The Right Genre: A Writer’s Dilemma

pexels-photo-92323-largeSo why is picking the right genre for your book so important and how does its success hinge upon choosing the right one? Let me illustrate this by talking about a movie.

I was in the mood for a movie last night so I went to my DVD shelves (I have five shelves of them) and scanned the titles. Like most movie buffs, I arrange my films by types or genres including Animated Features; Classics; Mysteries/Thrillers; Action/Adventure; Comedies; etc. You get the idea.

I selected Guardians of the Galaxies, which was under Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Even though I find this movie to be offbeat and funny, I placed it in Sci-fi because that is what the main genre is. Could I have filed it under comedies? Not really.

I know when I watch a sci-fi movie, I expect to experience many of the elements one finds in a sci-fi space movie –cool space ships; futuristic tech; totally unrealistic distances traveled; bizarre planets; aliens bent on the destruction of all humans. Quick sidebar: Have you ever noticed the days of the weeks are never mentioned in space movies? NEVER. “Yes, Skywalker, we should reach the Death Star by this time Thursday.” I digress.

When you pick a movie or book by type, it’s all about expectations. Guardians is under sci-fi because I expect to see all the aforementioned elements. Hunger Games is Young Adult/Sci-fi (in a dystopian world) novel, so I expect to see characteristics of those genres prevalent in the story. Even though there is a love story in the book, you cannot label Hunger Games a Romance novel.

Genre is perhaps the number one qualifier for an agent or publisher to initially accept a work. If you query them by labeling your genre: Mystery/Romance/Sci-fi because your two young characters embark on an epic adventure to thwart an alien invasion and fall in love in the process while trying to solve a mystery, you’re in trouble and headed for the slush pile or rejection.

Agents and publishers want clarity. They have expectations and you need to meet those if you are to have any success with them and your future readers.

On, we give our writers the choice of numerous genres to pick from. Previously, we allowed our writers to select three, but after numerous consults with our partners, we have decided that 2 is plenty. Therefore, be precise. Do your research on the genre(s) you believe are represented in your work.

Imagine your book has been published and is in the bookstore. What one section will it be found? Make that your genre of choice. And when your book is made into a movie, I’ll be sure to put it in the right section as well.

Additional reading:

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.

First get good, then get lucky: One writer’s advice on getting published


If you’ve been a writer for any length of time you’ve no doubt read many books that tell you how to write bestselling fiction. You’ve also no doubt been assailed with at least as many marketing experts telling you the best way to market your novel so it will become a bestseller.

I’ve been writing all my life. My first attempt at fiction was e-published in 2010. For five years now I’ve been actively honing my fiction writing and marketing skills in pursuit of ever-elusive success. I’ve read a lot of books and investigated a lot of book marketing programs.

Here’s what I know for sure – nothing.

Most what I’ve learned is what doesn’t work. Here’s a few of them:

  • social media
  • giveaways
  • blogs
  • free books – as in zero price point
  • contests
  • email lists
  • social media – yes, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but social media deserves to be reinforced because not only does it not sell books, but for the delusional among us (myself included) it’s seductive, addictive, and a huge time waster – time that could be better spent actually writing something worthwhile instead of responding to virtual fans in the internet void.

So how do you become a bestselling author?

You get lucky.

According to Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, The Story of Success, success follows a predictable pattern. It’s not the brightest who succeed, nor is it the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.

Success is bestowed upon those who have been given opportunities – and have the strength and the presence of mind to seize them – plus accidents of time, birth and place matter greatly.

Let me repeat that; success is less about talent and more about opportunity plus it’s greatly influenced by accidents of time, birth and place.

In a word, luck.

There’s no master plan, no formula, it’s all a fluke, pure and simple serendipity.

So, is luck all it takes to be a success?

No, you also have to be prepared so if you do get lucky and get invited to the ball you actually know how to dance.

There’s this little thing about having to do 10,000 hours (ten years) of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. According to neurologist Daniel Levitin,  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, etc., this number comes up again and again.”

Excellence at performing a complex task, like writing a good novel, requires a critical minimum level of practice and that’s all there is to it.

You first must get good, then get lucky.

So if you’re an indie author about to self-publish your first novel and you haven’t logged 10,000 hours of practice your chance at success is negligible, nil, nada.

Worse yet, if by a fluke you do get lucky without being good you’ve likely blown your big chance.

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs

ROD RAGLIN is a writer and user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

Writer’s Playlist: Instrumental Sources

Timothy Boudreau delivers his favorite writing playlist. 


For me working with words requires music without them; something sweet and soft, in places nearly silent. Pieces that flow one into another like currents, merging at last, on the best early mornings and later evenings, into a perfect pastoral background.

One could do worse than Wes Montgomery: his later, sometimes unfairly maligned recordings for A&M.  Let’s take Down Here on the Ground.  The gently propulsive opener, “Wind Song;” a simple, beautiful cover of “Georgia on My Mind;” a few jazzy improvisations, that are brilliantly brief: the dream-like title tune, with its stunning little string arrangement. 

There are other artists who work as well as Wes—play me Antonio Carlos Jobim, George Shearing, Gary Burton, or many others—but what is wanted is anything evocative, lovely and spacious.  Vibes, strings, clarinet, subtle guitar, flute; vocals are sometimes vital, but not while I’m working unless the words are in a language I don’t entirely understand.

Evocative, lovely and spacious: one might also say sentimental, conservative and hopelessly uncool.  Elevator music forty years past its expiration date.  To each his own, of course, but then perhaps many years ago, when a little boy rode around a grocery store in a shopping cart, this was the music that stirred his dreaming mind—which was also fascinated by the crusty North Country people and the piles of produce, by the cheerful rush and bustle and sudden semi-silence in the soap aisle; fascinated by colorful cans and cereal boxes and fresh tomatoes.  Perhaps this piped-in music, as much as anything else, seemed to point toward some inner door which would open one day on worlds that didn’t yet exist, but that somehow he would have to create on his own. 

Though to look too closely at our sources might spoil them.  As I finish this I listen to Wes’s great version of “When I Look in Your Eyes”—his guitar with its unmatched plush tone dueting with a soaring violin—and, though there are no words, none are needed.

IMG_20150127_1Timothy Boudreau lives in northern New Hampshire with his wife Judy.  He is a board member and volunteer for several non-profit organizations.  He has published fiction in various journals and anthologies, and has recently completed a collection of short stories. Find him on twitter at @tcboudreau

Beyond the First Draft: The Dangers of Rushing to Publication

AUTHORS user and contributor Rod Raglin discusses the dangers rushing to seek publication upon finishing a first draft can pose to writers and the importance of editing, insight and patience.

by Rod Raglin, AUTHORS user, and contributor

So you’ve finally finished your novel.


What you’ve accomplished is significant and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. How many people do you know who have spent countless hours by themselves sitting in front of a keyboard creating an imaginary world?

It’s only a matter of time before your creation changes your life, and that can’t happen too soon. What are you waiting for? It’s time to start submitting it to all those fortunate agents and publishers you’ve selected, right?


I was once like you, full of enthusiasm and hubris upon completing my first novel. To get my masterpiece published I pulled in all my favors, two actually. I had an acquaintance who knew Jeffery Archer personally (yes, that Jeffery Archer), and I had a business associate who was an editor in a well-respected publishing firm.

The first response came from Archer’s agent. She suggested I take some writing courses. A little while later the editor returned my that first draft. She’d taken the time to line-edit the first chapter complete with margin notes. Suffice to say the editing notes all but obscured the original text.

At the time I didn’t realize it, but I had just blown two really good opportunities in my rush to get published.  That manuscript is still buried somewhere in my filing cabinet. I’m too embarrassed to look at it.

Most recently I’ve taken on writing and doing video book reviews of the work of new, self-published authors. I’ve written a lot of book reviews, but in this category–new, self-published authors–the average star rating is 2.8, which is a bit better than “I didn’t like it,” but not quite as good as “I liked it.”

A few of these authors are brilliant, but most–though they have potential–are hampered by a lack of craft. If they continue writing and reading I know they’ll improve. Writing is like most things – the more you do it the better you get.

I have to add a caveat to that statement. Your writing will improve if you continue to do it while seeking out constructive criticism and taking it to heart.

Most of the novels I’m giving two stars to have been rushed into publication. They’re obvious first drafts. I know you’re excited, but remember – it’s never as good as you think it is, and it can always be better. Yes, always.

Here are some suggestions you might want to consider when you’ve completed your first draft. It’s what I do and though it hasn’t garnered me success, it’s at least saved me further embarrassment.

  • I revise the manuscript a minimum three times or until I feel it’s finished.
  • I read it out loud (it drives my cat crazy).
  • Then I put it away for at least three months or however long it takes to get it out of my system.
  • While I’m waiting to be purged, I work on something completely different.
  • Once I’ve put some distance between my ego and the book, I’m ready. I take out the manuscript and send it to as many beta readers for comment as I can. If you don’t have a stable of readers who are free from conflict of interest – that means no family and no friends, join a writing group, online or otherwise, and workshop the novel.

Once I’ve decided it’s time for the final rewrite I gather all the comments and criticisms together and begin.

When I’m finished I have another decision to make. Do I begin the traditional submission process or save myself a lot of time and frustration and go directly to self-publishing?

If you follow this method I guarantee your final version will be different and better than your first draft. And if by some small miracle The New York Times decides to review it, it will be perfect – or as perfect as you could make it.

Keep writing and remember what Nietzsche said:

The doer alone learneth.

ROD RAGLIN is a writer and user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

Unblocking the Mind

Nothing frustrates the creative person more than the inability to create one single line, one small image or even a fragment of an idea when needed. Commonly called Writer’s Block, it should be called Writer’s Torture, Brain Snarl or Word Vacuum. Whether the infliction disables a person for a moment or incapacitates them for years, as it did for F. Scott Fitzgerald, it is something we all wrestle with. Or is it?

I personally don’t believe in Writer’s Block. I’m more of a believer in psychological repression triggered by latent thoughts of turbulent bouts with inner demons bent on the destruction of everything creative in my fantastical psyche, disabling my god complexes and my idea generating machine. It’s usually that or my pen is out of ink. What I mean by this nonsense is, I don’t give Writer’s Block it’s due. Then why do you italicize it, David?

Too many writers romanticize Writer’s Block as if it gives them credibility or appeal. I get it. Writing is a very painful process to those of us who are honest about it. So, why not add to your artist’s emotional palette of pain the color of empty thought? Don’t. I’m here to help.

I am going to give you some unconventional ways to break the grip of blank pages. There will be no advice here like: walk away from the computer, do jumping jacks, eliminate distractions or write in the park. You’ve already tried those. I’m going for ‘different’. Therefore, if my ideas work for you, please send a self-address stamped envelope and $25 to – no, just kidding. If they work, great. If they don’t, blame the imaginary voices that stopped talking to you and got you into this predicament in the first place.

Step 1. Acceptance

First step to every problem is accepting you have a problem and, more importantly, accept that every problem has a solution (except some of the calculus problems I was given in high school). Writer’s Block is no different. Do we think we’ll never eat again when we get indigestion? Do we give up hope of ever getting home if we get lost on the streets of New York? (Speaking of that, why was Home Alone 2 subtitled Lost in New York? The streets are numbered for Pete’s sake.) Sh*t happens. Writer’s block happens. Deal with it as being real and move to Step 2.

 Step Two. Fill The Tank

Writing something new every day is difficult. When I published a cartoon strip and political cartoon simultaneously, I needed 8 publishable ideas a week, every week. Talk about pressure. The secret I discovered in avoiding the ‘blocks’ or dry periods was to produce more ideas than I needed. I keep numerous notebooks for ideas in my studio. Some for my novels and screenplays. Some for business ideas. Some for my fantasy baseball team. These notebooks are not labeled. Please, don’t get trapped in trying to catalog ideas. Waste of time. Capture every thought and jot them down, especially the ones that have nothing to do with your current project. Even if an idea comes to you when you’re on the john, write on toilet paper if you must, after all, it is paper. Be vigilant in this or resign yourself to miserable days of barrenness and single-purpose toilet paper.

 Part C. Enough With Being Original

You may vehemently disagree with me or spit in my face (only to wipe it off your computer screen), but original ideas are as rare as visitations from Mount Olympus. There are no original ideas, only new ways of presenting them. In truth, we are an amalgamation of other ideas and thoughts that have invaded our minds over our lifetime. So no matter how original you think your story is, I can find another one very similar given enough time. Was it Carl Jung who said there are only seven plot lines in all of writing? Gee, and I thought I came up with number eight today. I mention all this because we tend to freeze our brains trying to come up with an ‘original’ line or plot that has never been done. Trust me, it has. Just write and tweak it in the rewrites. Get words on the page. You can’t rewrite blank pages. I’d tell you to quote me on that, but I can guarantee someone else has said that before me.

 Step 4. Attack!

You have Writer’s Block? Write about it. Write about what it is doing to you. Turn it into a brain-eating monster under your desk threatening the lives of all the writers on the planet. Make it a villain and you the hero. Write badly. Write with your toes. Go mad if you must. Beat the crap out of it with your words. Duel until dawn with it. Trust me, you will win. It sure beats the heck out of head in hands and gnawed up pencils.

 Step 5. Miss Alaneous

If the aforementioned (or is that four mentioned?) ideas don’t work, then it’s time to pull out the stops by trying one or more of the following. Good luck.

Here are some great websites that aim to solve these problems. We grouped them into a category called “brainstorming” and another “getting started.”

Get a talking dog.

Dust off a genie bottle.

Take long walks to Jupiter.

Kidnap J. J. Abrams and bleed him dry for every idea he has.


Whatever you do, don’t give Writer’s Block a toothbrush and a place to sleep. Ignore it. Write about it. Fight it. Defeat it. Just don’t live with it.

Happy writing.