Identifying Your Writing Genre

This question about identifying your writing genre comes in from Kimberly:

I find identifying the genre to be very difficult. What if your novel is a mash-up of two different genres? Is it bad to mention this? What about saying something like, “YA suspense with paranormal elements”? Any guidance you could give would be much appreciated!

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Which writing genre fits your book? What if you don’t slot in neatly enough?

What is Writing Genre?

You’ve heard of writing genre, even if you haven’t tried to determine writing genre for your own work. Books are referred to as “fantasy” if they have strong worldbuilding and elements of magic, “paranormal” if they feature creatures like vampires or ghosts, “romance” if a love relationship is at their core, and “sci-fi” if there’s a strong technology aspect.

(For children’s books, by the way, the different age groups are generally referred to as “categories” rather than “genres,” therefore “picture book” is a category. There’s no such thing as the “picture book genre.” Learn more about the different children’s book categories.)

If your book doesn’t have a writing genre, it might fit into the “general fiction” bucket, or maybe “contemporary realistic.” In middle grade fiction, stories that concentrate on real life and regular issues are often called “coming of age.”

Determine Writing Genre as Best as You Can

Writing genre isn’t rigid, and many high-concept ideas borrow from multiple genres. For example, Emily Hainsworth’s Through to You was pitched to me as “YA paranormal.” Then I pitched it as a “magical realism YA” because I thought that it wasn’t quite paranormal in the way that today’s YA market takes the term. Then the published decided to market it as a “YA paranormal thriller,” but emphasizing the book’s romantic and sci-fi elements as well.

While it’s very difficult to aim into the mists in between different audience categories, say, “upper MG” or “younger YA” or “tween” and I actually wouldn’t recommend it at all, genre is a completely different beast and, in today’s more evolved MG and YA markets, is more malleable.

Pick the Strongest Writing Genre for Your Pitch

Kimberly’s example of “YA suspense with paranormal elements” is fine, though I would choose “thriller” over “suspense,” personally. “Thriller” is more of a buzzword in today’s market. Still, as you can tell from my Through to You example, everyone has a slightly different way of describing genre.

What’s important to note here is that we’re picking one writing genre to highlight. It’s not a “YA thriller paranormal,” where both genres fight for attention. A “thriller with paranormal elements” tells an agent or publisher that you have written a fast-paced, action-centric plot, and there may be a werewolf here or there. If it was a “paranormal with thriller elements,” that would communicate a focus on otherworldly characters, with an extra kick for the plot.

At the end of the day, your literary agent or publisher will make the decision of how to position it, just like they will end up choosing the final title. Title and genre are both subject to change on the road to publication. Pitch your writing genre accurately and to the best of your ability, and that’s good enough for the query!

Having trouble deciding where you fit? Wondering if you’re hitting the right notes of your chosen writing genre? I’m a novel editor who works in every category and genre, with a special emphasis on children’s books.

5 Replies to “Identifying Your Writing Genre”

  1. Good to know. This is something I’ve waffled over with one of my books. I first called it ‘post apocalyptic’ then (at the suggestion of several supportive, but rejecting agents) I used ‘dystopian’ because they felt that term was more ‘in’ at the time. Now, I’ve had several suggestions to use ‘post apocalyptic’ or ‘futuristic’ to try and separate the book from The Hunger Games and flood of dystopians. I have a feeling that should that series ever go to market, it will get described a dozen different ways.

  2. Thank you so much for this advice. I hope this helps other writers as well. I find this to be one of the most difficult parts of the query process….finding the accurate genre in which to pitch your manuscript when it combines elements of more than just one particular genre.

  3. This is a good answer to a question that almost all YA authors go through. I write “magical realism” and I love that term, so I’m happy to hear you used it. I wasn’t sure it could be it’s own genre.

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