Every story fits into one major writing category. Most could be wedged into two. Some are so broad based, they don’t appear to have a specific category.
In the publishing world, these categories are referred to as “genre.” What are genres and how are they like the major food groups? I’m glad you asked!
Genre and Food Groups
We all know about the basic food groups: breads & cereals, vegetables & fruits, meats, and dairy. Each food group describes the foods it contains, how those foods can best be enjoyed, and what health benefits they offer. No two foods within a food group are the same, but they all share common traits.
The same with publishing genres. Each genre describes the type of story it contains, what readers can expect from the novels in that genre, and all sorts of other things. Some of the more popular genres are contemporary, historical, romance, and mystery.
Readers of the mystery genre expect a crime, usually murder. They expect one character devoted to unraveling the crime and they expect a lot of suspects, all of whom appear to have a legitimate reason for committing the crime.
Readers of novels in the literary category expect a leisurely pace and lots of introspection. Readers of suspense novels, on the other hand, expect fast-paced action.
Just as there are different types of vegetables within the vegetable food group, there are different types of stories within each genre. The mystery might have a heavy dose of romance. It might be historical. It might be humorous or suspenseful.
Why is Genre Important?
Publishers and readers alike expect certain characteristics from each genre. While publishers and readers like to see new and surprising things, a writer who regularly writes stories that don’t contain the more basic characteristics of the genre is going to have a difficult time reaching the desired target audience. Imagine a mystery novel without a crime or a romance without a love interest.
Genre also makes marketing easier. When you select a genre for a story, you’ve also narrowed the market from “all readers” to the “readers most likely to read the genre.” Marketing efforts can be targeted to those readers, saving you time, effort, and the expense of marketing to readers unlikely to be interested in your book. Writing decisions can likewise be guided by genre characteristics.
Can A Writer Write in More than One Genre?
Can you eat food from more than one food group? Of course you can.
And so you can write novels in more than one genre.
But be aware that writing and publishing books in multiple genres carries with it the risk of confusing your readers. If your first book is a thrilling suspense that kept readers on the edge of their seats beginning to end, those readers may be gravely disappointed to discover your follow up novel is a leisurely study of human nature told in a literary style. If both stories are well told, you will most likely retain some readers, but it’s just as likely that others will be put off.
What is most likely is that readers will see your name and not know what to expect. Chances are they won’t take the time to find out what the new book is about and will instead head for an author whose work they do know.
There are ways to clarify things for your readers, publishers, and marketers, including using a different name for each genre, but that’s a post for another time. Just be aware of the risk and make genre decisions accordingly.
If you take nothing else from this post, I hope you’ll remember this. Books weren’t created to fill genres; genres came into being to describe books.
A publishing world (or bookstore) with no genres is no more feasible or viable than a grocery store with all the food products lumped together.
Think about it.