How to choose a genre you want to write

Writing a novel is such a big undertaking, one thing’s for sure, it’s hard to know where to start. You have an idea, but your idea is too big and too general. It has to be defined further before you even write your first word. Let's take a look at the larger picture.

A good place to start is to decide what style of book it is you’re going to be writing. Picking the right genre might mean the difference between finishing your book successfully or simply writing a nice monologue that doesn’t really lead anywhere.

That’s good if that’s what you want to do, but if you want your story to be found and read, it’s best to choose a genre to help readers find your story.

What is genre?

Put simply, it’s the type of book you want to write. There will be story elements that will fit certain criteria in each genre.

Most booksellers and readers recognise genres such as:

  • Romance

  • Mystery

  • Science Fiction

  • Fantasy

  • Thriller

  • Suspense

  • Historical

Why is genre so important?

It’s basically a way to pigeon hole your story so that it gives a reader an idea what you’re story is about without even seeing a cover or reading a blurb. Agents and editors tend to specialize in a few specific genres.

How would a reader know if they would like to read your book if you described it as ‘a little bit of a mystery, but it’s set in a dystopian future, so it’s sort of sci-fi… and there’s a love story, so it’s also kind of a romance…”

You’d lose their (agents and readers) interest pretty quick.

Genre helps you to write your book. Readers expect certain criteria from each genre, and your book has more of a chance being read and liked if you fulfil what the reader wants to read.

Think of yourself as a reader, you either go to a library, log onto amazon books or click the search button on your e-reader. The first thing you’re hit with, are classifications asking you which style you’d like to read. You don’t find authors telling you about their books, asking you to read it because it’s what they wanted to write.

If you like mysteries, you head for the mystery section in the library, or press on the link to find mystery books. Readers also want to find their book fast. They won’t go digging in the romance section because they think an author misclassified their mystery book there and want to ‘discover’ a great read. They want to be assured that they will like the book they finally pick and know where to pick it from.

In short, choosing the right genre is about improving your odds of making a sale simply because a reader will be able to find you.

Choosing to read a book is a high involvement purchase for the reader – not in terms of price, but in terms of time - and a reader wants to be assured that they want to read a certain type of book before they invest their time. They know what they like already. If your book fits into a genre, it helps a reader to find your book because that’s the style they want to read.

Choosing and writing within the criteria of a genre also helps market your book. It will help with your branding, what your cover will look like, how and what you include in your blurb, as well as help define who your target audience is (who will want to read your book the most).

If you’re adamant that you “don’t want to be labelled” because your book is “so complex”, you’re writing as an ‘artist’, and you don't want it to fit into any genre, your book probably wont hit Amazon's top 100.

Types of Novels and Which One You Should Write


The main plot, or key events, in a mystery novel or short story focuses on the crime that needs solving. The protagonist, or central character, is the detective, and the rest of the characters are usually the suspects.

Science fiction

Works of fiction that use scientific discoveries or advanced technology — either actual or imaginary — as part of their plot. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were early writers of science fiction. More recent ones are Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.

You’d probably like to write a science fiction story if your ideas are out of this world, you’re creative, you constantly dream, up new scenarios and like playing with theories. You refuse to be constrained by reality. You never know what direction your ideas will take you, and that’s what keeps your heart-rate up.


Fantasy is a fiction genre that uses magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.

Like science fiction, fantasy is about imaginary worlds. But the imaginary part of fantasy novels usually involves magic, where the imaginary part of science fiction involves science or technology.


The Western is a genre of various arts which tell stories set primarily in the later half of the 19th century in the American Old West, often centering on the life of a nomadic cowboy or gunfighter armed with a revolver and a rifle who rides a horse.

Common elements include cowboys, ranchers, the difficulties of frontier life, frontier justice, and conflicts between natives and settlers.


Horror is a genre of fiction which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle their readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Horror is frequently supernatural, though it can be non-supernatural. Horror fiction often accomplish this through the use of scary supernatural elements or gore, but, according to the Horror Writers Association, these elements are not required.


Thriller is a broad genre of literature, film and television, having numerous subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety.

Thrillers are designed to make the reader's pulse race, to keep him or her turning pages. Often thrillers are about a crime that is going to be committed or a disaster that is going to happen... if the hero(ine) doesn't prevent it.

You’d like to write a thriller if you love a good mystery, and you can't help but speculate about what's going on around you. You enjoy being in suspense as well as keeping others in suspense. You know how to build intrigue. You keep secrets well, and you don't mind if others have them. You're pretty good at figuring out the truth. You always figure out a way to get to the bottom of things.


The romance novel or romantic novel is a mass-market literary genre. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."

Romance fiction is about love and passion. Normally, the focus is on two characters who fall in love but have problems or obstacles keeping them apart, and there is a happy ending.

You’d probably like to write a romance if you are an emotional person, and you can't help but feel hopeful and even a bit idealistic. You love to be in love. Even if you haven't had true romance in a while, you can still imagine it... and write about it! You believe in happy endings, and you think the best books let us escape for a while. When it comes to reading, there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. You see life as full of possibilities, and you remain hopeful. You believe that anything could happen - including meeting your true love and getting a book deal.

You have a flair for the dramatic and enjoy indulging in a good love story more than once in a while. You can write strong women as well as strong men to sweep readers off their feet. Your sense of passion and desire means you can write the steamy scenes just as well as the heartbreaking ones. You know the ins and outs of love can be hard, but you revel in knowing there will always be a happy ending.


Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. They are normally set in a past time period, normally at least fifty years before they were written. They combine a made-up story with realistic details of that time period.

Young Adult

Young adult fiction or young adult literature (YA) is fiction published for readers from 12 to 18. However, authors and readers of "young teen novels" often define it as written for those aged 15 to the early 20s.

You’d like to write a young adult story if you have kept all your diaries from your teenage years. And they have some great material. You love to write about years gone by, even if your work isn't exactly non-fiction. You remember enough to have very inspired stories. You believe there's no more passion than one feels when you're young. You love recapturing those feelings without having to actually go back to that time. You are flexible enough to write like you're a teenager - with the wisdom and perspective of an adult!

These are many other fiction genres in addition to these! And each genre has sub-genres, or sub-categories. For example, the romance genre includes historical romances, erotic romances, young adult romances, and more.

My rule of thumb is that a writer usually likes to write a story in the genre that they like to read. Writing a book takes a long time. Months, sometimes years. It is a labour of love for the author and there’s absolutely no way that anyone would put themselves through spending the time it takes to write and honing their craft around a subject that they don’t enjoy. Reading is about enjoying a book, and writing should involve the same amount of enjoyment.

Take a moment to think about what genre of book you’re automatically drawn to and want to read. Think about what you find interesting. What type of book keeps you up at night? What genre has you holding off phone calls and talking to your husband? Chances are if a book has those effects on you, that’s the type of genre you would be writing in.

For more information on writing, check out my sister web site.

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