Oftentimes, I’ve seen agents talk about receiving queries for manuscripts pitched with three or more genres, which is a problem because it shows that the writer isn’t really sure what the genre is.
Determining your genre can, at times, be tricky, especially if your WIP has crossover elements (that is, elements that would appeal to other genres or categories). But long before you begin querying, it’s very important that you have a solid grasp on what your WIP’s genre and category are.
That being said, here are some steps to take when determining your manuscript’s genre and category.
- Understand the difference between genre and category. Genre and category are not words that can be used interchangeably—they refer to two very different categorical labels.
A book’s genre refers to the type of subject matter, that is, Fantasy, Contemporary, Adventure, Thriller, Horror, Sci-Fi, etc. Within a genre there are sub genres—Paranormal Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Space Opera, Dystopia, Steampunk, etc.
The category, on the other hand, refers to the age group, such as Picture Book, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult. Within each category is a wide range of genre possibilities—Middle Grade Adventure, Young Adult Sci-Fi, New Adult Paranormal, Adult Thriller, etc. For your WIP’s purposes, you’ll want to know the category and genre (or subgenre, if applicable). One of each. There’s no such thing as a Middle Grade Young Adult Adventure Contemporary Romance Fantasy. Got it? Ok.
For a slightly more detailed look at category vs. genre, take a look at this post.
- Narrow down to whatever genres you think your WIP might be. If you’re going through this process, it’s because you’re not entirely sure what genre or category fits your book best. That’s ok, like I said, it can be tricky sometimes. Write down whatever genres and/or categories you think may fit your book, then move on to the next step.
- Get to know those genres/research. This is the step that will take the longest. The only way to really determine what genre best fits your manuscript is to get to know those genres. Read books in the genres you’re considering, get to know the tropes that exist within the genres and do some research online. Read, research, repeat until you’re comfortable with the genres.
- Ask yourself, “Which genre is closest to my manuscript?” Now this, to me, is the trickiest step. The thing is, there’s a lot of variety within every genre. For example, the Twilight series is extraordinarily different from The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, even though both are YA Paranormal dealing with vampires—and both are markedly different from Ink, which is still Paranormal but doesn’t have any vampires at all. Matched is not the same as The Hunger Games even though both are YA Dystopias and Across the Universe is very different from The 5th Wave even though both are YA Sci-Fi.
The key is not to look at every element your WIP has. Just because there’s romance doesn’t mean you’ve written a Romance novel, and just because you’ve written a futuristic Sci-Fi novel doesn’t mean you’ve written a Dystopia.
What you want to focus on is what the main elements of your WIP are and decide what genre best embodies those elements. The Shatter Me series, for example, has many paranormal elements, but the prevailing main element is fighting the oppressive Reestablishment, which is a dystopian-type government in a very dystopian setting, and thus is mainly categorized as a Dystopian novel. The Mortal Instruments series has vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. but is categorized as Urban Fantasy because of it’s very urban NYC-setting. Across the Universe has a heavy mystery element, but is categorized as Sci-Fi because the main elements involve a spaceship and technological advances like long-term space travel and cryogenics.
If your WIP has crossover appeal, that’s definitely not a bad thing, but it’s not an excuse to slap three or four genres on your manuscript, either. Choose the category and genre that fits your manuscript best and let your book (and the summary of your book) reveal the rest.
Have you had difficulty determining a category or genre for your manuscript or a book you’ve read? How did you figure it out?