You’ve worked long and hard on that book, and it’s finally finished! Now what?
It’s time to identify your book genre (if you haven't already) so you can better place and market your story.
Understanding genre is one of the most important details you need to market and identify your book. Here are some key ideas needed to figure it out.
What Is Book Genre?
Think about your experiences at an amusement park.
What rides do you gravitate toward? Are you the sort to lounge in the lazy river, or line up for the two-hundred-and-five-foot drop on Six Flags' Superman rollercoaster?
You know the level and type of excitement you want to experience and you choose accordingly.
That’s what identifying your book's genre does for readers. It helps them find just the sort of reading experience they’re craving.
But the benefits of genre are not limited to readers. When a writer knows their book genre, they will profit a lot more from their stories because they are making it easier for their target readers to find them.
Focus in on the genre you want to write, and read books in that genre. A LOT of books by a variety of authors. And read with questions in your mind.
Book Genre Definition
Why Knowing Your Book's Genre Will Please Your Readers
At the beginning of the industrial age, items were produced according to the ease of manufacture, which meant factories could pump them out quicker but they weren’t necessarily user-friendly. Savvy businessmen soon realized they could sell more products if they paid attention to the needs and desires of their customers.
This mentality is the one we, as writers, need to adapt when deciding what genre our book upholds best.
Each story we write has a specific target readership for our plot, and we want to make sure that that readership finds our book—they are the ones who will really enjoy it!
Maintain this awareness when writing books and you’ll understand how genres came to be and how they serve the reader.
Here are two of the major advantages we gain by understanding, recognizing, and labeling book genre for our readers.
1. Your Reader Won't Feel Cheated After Buying Your Book Because Their Book Genre Expectations Are Met
Book genre provides a directory to help readers identify the type of reading experience they want to have after purchasing a book. This is why locating your book on the right genre shelf is so important.
Whether you're publishing your book traditionally, with a hybrid publisher, or self-publishing, placing your book on the right shelf is ensuring that your readers don't feel cheated after purchasing it.
For instance, have you ever come across a collection of short stories in a book you think will be a certain type of story?
I have, and admittedly I didn't connect with each short story in the anthology because they weren't all the same book genre.
Where one short story read more like a horror story, another fit the obligatory scenes and conventions for a crime story, and another still read more like fantasy.
Each had its highs, but I’m not a reader for every genre. So, naturally, I didn’t want to read every story in the collection.
It wasn't that any of these stories weren't great!
But, I did immediately wonder if readers who were not writers would dislike the anthology as a collection since they might have purchased the book thinking it would read like a certain genre, and then it actually contained a variety of genres they don't enjoy as much.
When this happens, it's only natural that a reader will skim or put down the book.
As writers, it's crucial that we market our book genre correctly, because doing otherwise might attract someone outside our target readership.
And they will feel disappointed in investing your book—not because the book is bad, but because the type of story wasn't for them.
Genres allow readers to develop expectations and give them a reasonable hope of having those expectations fulfilled.
2. A Reader's Favorite Author Often Writes Their Favorite Genre
As a consumer, when you go to McDonald’s, you know what kind of dining experience you can expect to receive. That dependability is what makes such franchises so successful.
If you want to try something different, you prepare mentally and increase your risk tolerance. You may have a wonderful experience and find a new favorite restaurant (think author) or it may be a disaster.
Either way, you’ve learned something new about what you like.
Genre allows readers to make informed choices about what they’re getting into before reading a story.
And while an author isn't obligated to writing one genre their whole life, it's only natural (and beneficial) that readers will look to a favorite author because they write their favorite book genre.
Who are some authors of your favorite genre? Learning more about these authors' styles and how their stories meet reader expectations will help you write and market your books in that same book genre.
Writing love stories? Nicholas Sparks has a plethora of titles that have pleased readers—and you should ask yourself if these readers are the same ones you want to attract.
This doesn't mean that you need to expect to compete with Stephen King in the bookstore or on Amazon in order to be a successful author.
But knowing why your stories would entertain a similar readership is important to determining your story's success because you understand what makes your book genre attractive to your readership.
3 Reasons Your Book Genre Will Help You Write Your Story and Your Publisher Sell Your Book
A solid knowledge of book genre and the reader's expectations tied to that genre's structure gives you the ability to describe your story.
It’s critical to know what book genre you produced so you can align your story's structure with the promises you made based on how your story is presented to your reader.
You don’t necessarily have to start your writing with a particular genre in mind, but once you have a finished product, it’s vital to understand what you’ve written so you can match it with the right readers.
Writers are notorious for misjudging their own genre, so a careful study of genre structure is a valuable use of your time.
From a writer’s perspective, this gives you the ability to control your own writing. When you’ve learned and internalized the different structures, you’ll subconsciously stay true to the story structure you set out to finish.
From a publisher’s perspective, you’ll also better understand how to effectively market your book and avoid reader disappointment and negative reviews.
As a writer, we want to make our readers' and publisher's job easier.
Knowing your book genre does this by completing a big piece of book identification and marketing homework for them.
Your ultimate goal as a writer is to turn your idea into a salable story. Here are some of the benefits of knowing your book genre.
1. Cover Design
When you know your genre, you can telegraph it to the reader through a well-designed cover targeted to people looking for your kind of book. The cover design determines the look and feel of the artwork, the font, and the arrangement and style of the elements.
The book cover is also the second feature that attracts a reader! (Second only to the title.)
Sometimes writers who self-publish try to skip this important step and design a cover themselves to save money in their publishing process.
Most of the time, for writers who are not graphic designers, this will fail to attract the right readers to their story.
Horror and apocalyptic writer J. Thorn has a lot of personal experience on messing up his cover design and then learning the importance of investing in it. You can learn more about his personal experiences on his website, or in his Writers, Ink podcast with Stuart Bache.
2. Categories, Search Terms, and Tags
Genre can help you effectively position your book in the market, since choosing the right categories and other metadata will target the kind of readers you want.
Amazon sorts books into categories to help readers find books they're interested in. It also allows you to specify the keywords you'd like your book to be listed for, so when readers search for “fantasy dragons,” your book about a dragon rider's adventure shows up in the results.
How will you know which terms to choose? Your book's genre will help you find the terms that will connect with your readers.
And this matters a lot—not only is it how you get your book in front of readers, it's also how you become an Amazon bestseller!
3. Book Description and Blurb that Fits Your Book Genre
Understanding genres and their attendant reader expectations can help you fashion a compelling sales description for your book—one that will grab the right readers.
Essentially, your book description is an advertisement for your book. It indicates the major characters and plot hooks that will carry and drive your story's structure, concept, and messages.
When a reader looks at the back cover of The Hunger Games, they pick up on high concepts that deal with sacrifice and physical threats.
Publishers also understand that this book is set in a dystopian setting, and that this is important to indicate when briefly describing Panem in the book's description.
Additionally, we get a general idea of Katniss' age, which suggests the target age for this story's readers (it could expand outside of this).
All of these details, especially those tied to the main character, setting, status quo, and the disturbances that uproot the protagonist's normal life, are crucial to attracting the book's readers.
They also identify the book genre (YA Science Fiction), which goes back to establishing clear reader expectations.
You can learn more about how to write a book description for your story here.
4. Determine Your Story Niche and Author Branding
Knowing your book genre can help you make decisions about when and how to use pen names or design your author brand.
This refers back to the likelihood that readers turn to favorite authors with expectations of a certain type of book they'll buy with that author's new release.
Again, an author may evolve with their career and secure a new or expanded readership, but ultimately you want readers to know that you are an author of THIS type of book. The more specific your story niche, the better.
Readers will start to buy your book because they like you as an author and the kinds of stories you write.
And publishers will start to market you as an author who writes this type of book genre—paying more and more attention based on your sales and success.
If you understand the genre of the book you produced, you can find marketing opportunities for that book.
And this will make niche markets and bookstores more likely to buy (and like) your pitch.
The Case for Writing to Genre
You may be the kind of writer who likes to wing it and follow your whims through the pages of your story, straying outside the lines of genre.
You might not like the idea of writing for a book genre because you think this will limit what your structure can achieve.
You're afraid focusing too much on a book's genre will make your story boring.
But it won't!
The truth of the matter is that by identifying your book's genre, you will not only write your book better, but also establish your core readership, market to them, and satisfy them by upholding the promises you make when marketing your book.
I write because I want to create for others what my favorite authors have done for me.
I want to give readers that exhilarating thrill ride, that delicious frisson of tension, that skin-crawling suspense I’ve enjoyed so much from many of the books I’ve read.
So when I write, it’s important to me to fulfill reader expectations, and I can’t do that unless I understand those expectations.
I’ve studied genre, and I continue to study it. There are many ways to do that and in a future article, I’ll dig a little deeper into understanding genre structure.
Here and now, I just want to emphasize why it’s a crucial step to your success as a writer.
In the meantime, here are some additional resources that will help you learn more about genre structure:
- How to Research Your Genre to Write Better Stories
- How to Write a Mystery Novel
- How to Write a Thriller Novel
- How to Write a Suspense Novel
- The Story Grid book, website, and podcast
- The Writer’s Room podcast
- WMG Publishing Genre Structure Workshop
Learning genre structure is fun, fascinating, and can raise your writing career to the next level. Master this, and you'll be amazed how far it can take you!
What is your book genre and how do you use it to help you market your story? Tell us in the comments, and share links to your books so we can check them out!
Marketers like to create personas for their customers to help them understand the needs and desires of their target market. For writers, our ideal reader is usually very close to our own profile since we tend to write what we like to read.
So, using your own expectations as a reader, write a couple of paragraphs about the kind of experience you crave when reading your favorite author. What expectations do you have when you pick up their new book? Why do you like their stories?
Then, reflect on how your own stories create this same or similar experience for your target readers.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you are finished, post your work in the comments, and be sure to provide feedback for your fellow writers!
Any day where she can send readers to the edge of their seats, prickling with suspense and chewing their fingernails to the nub, is a good day for Joslyn. Pick up her latest thriller, Steadman's Blind, an explosive read that will keep you turning pages to the end. No Rest: 14 Tales of Chilling Suspense, Joslyn's latest collection of short suspense, is available for free at joslynchase.com.