Choosing your genre
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
An editor suggested I take a look at this silly YouTube video, How to Write a Romance Novel. Check it out for yourself.
As I watched, I found myself wondering, What makes a novelist pick a certain genre in which to write? What makes someone with a yen to write a nonfiction book pick a certain category?
Here are a few reasons that occur to me:
- The writer likes to read a certain type of book. If you’re hooked on romances, it makes sense you’d like to write one. If you are drawn to memoir, you can picture yourself writing your story that way.
- The genre is revered. Writing literary fiction or a work of theological significance sounds erudite.
- The category is popular. Harry Potter books set off a whirlwind of imitators; Heaven is for Real caused editors to seek out others who experienced heaven and returned to earth to tell us about it.
- The writer can’t envision writing his or her book any other way. Sometimes a book idea arrives in a rush of creativity, neatly labelled in a certain category.
Why does genre matter?
- Genres fall in and out of publishing favor. It hasn’t been that long since publishers didn’t want to touch a personal story unless the writer was a Big Name. Today, people with exquisite writing skills can recount a segment of their lives in a memoir and end up with numerous publishers vying to publish the book. Or another person can decide to take a year living unplugged and then write about it in the form of narrative nonfiction. But writing a missionary story still is a hard-sell, just as it has been for a couple of decades.
- Writers have a “voice” that works in one genre but not in another. If a novelist writes in short, terse sentences, suspense is probably a natural, but romance probably is not.
- Category affects a book’s structure and tone. If you want to write about encouraging others to read the Bible, you could choose to write: 1) a 365-day devotional; a memoir of your experience trying to live out a certain biblical precept for one year; a narrative nonfiction of someone reading Scripture and making a major life-change as a result; a Christian living book on how to read the Bible in a year; a novel in which a character’s life and therefore those around him/her is affected through Scripture reading. Each of these paths will create a very different book that will reach a very different audience. Genre matters!
What if you choose the wrong genre?
I think we can be pretty confident that the manuscript will never reach its potential if you make a genre misstep. A story that would have unfolded beautifully as a historical novel might fall flat as a contemporary. A nonfiction book that could have resonated with many as a memoir might never develop word of mouth as an investigative expose.
How do you decide?
- If you don’t know your options, you can hardly make an informed choice. Know what categories exist in your chosen arena of fiction or nonfiction. If you don’t know the difference between a mystery and a suspense or between memoir and narrative nonfiction, how will you decide the best fit for your idea?
- Stay current with what’s showing up in the market. If one book (or series) hits really big, it’s unlikely publishers will be buying manuscripts to compete with something that’s selling large. For example, when The Shack blew past all other books on the fiction best-seller list, that wasn’t a good time to write an allegory. Readers were unlikely to rush out to buy a ton of allegories; they wanted to hear more from The Shack‘s writer.
- A lively market for a genre, as opposed to a single work, is an indication of an arena that might stay lively for awhile. Historical romance has been the hot ticket for the last several years, but the glut of novels in that genre has shifted the focus to suspense. Keeping up with the best-seller lists that reflect your potential readers’ interests (CBA vs. general market), helps to keep track of longer-range trends. The trick, of course, is that shifts can occur suddenly. So you can put your energies into writing a certain category only to discover publishers have overbought in it just about the time you are ready to show off your work.
- To thine own self be true. The bottomline–always has been, always will be–is to listen to your instincts. If you’re comfortable writing in a category, don’t abandon it to follow the crowds. Writing a wonderful book occurs when you write with passion and compassion–for your characters and for your cause.
Don’t ignore genres, don’t write manuscripts that straddle categories, and don’t worry about the naysayers of your chosen genre. Be like the woman who made the gently humorous YouTube video on romance writing, understand your genre and love it despite its foibles.
How did you choose the genre you write in–by default, natural selection, trial and error, or other?
Does the category you write in match or contrast with what you enjoy reading?
Is your current genre the love of your life or are you loving the one you’re with?
How do you decide what genre to write in? Click to tweet.
Does the genre you choose to write in matter? Click to tweet.
@JanetKGrant explores why certain genres work for some writers but not others. Click to tweet.