The Genre Dilemma

Hi Writers!

I hate it when I’m told to do something “just like such-and-such” and then, after I do that, I’m told it isn’t “fresh.” Well, how CAN it be fresh and new sounding if I’m making it just like something else?!? And that is exactly what writers are told about writing for a genre.


THE FAMILY TREE OF FICTION: First, be aware that there are broad categories of fiction, like children’s books, Young Adult (YA) books, and adult books. Within those categories there are genres, meaning books that take on a certain focus, like fantasy, mystery, science fiction, romance, etc. Then we have sub-genres within each genre. Like within fantasy there is sword-and-sorcery, urban fantasy, time travel, etc.

Each category, genre and sub-genre attracts readers who EXPECT certain things from your book. It sounds like “rules” to some writer, but, these expectations provide a marvelous framework on which to hang your story!

WHICH BRANCH?: Have you narrowed your book plans to a category, genre and sub-genre? Consider books you love reading. Look them up on book sites and look for “similar” books. Just reading the synopses of the suggested books will hone you in on books you like to read.

MAJOR TIP #1:  Write what you enjoy reading!

SIBLING RIVALRY : Maybe the kind of book you have in mind to write has already been published. Great! Competition is NOT a bad thing–it means there is an audience for your story. It also means that there are expectations by those readers of those books. Expectations YOU can take advantage of.

Determine reader expectations for that genre. Can you fulfill them within your planned story? Does a sub-genre fit your book plans? Are there elements in that sub-genre you need to incorporate in your book? Narrow your focus and your writing gets stronger–and the results more satisfying to readers.

THE MIXED-BREED: Or … maybe you think your book “transcends genre”? Let’s talk about that. There certainly are books written that don’t fit genres, often called mainstream or novels or literary or drama. They are stories without the restrictions of a specific genre. The Great American Novel type thing. Fine. But often writers want to produce a book with some of this genre and a bit of that sub-genre and, hey, let’s throw in a little humor along with a mass murderer for good measure. Basically, a book like that doesn’t come off as “fresh” but simply confusing and/or unsatisfying. The reader who likes the humorous cozy mystery doesn’t appreciate that mass murderer; the reader who likes the high profile crime doesn’t want an alien spaceship to enter in chapter 32. You CAN do it, sure, but why potentially lose readers? If your story isn’t strong enough without inserting a gruesome murder or that alien invasion, maybe you need to rethink your basic premise?

So if you want to write a mainstream novel, fine! Then do that without muddying the waters with distinct elements of genre books inserted here and there. Research and read similar mainstreams (just as you would if you were focusing on a genre) and write to that audience.

KNOWING YOUR GENRE’S GENES: Here are ways to uncover the genetic code important to any genre:

  • Research: look up the genre/sub-genre terms in reference books or on the Internet.  Note aspects that all references agree on – and the areas that differ.
  • Read: Borrow (don’t forget libraries!) or buy books that fill the same niche you are writing towards. Read them!

SAME FAMILY, DIFFERENT LOOK: List all the elements that you see time and again in your sub-genre. Does every cozy mystery of your type include an adorable cat or dog? Or the main character has an eccentric, free-thinking mother? What elements are repeated in your specific genre/sub-genre? List them.

Then consider what your book has – or could have – that is similar but with a twist. A cat with a bad attitude or maybe a gerbil? An eccentric father or an all-too-prudish mother?

Must you have ALL the same things? Or even variations of them? Of course not. But keep in mind that these readers have liked those elements over and over. And, hey, our goal is to satisfy them, right? Enjoy coming up with slight variations on the basics but always look for elements YOU would enjoy reading.

MAJOR TIP #2: Include fresh elements that YOU enjoy writing about!

 You’ll find more success as a writer when you:

  • Grasp the category, genre and sub-genre parameters of what you are writing
  • Determine the competition and their subtle variables
  • Accept your preferences as a reader and as a writer
  • And find that happy place that fits BOTH you and your audience with a book they loved reading and you enjoyed writing

Want to discuss YOUR book plan with me? Email me at and let’s discuss your project!

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