This was the first question asked by a book editor when I told her that I was writing a book.  And for good reason.  If you don’t know what your genre is, then you don’t know who your target audience is either.

I doubt that there is anything more annoying to a book editor than how I responded.  “Well, my book is about a romance, but it’s a time travel story, so it’s science fiction, and it takes place during the American Revolution, so it’s also partly historical fiction as well.”

The response from the editor was expected, “The most important thing you need to do is pick a genre for your book.”

In my mind, however, my book is all of those things.  As a creative mind, I hate being pigeonholed into a specific genre so my story can be categorized in a book store shelf.   In my mind, my book is so complex that it deserves its own shelf.   My ego is that big.

But, back to reality.

To be a romance, the centerpiece of the story revolves around romance.   The romance could tell the story without the need for time travel, or historical context, or any other theme element used to convey the story.

It’s not a romance.    And it’s not a story of history.   It’s pure science fiction.

Finding My Audience

This is one of the lessons that I first learned as I started to outline my book.   To answer the question, “What genre is my book?” you must first find your audience.  You must understand who is your target audience.   Why would they want to read your book?   What makes your book something so special that they would want to invest multiple hours of time with you and read.

If you can answer this question, then you’ll be able to market and sell your book.  If you don’t know your audience, you’ll likely be rejected by every agent you talk to, and every book editor you encounter will always ask you about your genre.   It’s not the act of finding your audience as it is about knowing who makes up your target audience.

Audience and Genre

Your audience uses the genre to find your book. Think about it.   When you walk into a bookstore, what do you do?   You might ask yourself,“What do I want to read?”   Do you head to the non-fiction or fiction aisle?   If you go to the fiction aisle, what kind of fiction do you find yourself?  Do you turn your head sideways trying to take at the book covers? Crime? Action? Horror? Mystery?  Science Fiction? Fantasy?

Let’s say that you’ve read all of the books by your favorite author and you’re looking for something similar but fresh and new.  If the book was in the mystery genre, then you’re likely looking at the selections available in the horror section of the bookstore.  Am I right?  Not quite.  You’re in front of the mystery genre – because that’s what you love to read.  That’s why books are categories by genre, and why you must know the genre of your book.

Don’t Choose Your Audience, Choose Your Genre

I was fortunate to recognize my first mistake when selecting the genre of my book.   If my goal is to sell a book, then I want to market my book to the largest audience so I can sell as many books as possible     Seems like a no-brainer to me.   That is until you realize that the largest genre in the bookstore is children’s books.   And the next largest genre is romance.   Both of these genres are huge – each with multiple sub-genre stratifications.  Do you really want to write a book for kids?   Or a cheesy romance?

Choose Wisely Young Padawan

You’re going to be spending a great deal of time in the world that you create.  And if people absolutely love your book, they’ll look for more books from you and your books should be in the same genre because that’s what people will expect from you.   Basically, if you write what you love, then you’ll love what you write and your audience will find you..   If you write in a genre that you hate, because you chose the genre based on perceived value, then you’ll not have a good time writing.  You will hate your books.  You will seek ways to avoid writing.

How to Choose Your Genre

Look on your bookshelf.   Look at the books in your audible account.   Look at the movies in your Amazon account.   Do they have something in common?     Sure, there are books of various genres in your collection, but the overall type of story that you’re interested in is likely similar.  The stories in my collection tend to be science fiction, historical fiction, and romance.   Well, what do you know?  The same as the story of the book that I’m writing.

Narrow Your Search and Focus

Open up Amazon’s book section online and look at the listed genre, and then look at the top 5 sellers within each genre.  Do you notice something similar to the descriptions of the best sellers of the listed genre with your own personal collection?   Now, look at the differences between a couple of books.   A book in the mystery selection might involve a story with a romance, and a story in the romance selection might involve a story that solves a crime.  But look at the descriptions.  They are in different genres, and their descriptions tell the story of that genre.  The protagonist in one story wants to solve the crime.  The protagonist in the other wants to find love.  So, from this we learn that to answer the question of genre, we must look at the motivation of our protagonist.   What is their goal?  What do they want to do in your story?

Does your story involve solving a mystery or a crime?    Does it involve the supernatural?   Does it have creatures and magical beasts?   Does it center around a love story?   Is it a Christmas story?   Look for the elements in the story to narrow your focus   What drives the plot?   What dictates the pace?  What is the motivation of the protagonist?   After you identify these elements, you’re ready for the next step in the process.

Who is Going to Read My Book?

We’re not really interested in the casual reader who might enjoy the book.  No, I want to find my super-fan.  I want to know who will find my book so absolutely glorious that they can’t put it down, and that they’ll order my next book. I want to know THAT person.  So, hypothetically, what if your super-fan writes a review.  What will they write?  But, more importantly, what will they complain about?  Your super-fan is the person who will tell you the truth but still love your work.  For example, if I write a romance, should I kill the happy couple in a plane crash at the end of story?   Seriously?  No.  That wouldn’t be a very happy ending and my super-fan would hate my book because it denies them a happy ending and a “happily ever after” romance.

People Who Bought This Also Bought . . .

So, let’s think of the online Amazon bookstore again.  If someone looks at my book, think in terms of what book suggestions will Amazon make for my super-fan, who is my target audience and reader of my book.   Will it be a dystopian young adult story like the Maze, or Divergent?   Will it be something more like Lord of the Rings?  That’s the power of genre and sub-genre based stories.  If my story can be categorized so that readers will find it, and relate it to other books in the same genre, then it may indeed sell copies instead of gathering dust.

The Bottom Line

The better that I can get at writing to my strengths and matching those strengths with my super-fan, the more sales I’ll make. Why?  Because my super-fan will appreciate my book more than someone who doesn’t match their interests with the subject, story and genre of my book.

Next steps (next blog post)

Let’s make an inventory of our writing strengths.