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How to Determine the Genre of Your Novel

how to determine the right genre for your novel

how to determine the right genre for your novelIf you want to publish your book or attempt to sell it in any capacity, you need to know your book’s genre. A genre is essentially the type of book you’re writing. Is it a comedy, a contemporary, a fantasy, a science fiction, etc? You don’t have to worry too much about your genre while you’re writing your book but when it comes time to try to sell it, you’re going to need to know who your book appeals to. Agents often have a list of genres that they work with, and editors have a list of genre’s that they like to work on.

Your book may have a lot going on, so narrowing it down to a couple categories might be challenging. If you’ve ever struggled to figure out what type of book you’re writing, this post is here to help!

1) Genre is different from age group

First, let’s talk about what genre isn’t. Genre isn’t the age group you’re writing for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked someone what genre they write and they give me the age group they write for instead. Age group and genre are often said together, so it’s easy to think they’re the same, but they’re not. For example, my books are young adult spy/thrillers. Young adult is the age group I write for. Spy and thriller are the genres. 

With that said, it’s important to know your age group too since it’s just as much of a selling point as the genre. The primary age groups are picture book, chapter book (early readers), middle grade (ages 9-12), young adult (ages 13-18), and adult (ages 18+). There’s also new adult, but which is designed to bridge the gap between young adult and adult, but it’s a lot less common. Generally speaking, you determine the age of your book based on the age of your main character.

2) Choose a primary genre

When you pick your primary genre, you’re identifying the most prominent elements of your book. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you chose the right genre. You may have a handful of these elements in your book and that’s okay! But when for the sake of picking a primary genre, try to focus on the most dominant aspects of your novel.

Is there magic?

If the answer is yes, then you book is most likely a fantasy. If your book is a fantasy, is it set it in a fictional world that you created from scratch (like Lord of the Rings)? Then you probably have a high fantasy. If not, is your book’s world built into our own world? If it is, then your book is most likely an urban fantasy.

It could also be that your book is a fairy tale/ fairy tale retelling, which is a more specific type of fantasy. Did you base your book and/or magic off a fairy tale or folklore? If you did, then you might want to classify your book as such.

Are there paranormal creatures (such as vampires, zombies, etc)?

If there are, then it could be a fantasy, or it could be a supernatural/paranormal. Fantasy and paranormal are closely related and share some overlap, so it comes down to what is the more dominant element. To me, I would say if the magic is the more dominant element, then you have a fantasy. If the creatures are the more dominant element, then it’s supernatural.

So if you look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, both have some forms of ghosts, vampires, and magic. But I would say Buffy is more defined by the Vampires and creatures of the night than magic, so it’s more supernatural. While Harry Potter is more defined by magic, which makes it more fantasy. However, since there are elements of these genre’s that overlap, you have some flexibility. Just make sure you do your research.

When is it set?

If it’s set in the past, it’s probably a historical fiction. If it’s set in the present, you’ve got a contemporary and if it’s set in the future, it’s probably science fiction.

Where is it set?

If it’s set in this world, it might be a historical or contemporary. If it’s set in a world you made up, it might be some kind of fantasy or science fiction.

Is there manipulated science/technology?

In this case, I’m talking a significant manipulation of the science we know today. If there is, then it’s likely to be science fiction. Don’t include minor manipulations. For example, in my books, I created a drug that’s pretty central to my character. However, it’s also a drug that could believably exist today, so I don’t consider that a significant manipulation, and I don’t consider my book to be science fiction. However, if you were to write a book about time travel, then you could consider it science fiction.

The rest of the questions are a little more straightforward:

Is there an element of mystery/crime to solve?

If yes, then it could be a mystery. But make sure this is the biggest aspect of your book before you classify it as a mystery. A lot of books have an element of mystery to them. Mysteries are a great way to propel your plot forward, but you should only classify your book as a mystery if that’s the main purpose of your plot.

Is it laugh-out-loud funny?

If it is, then you’ve got a comedy

Is it a tear-jerker or a book with a lot of interpersonal conflicts?

Then it’s probably some form of drama.

Is there a romance?

Like with mystery, a lot of books have some element of romance to them. However, you should only classify your book as a romance if the romance is a central plot of the book.

Is it intended to scare?

Then you’ve got a horror.

Is it “literary”?

If it’s a deep book, rich with symbolism and deeper meaning that’s meant to be dissected an analyzed than you most likely have written a work of literary fiction.

Is it action packed?

If your book is littered with action scenes like fights and car chases, then you have an action or thriller on your hands.

Is it about a terrible version of this world(The Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100)?

Then you’re looking at a dystopian.

Odds are, you answered yes to at least a few of these questions. Now it’s up to you to decide which elements you think are the strongest/most prominent. That’s your primary genre.

3) Choose a secondary genre

You may or may not need to choose a secondary genre so this step is entirely up to you. If you found that you had a hard time choosing between two genres for your primary genre, you may want to pick a second classification. A book series like The Lord of the Rings can simply be classified as a fantasy, but a time travel show like Timeless, could be considered both historical and science fiction. This is your call. However, more than two genres can be overwhelming so I wouldn’t suggest any more than that.

4) Do your research

Even if you are a lifelong fan of the genre you’re writing, make sure you do your research and have a good understanding of genre conventions. Readers of each genre have certain expectations. While you can most definitely take some liberties, you want to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re looking for.

I hope this helps you determine the right genre for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: Do you determine your book’s genre before you write or after? Have you ever had a hard time figuring out your book’s genre? What made it challenging and/or how did you figure it out?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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