In this blog, we help new or struggling novelists choose the right genre – by exploring what they like to read, following market trends, and testing various options.
We also share the dangers of writing an autobiographical or ‘bucket list’ novel.
How Do You Decide On A Genre As A New Novelist?
When sitting to write their first novel, many new writers lean into their own lives. Their first drafts are often autobiographical. This is almost always a mistake.
Why? Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. But fiction isn’t truth, it’s ‘made up’. It’s not a memoir.
While we all draw from our own experiences and pasts for our stories, fiction demands its own set of rules – a coherent plot, well-defined characters, and a theme or concept to tie it together.
Read It, Write It
So, what is the best genre to pursue as a beginner? Easy. You should write the genre that you most love to read.
If you live on a steady diet of Mills & Boon/ Harlequin novels, write a romance. Love Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or Mylo Carbia? Maybe horror is your niche. Perhaps you cut your teeth on Agatha Christie’s charming, cosy mysteries? Well, you could be the next Richard Osman or Alexander McCall Smith?
Why should you write in the same genre as your reading tastes?
- You will be familiar the types of plots, characters, settings, and themes these stories follow – it’s familiar territory.
- You will be more motivated to finish your first draft – you’ll be writing something you enjoy.
- You will be able to ‘study’ the books you have read, almost like reference manuals – to identify patterns, archetypes, tone, etc.
It’s not easy to start writing your first book. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. If you write the type of books that you enjoy reading, you have a head start.
The Danger Of The Bucket List Book
Everyone, they say, has a book in them. For many, writing a novel is a dream, an item ‘bucket list’. They have one story to tell; they may even have a half-written draft of it in their desk drawer.
The only problem is that publishers aren’t looking for a ‘one-off’ – it doesn’t justify their investment in a new author.
Does that mean you shouldn’t fulfil your ambition? Absolutely not. Go ahead and write that book. Just reframe your expectations. Do it to prove that you can do it. Do it to see if you have the talent and perseverance to finish.
However, as a writer, you need to be aware of your level of talent. It’s great to dream big, but understand your limitations. The same way a new runner wouldn’t enter the London Marathon, don’t take on a sci-fi epic if all you’ve penned are a few short stories.
Keep your ego in check. As a new writer, you’re likely to make false starts and mistakes. You’re probably not going to get published right away – so have a realistic plan for your writing career.
What Genres Offer The Best Chance At Publication?
If you’re hoping to publish your book and enjoy commercial success, you have to think like a marketer and build your brand.
Some genres are very popular – for example, romance, erotica, crime, and thrillers. But, the markets for these are often saturated. It will be tough to stand out in the crowd as a new name.
Other genres are essentially moribund (for example, westerns, zombies etc.) and may not be worth attempting – unless you can find a fresh, compelling and irresistible angle.
The best strategy? Find a ‘sweet spot’ in the market. For example, you may find that sweet teen romances are popular, but its young readership is underserved. It could present an opportunity for a writer.
If you want to know what genres are popular or identify lucrative gaps in the market, do your research. Follow or subscribe to k-lytics, which follows market trends or Nielsen BookData, which measures sales. Browse the New York Bestseller List or bestselling books on Amazon.
Consider Your Options
If you’re already written a draft of your novel, read through it and circle elements that would fit in with a certain genre.
For example, did you find many action scenes? If so, consider rewriting it as a thriller. If there is a strong love story in the subplot, consider making it the main focus of a romance novel.
If you’re baffled, then your other option is to experiment. Do a flash fiction challenge for a month. Which prompt did you enjoy the most? Did you notice a theme emerge? What kind of characters appealed to you the most?
You can also keep a writing diary for a month. Write down your thoughts on writing, record insights into the books you’re reading – both fiction and non-fiction – or have a Q&A session with yourself on the page.
Go to a local bookstore and look at the typical covers of genre-specific fiction. Then, when you get home, draw or put together a ‘mock-up’ of the kind of cover you imagine you would take pride in seeing your name on.
Buy our Novel In A Year Workbook
Do The Work
Once you have selected your genre, put in the time and effort to understand it.
- Read as much as you can in the genre across multiple authors.
- Study the fiction – make notes, analyse, and critically assess the books you read.
- Research editors and agents who accept submissions in this genre.
- Write and re-write your manuscript until it is ready for submission.
- Draw up a detailed plan for your career, with clear action steps.
The Last Word
Genre is important if you’re hoping to make money from writing. Publishers must understand your genre in order to assign you the right editor, imprint, and market.
Sometimes you will find your ideal genre through trial and error. Don’t hesitate to try your hand at different genres – you may just find one that ‘clicks’ for you.
More Posts From Anthony:
- Writing For Tweens & Teens? 8 Insights For Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors
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- 5 Simple Steps To Writing A Short Story
- 2 Questions To Find Your Writing Process
- 11 Popular Sub-Genres In Fantasy Romance
- Write Your Synopsis Without Losing The Essence Of Your Story
- 12 Point Checklist For Your Story Goal
- 5 Myths To Break When Writing A Good Character
- 7 Types Of Narcissists To Use In Your Next Story