7 dos and don’ts about genre

“It’s hard enough to get people to believe what you’re telling them without making it impossible. It has to be vaguely plausible.” Cormac McCarthy

You are going to write a book. Brilliant!

What you need to do next is make sure you nail the genre.

Genre is a slick-sounding word for what “category” your book will fall under. How would you describe your book? If it helps, think about what tone book is going to take – are you focused on laughs, love, tension, suspense, screams, shallow graves?

Take a look at these four hugely popular genres/categories:

  1. Romance/Erotica
  2. Crime/Mystery
  3. Science Fiction and Fantasy
  4. Horror

These genres go down a storm with readers. You can’t write about romance, however, if your heart isn’t in the right place, no matter how popular the genre is.

You need to be passionate about your content and characters. If they don’t “fit” into the four most popular genres, above, there are plenty other categories out there such as comedy, thriller, action and adventure, historical, detective, women’s fiction and literary fiction.

Why is it important to establish genre within the first 10 pages? Your reader has preferences and expectations, likes and dislikes. Your reader also wants to know what’s in store for them (without spoilers, of course).

Above all, nailing the genre is good sign-posting. As well as recommendations and good reviews, people search for books according to how they’re feeling and what mood they’re in. Different mindsets throw up different desires such as: “I need a light read”; “I’ve had a rubbish week and want a good laugh”; “Give me complete escapism”.

If someone is in the mood for romance, they won’t thank you for a thriller. Similarly, if your genre is science fiction or fantasy, the reader will expect an unfamiliar world – an exciting and different one.

You’ll also get readers with specific taste who narrow the search down: “comedies about friendships” or  “dystopian romance” . The cross-genre trend is growing but let’s not over-complicate matters for the moment – focus on the strongest genre within the genre and never lose sight of it.

Establishing genre means you can’t pull the rug out from under the reader. Direct them down the road your book intends to follow and don’t go off track. Zipping between genres simply flags up to the reader that you’ve lost the plot.

Bear in mind, also, that you need to be a master of whatever genre you choose. You need to nail it in order to impress the world.

7 dos and don’ts about genre


1. Don’t take on a genre that’s too big for you

Science fiction or fantasy? Make it plausible. The reader is willing to make giant leaps in imagination and suspend disbelief but you need to reward them with details and convince them that this story is real.

2. Do establish a tone

Hilarious, tense, suspense, whatever – you need to be consistent. Can you pull off those witty one-liners on a regular basis?

3. Don’t jump on the genre bandwagon

Erotica books might be flying off the shelves but how comfortable are you about writing an explicit S&M scene? That’s quite alright, I don’t need to know the details.

4. Do experiment

Jump between genres before you get started. You never know, there might be a horror novel inside you dying to get out.

5. Don’t switch genres

Your book must have focus. Flibbertigibbet fiction is not cool. Remember, there’s nothing stopping you switching genres when it’s time to start your next book.

6. Do read more

Check out other books and different genres.

7. Don’t force the genre

If you’re trying too hard to make it work, it’s never going to work. You can’t write a dystopian post-apocalyptic adventure? Pick another genre. The choice is yours.




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