Understanding and knowing your genre

What is a book genre

Understanding genres is the key to knowing your book’s genre. I know that sounds obvious, but there are many writers out there who don’t know where to place their work.

What is a genre?

A genre is the term used for artistic categories such as art, music, or literature. Book genres consist of four parts which can be remembered with the acronym P.A.C.S.

  • Plot
  • Action
  • Character
  • Setting

When you break a story down into these four elements, you should be able to define the genre.

However, there are also sub-genres which can break down the main category into smaller groups.

For example: Fantasy becomes Young Adult Fantasy (YA Fantasy), or Horror becomes Gothic Horror.

Sub-genres inside genres
Sub-genres inside genres

Most genres are quite cut and dry and easily identifiable. But sometimes, they can crossover, and sometimes, they can merge and become difficult to identify.

That being said, there will always be one theme that stands out, and that will be the main genre.

The definitive number of genres will change from person to person, and the number of subgenres will range even more. But the list below covers the most popular fiction genres as of the time of writing, along with some examples.

AdventureThe Beach by Alex Garland
Children’s –Charlotte’s Web by E.B White
Contemporary –Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  
Dystopian-Children of Men by P.D. James
Fantasy –A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
Historical fiction –The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Horror –IT by Stephen King
Mystery –Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Paranormal –Come Closer by Sara Gran
Romance –Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
Science fiction –Dune by Frank Herbert
Thriller –August – Lost by R G Vaughan. Okay, maybe I’m biased.
How about
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins
Popular fiction genres

This is not an exhaustive list.

Some people might disagree with some, or believe I’ve omitted others. But I believe anything else will fall under one of the above, and anything else will be a subgenre.

Know your genre
Know your genre

What genre is your novel?

As the author, you need to know what genre you’re writing in.

There’s something quite off-putting about a writer who says, “it’s kind of a thriller, crossed with a bit of Sci-Fi, but I’m not really too sure.” Or words to that effect.

Certain genres play to specific word counts and will sit in certain areas of a library or book shop. Also, some readers will only reader a genre that interests them.

If you don’t know where to place your novel, you will struggle to sell your book to a reader.

Nail down your main genre from the start.


A books subgenre isn’t always immediately identified by a writer.

Some authors set out to write a story, and in doing so, a subgenre emerges. This is not always by design. It’s a happy accident that occurs through the development of the characters or storyline.

It’s quite a beautiful thing. And if that happens to your book, embrace it.

Most people estimate there to be around 100-150 subgenres in fiction. But there could be more.

So many choices
So many choices

A book can have multiple subgenres. For instance, you could have a horror that has a subgenre of YA, which could also have an element of Romance.

Another could be historical fiction that tells the tale of a prince who falls in love with a knight. Historical fiction with Romance and LBGTQ+.

The combinations are only limited by your ability to put them together.

But the narrative and characters must be able to support themselves in the genre or you risk “forcing” it where it doesn’t belong.

This is quite common.

A writer will decide before they write a word that the book will belong to a certain subgenre. But somewhere during the writing process, other elements take over and the book becomes something very different to the original idea.

This is fine if the author acknowledges and accepts it. But some people bury their head in the sand and pitch it as something it’s not. And a reader will not thank you for being hoodwinked into reading it.

A closer look at subgenres

Below are examples of some of the many subgenres. The list is by no means exhaustive and there are probably many more variations.

Alternate HistoryArthurian FantasyArmature DetectiveAction
Creepy KidsChild in PerilCrimeConspiracy
CyberpunkChildren’s FantasyClassic WhodunitBumbling detective
CozyCourtroom dramaDark FantasyDark Mystery/Noir
DisasterEroticaEco-ThrillerErotic Thriller
GothicGame-related FantasyHauntingHeroic
Heists and CapersLGBTQ+LegalMulticultural
Magical RealismMedicalMilitaryMythic
New AgePsychologicalPost-ApocalypticPolice Procedural
Private dickPolitical IntrigueQuietReligious
Science FantasySocialSteampunkSuperheros
Space OperaSwords and SorcerySupernaturalTechnology
Time-TravelUrbanWeirdWoman in Jeopardy
WuxiaYoung Adult (YA)  

Some of these seem like they are a genre of their own. But when you apply P.A.C.S, you’ll see that it will snuggle in just under a main genre.

So many flavours
So many flavours

Many of these subgenres can be worked into almost every main genre if the author is clever.

Using delicate writing, planning and a great imagination, a writer could weave a mixture of these subgenres into their work.

Why are genres so important?

Genres keep a writer focused on a particular narrative, and keep the story within certain parameters. It also strikes a bargain with your reader.

I know fiction is fiction and you can write whatever you want, but a genre will keep the writer confined by what I call universal truths.

For example, a reader will accept that Dracula can turn into a bat to escape the scene because of the Mythic/Gothic/Horror genres. But imagine how angry you’d be if Dr Lecter did this in Silence of the Lambs.

Another reason is that a reader will want to know what they are about to read.

If you tell them your book is Crime Noir because there’s a moody detective in there, and the book turns out to have Science Fiction elements such as time-travel, the reader will be furious. And that will appear in your review.

Angry reviews
Angry reviews

Remember, people are more likely to complain than to praise. Customers will be more inclined to write a bad review if they feel they’ve been lied to or short-changed.

Lastly, book genres also allow a book to be “placed” in a book shop.

As a self-published author, you might not be looking to stock bookshops, but ebooks abide by the same logic as a brick-and-mortar retailer.


You can write in any genre you choose. Your story is yours to tell. But if you decide to write in a genre that you don’t read, or don’t enjoy, then it will certainly show in your work.

Why do I say this, you ask? Because sometimes people chase trends.

When Harry Potter kicked off, readers were inundated with similar types of books that were trying to jump on the band-wagon. A similar thing happened when the Twilight sage was released.

And please don’t get me started on the Fantasy books that tried to copy A Song of Ice and Fire. Some of them were almost carbon copies.

Mimicking a successful book or series will do you no good. At best, you’ll sell a few copies. At worst, you’ll receive bad reviews from angry fans that will warn off other potential readers.

Write your story and find your genre. You’ll be a happier writer if you do what you love.

Good luck

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