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Know Your Genre

It’s always a little disheartening when you get to the end of a query letter, slightly encouraged by what you’re reading, only to discover that the author has no clue what genre the book is and hasn’t bothered to do any research on what genres are.

YA (young adult) has lately been one of the most abused. YA does not mean any adult who is young. YA does not mean an audience who is younger than 20, and something is not YA simply because there’s a young adult or teen in the book.

If you decide that your book is YA, romance, mystery, fantasy, thriller, science fiction, middle grade, and so on and so on then you better know what that genre is and you better be reading some of those books so you know for sure that your book is that genre.

Part of your pitch to agents and publishers is yourself. Sure the book is the most important thing, but if you present yourself as someone who knows nothing about the business and hasn’t bothered to learn, that is a poor reflection of your book. How can your book possibly be written to the audience you are selling to if you don’t know anything about the audience?

When writing your book take some time out now and then to read other things and learn the genre you think your book fits. If you’re discovering that your book isn’t matching what you’re reading maybe you need to start exploring other genres. It’s not enough to write a good book. You have to be writing a good book that sells and in order for it to sell you have to be able to reach the audience.

Category: Blog



  1. My biggest thing about this is that there are so many varying opinions on what constitutes what genres that, even with researching, it still leaves the authors with unclear guidelines to work off of.

    If the perameters were clearer (which even reading others in said genres can’t always help with) then there’d be less grey area for us to stumble around in.

  2. To be fair, one can research and read until they’re blue in the face, but the parameters defining the YA category seem to be fast and loose by any measure. There doesn’t seem to be any clear definition, other than that of the reader. I say this because as I was developing my novel, I did the research- having read scifi, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic novels for years and years-I read and studied the YA trend – attempting to tailor my story into the best categorical fit because of the age of many of the characters, due to the nature of the post-apocalyptic world they live in.
    With no clearly definitive guidelines, what’s the best way to make that distinction? My first reaction was.. profanity/adult themes/sexual situations, but even those aren’t part of that decision it seems-according to the research I did on the topic. These themes seem to be not only present, but encouraged even, if they remain both tasteful and relevant to the plot/character development. Ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?

    1. I think you might be overthinking it. Simplify. What is YA at its core. That’s what you’re looking at. You’re not trying to fit into a box. Some YA will be sexy, some will be sweet, etc. With YA it’s about the voice that seems and feels YA, it’s about who the audience is, the age of the characters, etc. That’s pretty much it.

      Themes do not make a genre, they are a part of the genre.

      1. Think about “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. It’s a book about a boy training for war, but it’s NOT a children’s book, or even middle grade.

        Now look at Harry Potter. The story and writing are also told from the POV of a boy who’s entering an unfamiliar world that he’s going to excel in, but it is a middle-grade novel. The tone, the voice and themes… all middle-grade. And as JK Rowlings target audience grew, so did her themes.

        When in doubt, I look at the voice, the themes, the writing itself. If the author shows adult themes, language, etc. then no matter what the age of the main character, it’s an adult novel.


  3. Many, many writers don’t understand the basic idea of selling. They seem to have a “Field of Dreams” mantra: If I write it, readers will come. They don’t want to be “commercial”, and yet, they still want people to buy their book.

    If you’re not sure where your book goes in the bookstore, ask your beta readers what they think. It can’t be sold if it can’t be shelved–and if it can’t be sold, no one will want to publish it for you. If you self-publish and mislabel your book, you’ll not attract readers who might like what you wrote, your ranking will suffer, and your book will fade to oblivion.

  4. Jessica ! Yes, the genre is not always easy. And it’s not just know everything about business and selling. Okay, but if not traditionally wrote a book and is not suitable for genres that exist. What then?

  5. The idea I think a lot of new writers (and many who aren’t so new) overlook is that this is a business, not a hobby. If you wish to write for yourself, friends and family, then you can ignore the business end of things. But if you hope to publish — whether traditionally or self-published — you must learn about the business. This includes understanding your genre. Reading other, successfully published books in that genre is a great way to gain understanding of what agents and publishers want. Keep in mind that these preferences aren’t random, they reflect what readers of that genre are interested in buying. In addition to reading within your genre, another thought is to visit a brick and mortar bookstore. Look at what is on the shelves, or better yet, what books are being featured. Most often these are the books readers are clamoring for. But, please, don’t copy these books! Be original, but know your genre.

  6. It’s not just knowing the elements that make up a genre (eg cozy has female protagonist, small town, hook/theme, no gore/sex/profanity etc) but having a voice that fits the genre (as Jessica mentioned in reply to a comment above). And voice is one thing that is more of an inherent trait in a writer – much harder to change!

  7. *Drags old hat out of the cupboard.

    Speaking as a teaching assistant (UK) who ran the school library and parent of four – the only way I could punish my oldest was to take her books from her and make her read books I gave her – books for children/teens/YA are, as Jessica says very much about voice. As for age, the general guideline is the protagonist and other main characters should be about the age of the targetted audience.

    Talking of YA, I decided to do a draft of the beginning of Finding Tahra as a YA to see how it worked. I’m not sure how it reads yet, I’ll do that at the weekend, but it writes far smoother. I am more comfortable writing YA than adult. I hope that’s a good sign, I’ll keep you posted.

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