What is meant by book genre and why does it matter?

A brief look at genre

I’ve just been to Harrogate Crime Writers Festival and it got me pondering what we mean when we talk about a ‘crime’ novel. I write psychological suspense, what does this have in common with mystery novels or police procedurals?

When you go into a library, a bookshop or browse on Amazon, the novels are categorised into sections to help you find what you’re looking for. These are typically broad groupings of books with similar topics, themes, styles of writing: e.g. romance, science-fiction, horror, historical. These are referred to as genres. Subgenres are a further breakdown into smaller groupings – for example, some subgenres of crime include detective, courtroom, legal, and historic.

Why does genre matter? Because there are certain expectations of different genres – in the way the story is told, how the plot typically unfolds, the cover design and title, and sometimes even the length of the book (think of the number of pages in typical historical novels!) In romance books readers expect a happy ending –  these even have their own acronyms, HEA (Happy ever after) or HFN (Happy for now). Readers of crime expect there to be a murder/serious crime or a mystery to resolve, and enjoy looking for clues before they find out who dunnit and why. These are all aspects that appeal to readers of the genre.

Writers need to know the expectations of their genre, (even if they hope to confound these expectations), so that they don’t unwittingly frustrate the reader. Literary agents and publishers want to know the genre of an unpublished novel to see how it compares to other books already published and decide how (if) they can market it. This is why writers are asked to identify ‘comparator novels’ – successful books written in the same genre published in the past two or three years that deal with similar topics/themes.

So, being clear on the genre of a book:

  • helps the author to write a story which will meet readers’ expectations,
  • helps agents/publishers know how best to market the book,
  • helps booksellers/librarians place the book alongside other similar novels,
  • and helps readers find the books that they enjoy reading.

P.S. If you are interested in reading an interview about my journey to publication, check out an interview with @Shellymackbooks at instagram.com/p/Cge-rZUs65s/?

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