What is genre?
In literary terms, genre is the label we give a story to categorise it with others of similar composition, tone, content or length. But why is it so essential that we focus on identifying our story’s genre and labelling it in this way? Below are three reasons why knowing your story’s genre is important.
Why is genre important?
It’s a marketing tool
If you want your story to stand out in a crowded market, you’re going to have to get used to the idea of marketing it. No matter what stage you’re at — whether you’re looking for beta readers, pitching or submitting to publishers, or preparing to self-publish — it is vital that you communicate what kind of manuscript, story, novel, book you’re putting out into the world.
Communicating genre to beta readers
Let’s consider why it’s important to communicate genre to beta readers. Engaging the help of beta readers when you have a finished draft is a very good idea, as it’s a way to test how your target market responds to the story. Do they like it? Do they not like it? Are there aspects they love but some things that just didn’t work for them? Their feedback will be worth its weight in gold when it comes time to revise your manuscript.
But what if a beta reader’s personal reading preferences don’t include stories in the genre you’ve written in? How would that reader respond to your story? Likely, they’d have a lot of negative things to say, which is in no way an indication of how your target market would respond — and worse, it could have a devastating impact on your confidence as a writer. So be sure to find beta readers who enjoy stories that fall into the same category as yours, as they’ll be familiar with the nuances of the genre, which makes it much more likely that you’ll get useful and insightful feedback.
Communicating genre to publishers
Publishers and acquiring editors are busy people. So busy, in fact, that manuscripts submitted to them often sit in a “slush pile” for months before they get a chance to look at them. And when they can finally spare a minuscule moment to glance at the submission on top, they’re looking for any excuse to reject it. They may not even get so far as to look at the manuscript pages you’ve submitted; they’ll simply disregard your submission if your cover letter doesn’t stand out.
One way to ensure a publisher or editor gives your submission more than a cursory glance is to be very clear about your story’s genre. Publishers know what they’re looking for — and what they’re not looking for — so be sure to prove to them that you’ve done your homework and have submitted your manuscript to them because you know they publish stories like yours.
Communicating genre to booksellers
Once your book is published, whether traditionally or independently, genre will need to be communicated to booksellers. (If your book is traditionally published, your publisher’s representatives will do this on your behalf.)
Booksellers in bricks-and-mortar stores need an idea of how to position your book, how to promote it, and which section of the store to put it in. If they don’t know your story’s genre, they won’t know who to sell it to, so they simply won’t stock it. Similarly, online bookstores, such as Amazon, use category links to help readers find books in their preferred genre. So if you want booksellers to promote your books to the right kind of readers, be sure to accurately describe its genre.
It’s a form of self-expression
As a writer, it’s your job to deliver a story that resonates with the reader. Genre is a powerful tool in allowing you to do this. Why? Because genre is more than just a marketing tool. Remember, genre is a label we give a story to categorise it with others of similar composition, tone, and content. Most writers do not make dramatic switches between genres — it’s unlikely that a writer will finish penning a sweet romance only to then decide to try their hand at writing a psychological thriller, or a gory horror story.
Why is this? Because each genre has a set of themes that are commonly explored. Writers gravitate to certain genres because the themes explored in those stories resonate with them. They’re important to them. They see meaning and value in them. And they want to explore those themes in the stories they write. Expressing their own thoughts and beliefs on themes that are important to them is how authors manage to write stories that readers love.
To learn how to harness the power of your story’s theme and deliver a meaningful story to your readers, check out the first course in my series that’s specifically designed for romance writers, Story Fundamentals #1: The Basics.
It’s a promise to the reader
There’s a reason why readers gravitate towards certain genres. It’s because they enjoy the common elements those kinds of stories offer — they appreciate the style in which they’re written, the feelings they evoke, the lessons they learn about life and themselves in the act of reading them. And so, in choosing a genre, you make a promise to the reader — that you’ll deliver those common elements they enjoy so much.
Each genre has a set of “rules” or conventions that provide writers with guidance in how to deliver a satisfying experience for a certain type of reader. While some rules might be flexible, or interpreted and adhered to differently, some are absolutely non-negotiable, as you’ll discover in the next section.
Your dream is worth it.
You deserve to write a story you can be proud of.
Your characters deserve the most epic and transformational journey you can give them.
Your reader deserves the most compelling and life-changing love story you’re capable of writing.
Visit the RTP Academy today and learn to romance the page with romance book coach, Libby M Iriks.
Romance as a genre
If you’re reading this, then I’m sure I don’t need to convince you, but as a developmental editor and book coach specialising in romance, I strongly believe romance is the best of all genres. But don’t just take my word for it. 😉 According to Nielsen BookScan, romance is consistently the most popular genre, making up close to a third of all fiction book sales! Incredible, right? Let’s explore what many believe are the reasons for this genre’s popularity.
Common themes in romance novels centre around human relationships, since that is obviously the focus of the genre. Love, desire, and human connection are all themes that are usually evident. Other common themes include hope, belonging, courage, trust, loneliness, identity, friendship, and redemption.
Why do these themes resonate so strongly with readers? Because human connection is something we all crave. Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs theory, identified five physiological and psychological needs that must be satisfied in order for humans to not only survive but to live a happy and fulfilled life. In order to avoid loneliness, depression, and anxiety, it’s important for people to feel loved and accepted by others. With mental health so prevalent in today’s society, it is no wonder readers turn to romance novels to learn from the experiences of the characters we, as romance writers, create.
All genres are designed to evoke certain emotions in readers. Horror writers aim to provide the kind of scare or thrill that some people find entertaining. Mystery novels inspire curiosity and provide a puzzle to be unravelled, allowing readers to feel great satisfaction when they solve the crime before the detective. Romance, on the other hand, is an excellent source of dopamine. The strong emotions evoked in the reader, such as hope, love, and happiness, releases the chemical in our brain that makes us feel good. In today’s uncertain world, many are turning to romance novels because they know they’re guaranteed to escape everyday life for a little while and feel good while they’re doing it.
There are many conventions romance writers draw on to provide a satisfying experience for the reader, but two are vital. When you categorise your story as a romance, or any of it’s subgenres, you are promising to:
- centre the story around the development of a romantic relationship between the protagonist and their love interest;
- deliver an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending in the form of a “happily-ever-after” (HEA) or “happy-for-now” (HFN).
The main plot in a romance will always centre around the main characters falling in love and the struggles they go through to achieve their HEA/HFN. It is possible, however, that your story may very well have elements of other genres, such as suspense, fantasy, or comedy, which will allow you to define the genre even further by categorising it in a subgenre of romance.
And, just like it’s important to know your story’s genre, it’s as equally important to know what subgenre of romance you’re writing in so that you’re aware of what other promises you’re making to the reader. To learn about the common romance subgenres, read 5 romance subgenres.