It doesn’t have to be painful.

Ah, the dreaded question: What genre is your story?

When you think about it, genre is a bit evil. You’ve spent months – or years – wrangling words into a coherent manuscript. It has elements of so many ideas, but after all of the work and soul you’ve put into your word-baby, you’re then expected to tag it with something as rudimentary as “Thriller” or “Romance.”

That said, it’s sometimes as difficult to identify your genre as it is writing the manuscript in the first place. Thinking back to all of those drafts, you probably tried different tricks to make your writing sessions easier and smoother (for me, it was a busy cafe with too many lattes to count). You can do the same while discovering your genre.

If you want to know more about the basics of genre, click here first. Otherwise, below are some ways to make your research a little less painful:

  1. Hang out in a bookstore
    Ah, the smell of paper. That alone calms me. But that’s not the only reason we’re here: bookstores come with built-in genre information. Just look at the signage: Nonfiction, Literature, Sci-Fi, Romance. These are the end results of authors identifying their book’s genre.
    So grab a coffee (or tea, if you’re that kind of person) and have a look around. Read as many back covers as you can to get a sense of what qualifies each book for the section you’re standing in.
    Also, take notes. If you find a book that comps your own, you’ll want to save that author and title for future querying and marketing purposes.
  2. Scroll Through #MSWishlist
    This Twitter tag as been consolidated here. If you scroll down a bit, on the right column you’ll see links to different categories. Yes, there are quite a few, and no, not all of them necessarily qualify as a genre in their own right, but it does help you narrow down not only what your book is about, but also which agents and editors are interested.
    You can also browse through agent, editor and publisher Tweets to see what kinds of stories they’re looking for, and how they categorise the genre of that request (usually with a hashtag).
    I credit at least fifty percent of my current knowledge of genre categorisation to this site alone, and it’s a great scroll-through with your morning coffee (You can see the theme here, right?).
  3. Browse Netflix
    So real talk: I’m writing this in the middle of a global pandemic. Hopefully, you’re reading this at a point when we’re all free to browse bookstores. But for now, many of us are stuck at home.
    This year’s saving grace? Netflix.
    And it can do wonders for your genre research.
    What’s great about Netflix is that the pros have tagged and categorised thousands of titles. Sure, they’re not books, but they are stories and content, many of which have been adapted from literature.
    Fifteen minutes of browsing with a hot cuppa can give you so much information (and title comps). You can watch trailers to get a sense of each story and why it has been categorised as Action Adventure or Romantic Suspense.
    Need more convincing? One running theme on #MSWishlist has been requests for Netflix-related comps.
  4. Talk To Your Characters
    Be real: you’ve been doing this anyway. Why not grab a coffee, sit down and move the conversation past the fourth wall?
    Ask them what they think about their own story. Do they feel like they barely survived an apocalyptic attack (Action), or are they pretty relaxed after a night in with their new lover (Romance).
    These are rudimentary examples, but when you dig a bit deeper with your character, you may be surprised to hear what they have to say. Something might click, and either your genre or sub genre may suddenly become clear as day.
  5. Talk To Yourself
    Grab that last cuppa and sit down alone, in a quiet room, preferably surrounded by books. Have a quick two-minute meditation to clear your head.
    Then ask yourself: what genre do YOU want the book to be?
    Sometimes we forget that we’re in the driver’s seat. Hell, sometimes we really aren’t, because characters have a mind of their own. But ultimately, you decide how this story goes.
    This changes, obviously, after it’s been published. You no longer get to decide, because it’s pretty much set in stone. This is your chance not only to determine this book’s future, but also potentially your own as a writer.
    Not to scare you, but sometimes, it’s easy to get pigeonholed into a genre. Think about it: you finally land that agent/editor/reader audience. They tend to specialise or have interest in that genre. That means that you may experience some amount of pressure to continue in that genre.
    Example: you meant to write a historical thriller, but it ends up being closer to a historical romance. You land an agent who specialises in these, and she gets you a great publisher. Your historical romance is a hit with the target audience. However, you generally prefer writing thrillers. You pitch the idea to your agent, but she tells you she doesn’t represent thrillers. It’s not her speciality.
    So you’re left with two options: Stick with historical romance the success that seems to come with it, or take a chance and find a new agent (essentially starting over).
    This isn’t mean to discourage you — many authors are able to successfully switch between genres. However, sometimes it’s easier to start where you intend to go.

    What are your methods for determining your book’s genre? Let me know in the comments!

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