Putting your Genre Under a Microscope

I’m pretty sure (if you’re reading this post) that you hope to get your book in the hands of readers someday. You hope to get it published. The method of publication doesn’t really matter at this point, but if getting published is your goal, you must make sure that you’re familiar with the genre you’re writing in.

How well do you know your genre?

You may know the difference between genres like historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction and contemporary for example. Those differences are easy to learn. So much can be found all over the internet on each one. But do you know what exactly makes a science fiction story—science fiction? What specific nuances can be found in science fictions books? Are there similarities in the science fiction books that have been most recently published?

For the most part, publishers want to see stories that fall into a specific genre. There are exceptions to this, of course. You will see stories that don’t neatly fit into a specific genre. Today, I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about writing a story that is clearly one specific type.

Once you determine your genre, it’s important to read as many published books in that genre as possible. Pick several authors, from bestselling to award winning to debut. Read their books. Analyze them. Note the similarities. Note the differences. Pretty soon you’ll see a pattern. Of course every author writes with their own specific tone and voice, and setting aside those differences you may notice some things that seem almost necessary. Readers come to expect certain things from fantasy novels for example. So make sure your story fits the genre you intended to write in.

Many new writers have a vague idea of their genre. If writing is to become something you’re serious about though, it’s your job to be sure you’ve learned as much as you can about that genre. Maybe this will help…

Pick five books in your genre. For example, if you write Middle Grade (category) Contemporary (genre), you might list such books as:

Love, Aubrey

The Double Life of Zoey Flynn

Olive’s Ocean

At Your Service

All Four Stars

There’s a mix here of best-selling books, award winners, and debuts. They are all very different stories, but you’ll also find some similarities. To compare them, make a chart if that will help. List any of the items you wish to compare. Some things you might look at are chapter length, number of POV characters, whether the book is written in first or third person, how quickly the conflict is introduced, sentence length, chapter ending type (cliff hanger or thoughtful), etc.

After you’ve made your chart, read each book, studying them in fact, for the items on your list. Do you notice any similarities? Any differences?

This exercise may help you fit your novel into its proper place. Publishing is a business and publishers need to be sure your book can be easily marketed. Besides, readers come to expect certain kind of things in the books they love and you don’t want to disappoint them. I love fairy tales and I will tell you with certainty that at that end of the story, I am definitely looking for a happy ending, even if it’s not an obvious ending!

This exercise can be simplified by zeroing in on the opening paragraph. Does something in these contemporary books scream contemporary? Sure. Just like a fantasy book or historical fiction book will have elements that scream each one. The tone, pacing and voice will certainly give this away. Are there certain must haves? Now take a look at your own opening? Are there ways to make it stronger by adding some of these necessary elements?

The point is, that in order to write in a particular genre, you need to know that genre. In order to learn it, you must read widely. Read as many books as you can. But don’t forget to read books in other genres too. You’ll learn the differences even quicker by doing so.

Give it a try, even if you are an experienced writer. Even if you consistently read the latest books in your genre. Have you ever actually put a few of your favorites under the microscope? Do you know what makes them work and what doesn’t? This might just be the trick you need to fine tune your writing, to ensure that your readers choose your book and then keep reading it once they choose it!

So grab a newly released book in your genre. Read it for fun. Then read it a second time under your microscope. Find out why the publisher thought this book was great enough to publish, and why it screams its genre. It might just help you to make your own story great enough to publish too!

And don’t forget… I’m accepting any 500 words of your WIP or completed manuscript for our critique round right now. It’s coming up fast, so get them in. You can find the details here.

Have a great week everyone. Thanks for checking in! 🙂

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