What’s My Genre, Anyway?
by Erin Brown
One of the main questions I am often asked by first time authors is,
“How do I define my genre?” I always think it’s incredibly obvious
until I realize that perhaps I take genre definitions for granted
because I spent so long in the publishing business. So I’m going to
include an easy guide for picking your genre. Sure, it’s a bit
tongue and cheek, but it’s definitely true as well.
You wrote this book, about your life. If a person with a typewriter
and/or laptop has been following you around for years (with or
without your knowledge) and has now written a book about your life,
that is a biography.
Also known as the detective novel, the characters in this
book run (or walk) around trying to track down vital information,
with the final puzzle piece usually revealed in the climax. You can
also call this the ol’ whodunit. I personally like the term
whodunit because it’s more fun to say. A cozy mystery is a
subset and features no or low gore, no explicit situations, and
usually takes place in a quaint village or town. For some reason,
there’s often tea involved as well. Cozies frequently evolve into a
series and feature a theme: cozies for dog lovers, food lovers, cat
lovers, nature lovers, quilt lovers, lovers of love—the list goes on
and on. If you thought there wasn’t a market for people who love
antiques, cartography, and mysteries set in tiny New England towns,
you would be dead wrong.
I’m too afraid of this genre to define it. Okay, I will be brave and
say that this genre endeavors to stir up fear, disgust, and/or
eternal nightmares in readers. The king is Stephen King.
The largest and bestselling genre in America. This is a very broad
category, but overall, involves a couple falling in love and ends
happily. Erotica is a genre found within romance, but
it is much more explicit. I call it “too much information” or “TMI.”
Of course, you also have historical romance (Hello, Mr. Hot
Highlander with rippling biceps in eighteenth-century Scotland.),
comedic romance, romantic thrillers, and many, many more.
Fiction that takes place in the past. Duh.
Traditionally aimed at males, this genre involves fast-paced action
and often violence, set in forbidding locales such as jungles,
deserts, mountains, places with rocky soil, and/or the New York
Includes extrapolated or theoretical future science and technology,
and is often set on other planets or on a future version of Earth.
It is usually written by guys who live in their parents’ basements.
I am totally kidding on that one. This is a well-respected genre and
the authors have had plenty of dates, I’m sure. It’s also
appreciated by smart people—people much smarter than I am, it’s safe
Is there a horse and/or a cowboy hat? Tumbleweeds? Is someone called
a lily-livered varmint? Western Fiction.
This focuses more on style, characters, and the writing itself,
versus plot and narrative (the focus of more commercial fiction). It
is often thought to be “more serious fiction.” Seriously, no smiling
allowed. Authors think they are total hot sh*t in comparison to the
rest of us. We hate them.
Stories set in fanciful, invented worlds, an alternate and more
fantastic version of our own world, or in a legendary, mythic past.
Fantasy fiction stories generally involve
creatures. Bring on the three-legged, blue-furred Walfiffery!!!
This is a very broad category, but overall, if it centers on
friendship, a girl searching for love, any sort of gathering and
kvetching about boys over cocktails, a heartbreak, or a young, sassy
publicist trying to find the right guy in the big city, it’s women’s
I hope that this list helps all of you aspiring authors define your
genre so that you can better present your novel and/or work of
non-fiction in query letters. However, use a broader category if
necessary, and your agent, if you should find one, will help you
define it more clearly. An editor at a publishing house, and even
more realistically, the sales department, will surely have an idea
as well. If you still have absolutely no clue what your genre is
after perusing this list, you’re probably not doing enough reading
in your spare time. So hang out in your local bookstore—but not long
enough to get escorted out by security—and study the authors and
books in the clearly delineated sections. Then, grab a few titles
from each section and get to reading over a nice cuppa hot tea. Of
course, if you’re writing or reading romance, perhaps a glass of a
cooler beverage would keep your quivering loins and heaving bosom in
Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for
over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own
freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her
website at www.erinedits.com