it weak and unsatisfying and do nothing but annoy readers.  And misrepresenting your book is a very easy way to lose readers and gain yourself a bad reputation. That doesn't mean you can't mix genres, twist them, come up with something that feels new to you. But it is important for readers that the central category is in place, so they know what they’re getting. If you label it “Mystery” but dish up a romance with no crime to solve, disgruntled readers will slay you in the review section. 

What do you gain by choosing your genre upfront while you’re planning?

Planning to your genre helps you write a tightly plotted novel that meets reader expectations. It avoids the situation sometimes faced by “pantsers” where you begin the story thinking it’s a particular genre only to have your imagination veer into a different one partway through.

On the flip side, writing too strictly to genre might mean you end up with something very formulaic. In The Novel Approach planning course I show you how to use character integration to turn a clichéd plot into something entirely unique. Click here for all the details.

Elle Carter Neal coaches aspiring authors through planning, writing, and revising through The Novel Approach courses and memberships. She is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin (first in the Grounded series). Elle is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at

Author photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

Books image by ClarissaBell from Pixabay

For more on this topic, you might also like our post on Talking Genre