Know Your Genre

I’ve started to think about writing a dystopian novel. (Now that I actually know what that word means—opposite of utopia—I like using it) Swirling in my head are possible characters and a few disjointed scenes I hope to connect by a thrilling plot.

Beyond the fun of creating a world lies the eventual reality of marketing the book. So I need to think through what genre I will be writing in.

Book cover of The Hunger GamesMost likely my book will fit in the science fiction genre, the genre that asks “what if?” Early science fiction was based in the hard sciences, asking questions like “what if we could build a boat that could travel 20,000 leagues under the sea?” The dystopian works that are so popular now (think The Hunger Games) ask questions based in psychology, political science or economics.

Why is it important to know your genre?

You’ll know which agents to pitch your book to. If you are interested in going the traditional route, getting an agent to represent you is a good first step. Most agents specialize, so you’ll only want to approach those who routinely handle the kind of work you produce.

You’ll know which publishers to pitch your book to. Whether you approach publishers directly or through an agent, you won’t want to send your query to every publisher you can think of. Like agents, different publishing houses specialize. Don’t waste everyone’s time sending your apocalyptic epic to Harlequin Romance.

You’ll know your audience. Knowing who you are writing to will dramatically increase your chances of success, both in writing a book that appeals and sells. Doing some research to find out who the audience is will help you understand what kind of stories sell, and why.

You may be wondering why even bring up this point. But sometimes it’s not clear what genre a book falls into. Is a love story among time travelers a romance or science fiction? Is a space western a western or science fiction? Is a novel based on historical events centered a love story, with some magical characters added a romance or a historical fantasy?

If you write a novel that bends genres like any of these examples, then you’ll have to try marketing your book in both ways. One agent may consider the book science fiction; another may see it as a romance. In the end, the genre is what the market defines it to be. So be a little flexible when it comes time to market.

As for me, I’ve got some more thinking and research to do before I know what genre I’ll be writing.

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