If you ask an author what genre of book they’re writing, they’ll readily tell you it’s a fantasy or crime or romantic comedy, or whatever it is. If they’re still deciding they might say, ‘It’s a zombie thriller with lots of comedy, a couple of vampires and a touch of romance.’
But ask a reader (who’s not a writer) what genre of novel they’re reading, and they may well look at you blankly, as if you’d asked them to calculate the square of the hypotenuse.
Then they’ll launch into something like, ‘Well, it’s about this man who grew up in this very poor family and right from the beginning he’s got this secret but no-one knows what it is…’ (then ten minutes later) ‘ and at the end, you discover that the murderer was really his uncle and his wife was in on it the whole time. It’s really good – you should read it!’
What is genre?
The dictionary defines a genre as a style or category of art, music or literature. Authors need to classify their novels as a particular genre for marketing purposes, to help readers find the books that appeal to them and to help the booksellers target their advertising accordingly. In the ‘olden days’ when only print books existed, the bookstores needed to know the genre of the book so they’d know what shelf to place it on. Nowadays the shelf is just as likely to be a virtual shelf on an e-book site such as Amazon or Smashwords.
At this point I should clarify that I’m talking about fiction genres, although I’m sure that a lot of what I say would apply to non-fiction as well. Novels are like bread; when I was a kid, bread came in four types – brown or white, unsliced or sliced. There may have been different shapes, such as round or square, but they still had the same ingredients.
Nowadays when you enter a bakery you’re overwhelmed with 37 different varieties of bread – and that’s just the sourdough! Same with novels – once upon a time there was adventure, romance, thriller, crime, science fiction, historical fiction. No doubt I’ve missed a couple, but the point is that the genres were simple and well-defined.
What are sub-genres?
Now you just have to type a genre into Amazon’s search bar when you’re looking for books to see how many sub-genres there are. Under Romance, you have new adult and college romance, contemporary romance, women’s romance (is there such a thing as men’s romance?) and so on. Under Crime you have true crime, murder, biographies and memoirs of criminals, for starters.
Admittedly, these are arbitrary sub-genres defined by Amazon and I’ve yet to see a section in a physical bookstore called ‘biographies and memoirs of criminals.’ But this is the advantage of an online bookstore – because there are millions of books for sale, having a lot of very specific genres makes it easier for the reader to find the books that appeal to them.
What are cross-genre novels?
To complicate matters, many novels published these days are cross-genre, which incorporate two or more genres – eg paranormal romance, science fiction thriller, romantic suspense etc. In traditional publishing times, submitting a cross-genre novel to a publisher always elicited the question of where you would place it in the bookstore, and because they didn’t know how to market a cross-genre novel, it usually meant rejection for the author, regardless of its quality. Today the question is irrelevant in this world of virtual bookstores – there’s endless room and myriad marketing strategies.
When you upload your book on to Amazon you can choose two categories, called browse categories, to help readers find your book, so it’s of paramount importance that you choose the right ones. But the range of categories to choose from is not as comprehensive as the range of books being written, and sometimes you end up shoehorning your book into a category that doesn’t do it justice.
While my first two books were easy to categorise – How Not To Commit Murder being a comedy crime (or in Amazon categories, Fiction – crime and humorous) and Perfect Sex a romantic comedy, (Fiction – romance and humorous) the novel I’m working on now will be more difficult. It’s a combination of crime, romance and humour.
Probably more crime and romance then humour, so I think I’ll invent a new genre encompassing those two and call it cromance. Kind of like the cronut – a cross between a croissant and a donut. And if the novel happens to incorporate a close friendship between two men, it could be a bromance cromance.
Readers’ expectations of genres
Authors have to be aware, too, that readers have basic expectations that go along with each genre – for example, in crime novels there’s presumably some sort of crime that’s solved by the end, in romance novels the hero and heroine find themselves in each other’s arms in a happy ending and suspense novels keep you reading way past your bedtime with an edge-of-the seat story. Yet another reason to categorise your novel correctly – to avoid disappointing or alienating readers.
However, cross genre novels are rarely an exact balance of genres – like cross breed dogs, there is often one genre that overrides the other (s). For example, a romantic suspense may be more suspense than romance, with the romance consisting of smouldering glances as the hero and heroine flee from the enemy and lots of unresolved sexual tension as they lie side by side in the dungeon, bound and gagged.
Not very satisfactory for romance buffs who need to know by the end of the book that the hero and heroine are headed for eternal bliss and a house with a white picket fence, but more than enough for the adrenalin addicts, for whom all that soppy stuff gets in the way of a gripping narrative. I consider comedy the overriding genre of both my novels and this is how I categorise them if I’m on a site which only gives me the choice of one genre.
List of genres
To see an example of the range of contemporary genres, cross genres and sub genres, check out this list on Bubblecow.
Writing and marketing cross-genre novels
And for writers, here’s a good post on writing and marketing cross-genre novels.
Have you wrestled with the question of deciding your novel’s genre? Or have you read a novel that didn’t live up to its genre? (for example, a romance that didn’t have a happy ending?)
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.