Name Your Genre

You’ve written a book and now it’s time to start thinking about selling it. Whether you send the manuscript off to an agent or an editor or decide to self-publish, you need to indicate the genre. That is, you need to let others know how it would be classified.

“Why?” you might say.

Well, one reason is because how you classify your story can make a big different in where it’s listed on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and can determine if it has a chance of being found in a search.

Sure, once the manuscript is in the hands of an agent or editor the final “what genre” decision may be made by them, but the writer must have an idea where the book fits before sending it out. Simply stating “I’ve written a 100K novel” tells an agent or editor nothing. One of the first things they look for in a query letter is if the book would be something they publish or represent. It would be a waste of time to send a sweet romance to a publisher who only publishes erotica or a fantasy to an agent who handles non-fiction.

If you are self-publishing the book, deciding where it fits becomes even more important. Each genre and sub-genre includes a promise of certain elements. For a romance, it’s a love story. For a mystery, it’s a puzzle or crime to solve. And so on. Give the story the wrong classification and you disappoint the reader. In fact, the more specific you can be, the more you improve your chances of being selected by people looking for a story like yours. Being specific definitely improves your chances of being found at all. For example, do you want to be listed as one of over three hundred thousand books in a broad genre (Romance books) or one of a three thousand in a specific sub-genre (historical western romance books)?

However, deciding what the sub-genre might be isn’t always easy. A few weeks ago I wrote a query letter regarding the book I recently completed. My story is a mystery, but it also has a romance running through it. My main character is a woman who is not in law enforcement. The setting is rural. She owns a dog that plays a part in the story, she has a crazy mother, and a gruff, former special forces neighbor who sometimes comes to her aid.. Also there is some violence, along with some humor and several potential villains.

So how should it be classified?

I’ve been trying to answer that question through the process of elimination. Although there is a romance in the story, it is not the main element in the story, so I am not classifying the story as a romance or even a romantic suspense. It’s not a thriller since there’s no big ticking time bomb and the setting doesn’t really fit the thriller genre. (No traveling from country to country, no scenes in exotic locals, and no high stakes disaster if the protagonist doesn’t save the day.). And I don’t think it fits as a suspense.

So it’s a mystery. But that’s one of those broad categories. I’d like to narrow it down a bit.

It does feature a non-professional female as the lead character, has a rural setting and a dog, and all of those qualities are usually found in cozy mysteries, but mine isn’t a cozy. Cozy readers expect very little violence and sex and a protagonist who sifts through facts and finally deduces who must have committed the crime. My poor heroine keeps trying to figure out “who done it,” but she generally stumbles onto the answer. If I listed it as a cozy, all I would do is show agents and editors that I don’t know the genre, and irritate readers who might be looking for an Agatha Christi type book.

And even though the book includes humor, a heroine who stumbles into situations, and a crazy family member, I certainly wouldn’t compare it to Janet Evanovich’s books, so that classification is out.

So how am I classifying it? For now, I’m calling it a mystery/woman sleuth. On Amazon there are only twenty-one thousand other books in that genre. Maybe someone will actually find mine.

***In two hours I’m heading for Orlando, Florida and Sleuthfest 2014. I’m looking forward to 4 days of learning more about writing mysteries and publishing. Maybe while I’m there I’ll come up with an even better genre classification for my story.

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5 Responses to Name Your Genre

  1. Diane Burton says:

    We all like to think our books are unique, that they can’t be pigeon-holed into a specific genre or sub-genre. As you say, Maris, if we want to entice an editor or agent, and more importantly a reader, we need to let them know where our books belong. Have fun at your conference.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    It is a challenge. Even when you self-pub and put the book into a specific category sometimes those change on the sites. It always surprises me how people find anything on Amazon. I only search by names.

  3. Grandma E says:

    Didn’t I read quite awhile ago, that beloved Dr. Suess did not know how to classify his crazy stuff? And publishers did not want any of it. Remembering him on his birthday this week…… sigh…..

  4. Beth Teliho says:

    Hi there! Over here from Kitt’s blog, and your post today couldn’t be more relevant for me at time! I have a *I think* Young Adult paranormal, and I’m just finishing final edits. The subject of “which genre?” is on the forefront!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hi Beth. Sounds like you’ve already done some thinking about the genre. YA paranormal is good. Of course, paranormal is still a fairly broad term, so in your query letter or PR, it might help to indicate the type of paranormal. I’m not wild about vampires, but I love the idea of shape shifters and protagonists with ESP abilities.