How to Choose Novel Genres for a Book

Murder Mystery Text
DaveBolton/E+/Getty Images

The choice of genre is a pretty straightforward process for some writers. They love writing one kind of thing, and that's what they focus on. For the rest of us, this can be a difficult decision to make.

Making a Choice is All About Marketing

By choosing to stay open to writing in any genre you are free to pursue any idea that grabs you. You could write a gothic horror novel, followed by a techno-thriller.

So why choose if, by choosing, you limit your options? It all comes down to marketability.

When a publisher buys your novel what they are really buying is you, the author. They want to know that they can build a platform, a brand, around you and your writing. They need to believe that there will be more books, similar to the first, on the way. That means sticking to one genre.

Imagine pitching a fantasy novel to a publisher. They ask if you have other novels either finished or in-progress. You tell them that you also have a romance, a western, and a collection of hard-boiled crime stories. Does this help you sell your fantasy novel? Not at all.

If all your other books, stories, and works-in-progress were in the fantasy genre, then you'd be that much closer to a sale. It might sound shallow, but it does make sense.

Other Benefits Genre Choice

Sticking to one genre has a few other advantages as well:

  • Constraints breed creativity. Sometimes having some rules to write by actually makes you more creative. When you can write about anything it can be difficult to know where to start.
  • You look more professional. It's important for publishers to see that you understand the need to build a platform and that you've started on your own. The more confidence they have in your willingness to market yourself, the better.
  • You become known as an expert. The more you write in one genre the more people see you as an authority in that area.
  • It's one less choice to make. As a writer building a career your life is filled with endless choices. Now you have one less!

How to Choose

The most obvious way to pick a genre is to write what you like to read. If you mostly read romance, then write romance. Most of us read in several genres, and that can make it tricky though. Do you choose the one that seems the most marketable? The one you think is the most fun? Flip a coin? This is ultimately a personal choice, but there are a few techniques that can help you choose:

  • Make a pros and cons list. The classic decision-making tool. Write down the good and bad reasons to write in each genre and see how it shakes out.
  • Go with your gut. After thinking about your options for a while, sit quietly for a while and listen to your intuition. Forget about marketing, or what your friends will think, what does your heart tell you to write?
  • Pick the most marketable genre. This is tricky since it's almost impossible to guess where the market is going. That said, you may be choosing between writing in a super-niche, micro-market, and something more mainstream. If you truly feel that they are equally-weighted in every other way, then maybe go with the one you think you can sell.

    As you examine potential genres pay attention to the ones that attract you but scare you at the same time. If you're excited to write in a certain area but afraid that you won't be able to do it, then seriously consider choosing that genre. Often what you fear to do is what you need most to grow as an artist.​

    When to Choose

    Do you really need to choose right away? It probably won't hurt. If you are writing in several genres, you will have to pick one once a publisher agrees to publish one of your novels. And since your off-genre novels won't do much to help you sign a deal, you might as well choose as soon as you can.

    Changing Your Mind

    Once you're established you can start to work in a new genre if you like. Many successful authors write in multiple genres. They didn't start out that way, though.

    They mastered one genre at a time, building a fan-base and a catalog before moving on to something new. Of course if you're prolific enough to be shopping multiple books in multiple genres you can always use a pseudonym to brand each genre separately. It's certainly not an easy way to start out though!

    The Bottom Line

    As critical a decision as this is, it's important not to let it paralyze you. The worst thing you can do is use your indecision about the genre as an excuse not to write. If you really need to write something off-genre, then go ahead. Just make the choice as soon as you can, and keep the words flowing in the meantime.