In this section, you’ll discover the importance of genre to both a writer and an editor. You’ll find out why knowing the genre can help you self-edit and you’ll discover a list of common genres. Once completed you will be able to identify the genre of any book and determine the key plot elements that a reader will be expecting to encounter.

The Importance Of Genre

I think one of the most disconcerting things I hear from writers is that they feel their book has “no genre”. After editing for more than ten years, I can safely say that I have never come across of book that couldn’t be comfortably slipped into a genre. To be fair, I’ve seen many books that stretch the limits of genre and many that fall into multiple-genre but never one that can’t be defined.

As a writer this should be good news and here’s why…

The first reason is that being able to fit your book into a genre makes the marketing of your book that little bit easier. Not only will it allow you to identify potential marketing avenues but it will also help with such aspects as cover design. One other element to consider is that readers know what types (genres) of books they like to read, your marketing should be placing your book in front of these readers. Only by knowing your book’s genre can this be done successfully.

The second reason is that readers have expectations for the books they are reading. If they are reading a romance novel they probably don’t expect an alien invasion and on the flip side, a reader of science fiction is not expecting to find a classic girl-meets-boy romance story. If you, as a writer are aware of your book’s genre you can ensure that the plot matches the genre.

We’ve established that story and plot are separate. We now find that genre blankets these two aspects. For example, we could have a story that is set in a future world ran by robots. This might sound like a sci-fi novel but that might not be the case. It will be the plot that defines the genre.

Let’s say you set your girl-meets-boy idea in this robot world. The result would be a book that would be classed as romance.

However, let’s say that instead of the love story you produce a plot that sees a misunderstood freedom fighter fighting for his planet’s survival. You now have a sci-fi novel.

Same story but different plots equal different genres.

OK, I am pushing the envelope, and it is not that straightforward, but I think you’ll get the point. Story and plot often have a more symbiotic relationship with certain stories lending themselves more readily to certain plots and genres; robot worlds tend to be sci-fi.

As we have seen genre brings with it reader expectations, as well as plot and story considerations. Your job, when self-editing, is to make sure all these things match up. You should be aware of your readership and the types of elements that they are expecting to find in your novels. If you are editing that love story and the alien robot race pop up their shiny metallic heads, then you have an issue.

The final word from an editorial standpoint is that each genre will have its own writing elements. For example, romance novels are often more forgiving of internal monologues (more on that later), contemporary fiction can be more experimental and have differing plot structures (for example Anti-Structure), whilst fantasy novels will often require more setup.

When self-editing your book you need to be fully aware of other key books in your genre and the editorial expectations. There’s no shortcut here and the only way to gain this knowledge is by reading. If you are not, at least, reading the best-selling novels in your genre then you’ll not be able to edit to your fullest potential. You need to be aware of the emerging trends, what’s being done in the most commonly read books and what needs to appear in your writing.

One word of warning here. Don’t be sucked into reading books that are more than, say, ten years old and trying to mimic their styles. Writing progresses and your job as an editor is to ensure that writing is up to date. So, yes, you should read the classics in your genre but once you are aware of their content, your time is better spent reading this month’s best seller.

List Of Common Fiction Genres

  • Action & Adventure
  • Adventure see Action & Adventure
  • African American / General
  • African American / Christian
  • African American / Contemporary Women
  • African American / Erotica
  • African American / Historical
  • African American / Mystery & Detective
  • African American / Urban
  • Alternative History
  • Amish & Mennonite
  • Anthologies (multiple authors)
  • Asian American
  • Biographical
  • Black Humor
  • Christian / General
  • Christian / Classic & Allegory
  • Christian / Collections & Anthologies
  • Christian / Fantasy
  • Christian / Futuristic
  • Christian / Historical
  • Christian / Romance
  • Christian / Suspense
  • Christian / Western
  • Classics
  • Coming of Age
  • Contemporary Women
  • Crime
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Dystopian
  • Erotica
  • Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
  • Family Life
  • Family Saga see Sagas
  • Fantasy / General
  • Fantasy / Collections & Anthologies
  • Fantasy / Contemporary
  • Fantasy / Dark Fantasy
  • Fantasy / Epic
  • Fantasy / Historical
  • Fantasy / Paranormal
  • Fantasy / Urban
  • Folklore see Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
  • Gay
  • Ghost
  • Gothic
  • Graphic Novels see headings under COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
  • Hispanic & Latino
  • Historical
  • Holidays
  • Horror
  • Humorous
  • Jewish
  • Legal
  • Lesbian
  • Literary
  • Magical Realism
  • Mashups
  • Media Tie-In
  • Medical
  • Metaphysical see Visionary & Metaphysical
  • Mystery & Detective / General
  • Mystery & Detective / Collections & Anthologies
  • Mystery & Detective / Cozy
  • Mystery & Detective / Hard-Boiled
  • Mystery & Detective / Historical
  • Mystery & Detective / International Mystery & Crime
  • Mystery & Detective / Police Procedural
  • Mystery & Detective / Private Investigators
  • Mystery & Detective / Traditional British
  • Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths
  • Mythology see Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
  • Native American & Aboriginal
  • Noir
  • Occult & Supernatural
  • Political
  • Psychological
  • Religious
  • Romance / General
  • Romance / African American
  • Romance / Collections & Anthologies
  • Romance / Contemporary
  • Romance / Erotica
  • Romance / Fantasy
  • Romance / Gay
  • Romance / Historical / General
  • Romance / Historical / Ancient World
  • Romance / Historical / Medieval
  • Romance / Historical / Regency
  • Romance / Historical / Scottish
  • Romance / Historical / th Century
  • Romance / Historical / Victorian
  • Romance / Historical / Viking
  • Romance / Lesbian
  • Romance / Military
  • Romance / Multicultural & Interracial
  • Romance / New Adult
  • Romance / Paranormal
  • Romance / Romantic Comedy
  • Romance / Science Fiction
  • Romance / Suspense
  • Romance / Time Travel
  • Romance / Western
  • Sagas
  • Satire
  • Science Fiction
  • Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
  • Science Fiction / Alien Contact
  • Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
  • Science Fiction / Alternative History see Alternative History
  • Science Fiction / Collections & Anthologies
  • Science Fiction / Cyberpunk
  • Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering
  • Science Fiction / Hard Science Fiction
  • Science Fiction / Military
  • Science Fiction / Space Opera
  • Science Fiction / Steampunk
  • Science Fiction / Time Travel
  • Sea Stories
  • Short Stories (multiple authors) see Anthologies (multiple authors)
  • Short Stories (single author)
  • Sports
  • Superheroes
  • Television Tie-in see Media Tie-In
  • Thrillers / General
  • Thrillers / Crime
  • Thrillers / Espionage
  • Thrillers / Historical
  • Thrillers / Legal
  • Thrillers / Medical
  • Thrillers / Military
  • Thrillers / Political
  • Thrillers / Supernatural
  • Thrillers / Suspense
  • Thrillers / Technological
  • Urban
  • Visionary & Metaphysical
  • War & Military
  • Westerns

Deciding Your Book’s Genre

It is not uncommon for a writer to struggle to place their book, with confidence, into a set genre. It may be that the writer is unsure or that they simply are reluctant to incorrectly ‘pigeonhole’ their book. Here’s a method you can use to find the correct genre for your book.

The first step is to pick three books that are like your book or, put differently, three books that readers of your book might also read. This is nothing to do with quality this is simply trying to find books that are like your book.

I would suggest that, if possible, you go for the following examples:

  • A book that is a classic.
  • A book that is a bestseller.
  • A book that is a little more obscure.

Once you have your three titles, the next step is to look them up on Amazon. Go to the book’s product page and then scroll down until you get to the ‘Product details’ section. At the bottom of this section you’ll see a header called ‘Amazon’s Bestseller Rank’ and below that, you will see the two or three ‘categories’ (that’s what Amazon calls genre) in which the book has been listed. Write these down.

If you repeat this for all three books you should start to see a trend. If the same category comes up multiple times then there’s a pretty good chance that this is the category (or genre) in which your book belongs. If you don’t get enough matches, keep thinking of books until you start to see a trend. Finally, look at the genre list above and see which best fits the category that’s coming up on Amazon.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say I’ve written a book set in a medieval world in which a knight must go on a quest against evil wizards. Hardly a unique idea but it serves our purpose.

OK, the first step is to think of three books that readers of my book will also like. I need a classic (1), a bestseller (2) and an obscure title (3). I am going for:

  1. Lord of the Rings (classic)
  2. Game of Thrones series (best seller)
  3. Something by Joe Abercrombie (obscure).

Looking each up on Amazon I get the following results:

  1. Lord of the Rings: This is listed in three categories – classic, fantasy (epic) and literary fiction.
  2. Game of Thrones: The first book in the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire and this is listed as – fantasy (sword & sorcery) and, strangely, as science fiction.
  3. Joe Abercrombie: Picking one of Joe Abercrombie’s books at random I went for Best Served Cold. This is listed as – fantasy and science fiction.

Looking at this result we can apply a bit of common sense. I am pretty sure my book is not literary fiction (I wish). It is also not a classic (yet). I am also not happy classing a book with knights and wizards as science fiction. This leaves fantasy, fantasy (epic) and fantasy (sword & sorcery). I am, therefore, happy to class my book’s genre as fantasy. However, there’s still some thought needed for the sub-genre.

I now look at the list of genres above and get the following:

  • Fantasy
  • Fantasy / Collections & Anthologies
  • Fantasy / Contemporary
  • Fantasy / Dark Fantasy
  • Fantasy / Epic
  • Fantasy / Historical
  • Fantasy / Paranormal
  • Fantasy / Urban

(In the list, the first word is the main genre, the second is the sub-genre. For example, in the second listed item Fantasy is the main genre and Collections & Anthologies is the sub-genre.)

This all matches up and I can confidently place my novel into the genre of fantasy.

As you will see from the list, you can also place the book into a sub-genre. This is often a little more difficult and requires a more in-depth knowledge of the genre. I know this genre well and I’d be happy to ignore the sub-genre and just class the book as pure fantasy.

As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that you don’t look to defining a book into a sub-genre unless that sub-genre is important to the book’s marketing and readership. For example, readers of fantasy books will often happily read both dark fantasy and epic fantasy. However, this is not always the case. If you consider science fiction then you come across a situation where sub-genre is important. It is not uncommon for readers of science fiction sub-genres to not cross genre. A reader of science fiction/military may have little, or no, interest in science fiction/cyberpunk. In this situation the sub-genre becomes essential.

The final word here comes in regards to cross-genre titles. This section started by saying that the vast majority of books can be placed into a genre and this remains true. However, there are some books that cross genres and have a foot in two or three camps. A good example is the Harry Potter series. This can be classed as both fantasy and young adult (please note, some writers will argue that young adult is a kind of ‘super’ genre, which engulfs other genres such as fantasy).

The best way to deal with multi-genres is to pick one and stick with that genre. Trying to appeal to two distinct readerships is difficult and will produce confused marketing, writing, and editing. Trying to appeal to two different genres will not double your readership, it will just confuse the message and produce a ‘halfway’ house novel, which appeals to neither.

Exercise

  • Use the technique detailed to determine the genre into which your book fits.
  • Consider further refining the genre choice into sub-genre.
  • Once you have your genre, make a list of the elements that are unique to your genre. Consider what ‘things’ happen in books of your genre that don’t really happen in other genres (often called tropes). Think about elements such as internal monologue, setup, and plot elements.
  • Go to Amazon and look at the top three bestsellers in your genre and/or subgenre. Order the books and read them. Whilst reading, make notes on common plot elements and themes. You should repeat this process on a regular basis. The better you know the genre the better writer/editor you will become.