Genre is a lovely way for your local bookshop, library or internet retailer to classify and sort books. But as a writer, does genre really matter? Does worrying about genre mean you will pigeonhole yourself?
Other than being incredibly useful shelving labels, what do genres do for us as writers and readers?
For a reader, knowing the story’s genre can be helpful. They will know the expectations, the standards and how much they need to suspend their belief in the real world before dipping into your creation. A reader of science fiction is going to be open to wormholes and teleportation, your average romance reader might not expect those things!
Genres can come with helpful shortcuts too, meaning we don’t need to spend as much time on explanation and exposition. When readers and writers know the tropes and expectations of the genre, they can cut the waffle and get straight to the action!
That doesn’t mean, of course, that as a writer you have to stick to the clichés and expectations of the genre you are writing. The skill of the writer is being able to recognise these, use them, play with them and even subvert them.
Although we can think of many “concrete” examples of books that fall within a genre, at the edges it can be very tricky to define where a book sits. While it is important to consider the themes of your book as well as the setting, as a writer you’ll also need to consider you readers. Who do you want to buy this book? Why are they going to want to read this book?
This is especially important if you are self-publishing. Without the weight of a publisher behind you, making sure you have your book in the right category is a crucial step in getting your marketing right. Remember, where ever your book is sold, it will be categorised so getting this right is important.
Although genre is important, don’t let it get in the way of a good story. As a reader, I try not to choose books exclusively in one genre. I want to read stories of people and how they overcome adversity. For me as a reader, genre is not as important as all the other things that make me want to read your book.
As an editor, however, I’m a little more picky. Why? Well, some things I just don’t know enough about. I wouldn’t, for example, edit a procedural crime novel because I’m not well enough versed in police matters.
Similarly with non-fiction genres. I am quite comfortable editing transport or education or gardening because they fit within my existing knowledge. But please don’t ask me to copyedit your work on epidemiology!
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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