Picking a Genre: AUTHORS Guide & Definitions

Picking a genre for your work can be really hard, we know. So many stories have plots, characters, and threads that seem to cross different genre categories. As a result, many writers will slap every genre that touches their story to their query. This is a huge mistake.

In certain ways, assigning more than two (maybe three) genres can communicate that the writer may not have the clearest sense of the story they’re trying to tell. Just as importantly, it may also mean the writer doesn’t fully understand who their audience is. That is not to say we recommend writing to an audience instead of writing to the story, but it’s important to understand how your work fits into the larger publishing landscape. The folks at Write to Done made an excellent point when they said, “your ideal audience uses genre to find your book.” Check out their article for a much more in-depth discussion of market research.

In general, it’s easier for an editor or a consumer to wrap their head around something straightforward. Furthermore, when additional genres are ascribed to a manuscript, the less accurate each description becomes. This is because each genre has specific requirements that merit it. These are largely standardized, accepted definitions across the industry.

For example, you may have written a gripping detective caper that includes a whirlwind romance between the detective and his Girl Friday, but that doesn’t mean it’s a romance. It means you wrote a dynamic character in a mystery novel.

So, for your reading pleasure, below are definitions of the genres we have on our forms (so it’s not exhaustive, but applicable). Note: this is only a list of fiction genres. We will cover nonfiction in another post. Much of this information was compiled from the much more exhaustive  Writer’s Digest guide. There is also a very cool “genre map” from the folks at Book Country if you prefer your research to be a little more interactive. We also found some fun quizzes relating to genre, too. However, they’re more about what you should start to write, not what you have written. Might be good for a day when writer’s block has taken hold. Here’s one from Quibblo and another one from Playbuzz


The key element of the Action/Adventure novel is, you guessed it: action! The action overshadows the characters, setting, themes, etc. Primary conflict is often human vs. nature, as opposed to human vs. human or human vs. self.

Stories and novels whose central characters are African American. African American and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

Stories and novels whose central characters are Asian American. Asian American and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

Essentially, a true life story reimagined or expanded on by a writer so much that it has transformed into fiction. Uses biographical and historical research to inform the framework of the traditional novel, including conventions of fiction like dialogue, mood, theme, etc. Similar to historical fiction except that characters in a biographical novel are not fictitious, whereas an historical novel may be comprised entirely of fictitious characters.

Female-centered narratives that focus on the concerns and conflicts of the individual protagonist. Often deals with issues encountered by modern women, including, but not limited to romantic relationships, female friendships, workplace issues, motherhood, and more, but in a jovial or humorous tone. May include romantic relationships, but the plot is not driven by them.

Works whose intended audience is a child between the ages of 2 and 16. Extremely variable, as the writing itself as well as subject matter needs to be appropriate for the reader in question. Usually has a vivid opening, strong central character and deliberate, meaningful action.

Christian fiction novels are driven by and exemplify traditional Christian values through the plot, characters, and conflict.

Coming of Age novels center around the protagonist’s entrance into adulthood and all of the baggage and conflict that goes along with such a transition. Major growth and change must be seen in the central character.

Stories that could or do take place during the time they are being written and published. These stories do not cross with other genres.

A story about a relationship that is driven by sex.

This genre takes the family unit as its driving force. The characters will be related and the conflict driven by their relationships. Often viewed over a long swath of time or even several generations. Often used to portray historical/political/social events and developments. Like most of our families, these stories tend to be pretty dramatic.

Fantasy stories depend on magic, mythological beings and original contrivances to drive conflict, plot and setting. Stories often take place in another world imagined by the author, where the author has to create concrete rules and norms for the universe, including social structures and beings.

Based off of stories passed down generations. Can differ culture to culture. Setting may be real or imaginary. Often driven by a moral imperative or lesson.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Hispanic/Latino.Hispanic/Latino and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

A story set during a real period of human history. May involve political/social events of a specific time period.


Stories whose conflicts and plots center around major holidays and are driven by events prompted by those holidays.

A story whose central themes and plot center around dread, fear, unknown forces, malignant entities. In essence, stories that give you the heeby-jeebies and make you want to sleep with the lights turned on. Think Poe, Lovecraft, King, etc.

Involves a series of comical or humorous events throughout the plot, or a particularly funny or humorous character.

Very close to mystery or thriller genre, but will focus more on the legal proceedings of the crime in question. Think classic Law and Order, Boston Legal, or most anything by John Grisham.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or of non-binary sexual or gender identification. Often portrays the protagonist in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her marginalized sexual or gender identity heritage.  

Works where craft, style and technique are as important as plot, character, and subject matter.

Mainstream fiction is somewhere between literary and contemporary fiction. The stories are not focused on one convention as their structure (such as mystery/romance/sci fi, etc.). A mainstream novel will be driven by depth of character, background, etc. and their conflicts. Comparable writers include J ames Michener, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.

New stories blending the worlds/characters/events of other fictions.

Stories where the main characters work in the medical profession and the plot is driven by the relationships and conflict found within that work setting.

Mysteries involve strong characters with strong motivations in conflict with physical, psychological or societal obstacles in a plot in which one or more pieces remain unseen until the end.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Native American/Aboriginal/First Nations. Native American/Aboriginal/First Nations and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict with mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

A story driven by elements of the paranormal, including ghosts, vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. Often, but not always, also considered horror.

A story modeled after a well-known story or convention with the goal to satirize or point out ironies within a given situation.

A story whose central characters are politicians or work with politicians and whose conflict is driven by elements of lawmaking, diplomacy, or international relations.


Religious fiction novels are driven by and exemplify a religion’s beliefs tenets  and values through the plot, characters, and conflict.

In a romance novel, the entire plot is driven by a romantic relationship. There is almost always a happy ending. In many cases, a sexual awakening or revelation is a driving force in character development. Sex scenes are present, but not overly graphic (which would take the text into erotica).

Science Fiction positions science and technology as the bedrock of the central conflict or setting. Often set in the future and may involve speculations about scientific advancement. Often crosses paths with fantasy, but the two genres are distinct.

Spiritual fiction novels are driven by spiritual discovery/awakening through the plot, characters, and conflict. May or may not involve an organized religion.

A story whose central characters are athletes or work with athletes and whose conflict is driven by competition and sport.

A story whose main objective is to incite a feeling of suspense in the reader. The plots are often sensational, involving crimes, violence, espionage, etc. Often a detective story with high stakes and moral certainties.

Urban fiction (street lit/street fiction), is set in a city landscape and often defined by the socio-economic realities and culture of its characters.

Stories set in the old American West (c. 1800s)

Stories set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, often set in England.

Stories that involve Witches, Wizards and magic. Often overlaps with Fantasy. depend on magic, mythological beings and original contrivances to drive conflict, plot and setting. Stories may take place in the contemporary world, with the presence of magic being real.

Similar to chick lit in that it is a female-centered narrative dealing with issues relevant to women, but not told in a jovial or humorous tone (necessarily). The Romance Writers of America define it as “a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship.”

Literally just books written for people between the ages of twelve and seventeen.

Christen Thompson

Christen Thompson is the Director of Business Development for AUTHORS.me. Christen has worked in many areas of publishing, including acquisitions, bookselling, editorial, layout, literary magazines, newspapers, digital, and in a variety of roles from writer to manager.

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