How Genre Can Drive Your Book’s Success

It’s a common lament among writers: Why is genre important? Can’t I just write whatever I want and let the marketplace figure out how to classify it? Or perhaps: My work is a mix of genres. I don’t want to be pinned down. I like to mix it up.

Let’s look at why genre is all important and why you should be clear about yours before you begin your next project. Because understanding and accurately identifying your book’s genre is not just a helpful tidbit or a box to check off—it’s the master key to unlocking sales success for your fiction. It’s a secret weapon that can make your words resonate with the hearts and minds of your target readership. It not only helps you identify the style and structure of your WIP but provides a framework for your entire marketing approach. Let’s take a minute to examine the significance of genre and why being clear about where your book falls is a crucial decision.

Knowing your genre helps with structure

Let’s say you’re at the beginning of your novel, making basic decisions about characters, plot, and structure. It helps to know what genre you’re writing in because many of them have consistent conventions and tropes that readers expect to find. For example, consider page count. When you pick up a women’s fiction, you’re assuming it will be around 80,000 words; but if it’s a fantasy novel that’s the first in a trilogy? You’re likely looking at 120,000 or more. Thrillers typically need a twist at the midpoint, at the climax, and if possible, in the final five pages; romances are famous for their Happily Ever After endings. Knowing your genre helps you set up basic parameters so again, readers aren’t blindsided, resulting in negative reviews and disappointing sales.

Knowing your genre helps with branding

One of the biggest challenges writers face is discoverability. Industry sources estimate that, when you count both traditional and indie published books, four million new titles are released EVERY YEAR. That’s a very crowded marketplace and it’s hard to be heard. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is through letting a reader know quickly and consistently what type of book they can expect from you. Do you write contemporary work-place romance? Cozy mysteries set in New England? Thrillers set on the tough streets of Queens? If you pick a genre that’s easily identifiable and is one which tons of readers enjoy, your job becomes easier. The savvy reader is likely to give you a chance in hopes of discovering a new author they’ll enjoy.

Knowing your genre helps with querying

If you’re in the market for an agent or a small press, one of the first things you do is look over what genres they represent. It does no good to write a fabulous young adult novel if the agent you’re approaching works with adult fiction. Ditto the press who specializes in horror – they’ll reject your police procedural without a second thought. Why waste your time and mental energy querying sources who clearly don’t accept books like yours?

Knowing your genre helps with cover design

Covers have one function. Catch a reader’s eye and make them stop to look closer. If you spend time examining the covers of the best-sellers in your genre, you’ll notice clues which quickly telegraph what type of book is inside. Typography, imagery, color palette – it’s all there at a glance. Swirling cursive lettering with heavily-ornate intricate design? You’re probably looking at high fantasy. Women in period costume facing away from the camera with vintage scenes in the background? We’re in historical fiction territory. Again, it’s all about discoverability. Make it easy for the reader to find your book on the shelf or online at a glance. Insist that your cover artist pay attention to the genre when suggesting designs.

Knowing your genre helps with marketing

Wondering who to approach for endorsements? Stick to authors who write in your genre because their fans are likely to also like your book. Looking to do a joint promotion at a bookstore or a Facebook group? Pick someone within your same genre and double your audience. Wanting to get mileage from your Facebook or Amazon ads? It only makes sense to target the same readers who like authors writing in the same genre. Remember, you don’t need to win over every reader – voracious ones are eagerly looking for new authors whose books are similar to those they already like. Your job is to clearly and definitively position your book in the genre they already enjoy.

Looking for help identifying your genre? See this article from book coach Cathy Yardley who does an excellent job of breaking down categories and suggesting ways to make sure you’ve got it right.  Ditto Tagari Publication’s comprehensive article complete with infographic here:

Photo courtesy of raeva from Getty Images (via Canva Pro License)

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