5 Tips for Understanding Genre
in the Publishing Industry
by Sydney Mathieu

Genre can be a tricky subject for authors. What categories of genre exist? Which one should I choose for my book? What if I’ve already decided on my book’s genre, but someone else disagrees? Does it even matter at all?

From most writers’ perspectives, the genre is secondary to writing the book they have in their head. Authors write books based on their ideas for character and plot—and that’s absolutely normal. However, genre becomes important when an author begins looking for an agent, finding a publisher, or starting a publicity campaign

  1. Genre gives you a way to find an agent and gives agents a way to pitch books to publishers. Many publishers and divisions of publishers (imprints) specialize in publishing specific genres, and agents often have better connections with publishers in certain genres. Some agents specialize in children’s books, some mysteries, some romances. When you are trying to find an agent to work on your book, it’s helpful to know what kind of book you’ve written so that you can choose the best agent. When an agent specializing in your genre matches you with a publisher, you can be assured that the publisher will have a team of editors, publicists, and designers with a great understanding of how to produce a novel in your genre. This specialized approach ensures your title matches reader expectations.
  2. Readers decide to read books based on their genre labels. Readers are used to books being categorized by genre, and each of those categories means something to a reader. For instance, a cozy mystery isn’t going to have gratuitous violence, and a thriller isn’t going to be a slow-paced character study. This makes it easy for readers who like certain types of books to easily decide if the book is right for them. This may seem like it simply narrows the audience and pushes people away, but it actually helps readers who will like your book find it, read it, and hopefully review it. There’s no benefit to having a reader who likes thrillers but hates cozy mysteries read a cozy mystery just to trash it on Goodreads because it wasn’t at all what they expected.
  3. Your publicity and marketing teams can better target your market. There are plenty of publications (like Killer Nashville) that focus on single genres or groups of similar genres. If your book is incorrectly categorized or nebulously labeled “contemporary fiction” without further specificity (if further specificity is appropriate for your title), your publicity team may find it hard to convince niche genre outlets to cover the book, thereby missing a huge sector of your potential audience.
  4. But my book is a “literary novel.” Some authors finish their books completely convinced they know the genre: literary. This may or may not be true, but more importantly, it’s typically not the complete truth. For instance, “Pride and Prejudice” is a literary novel, but it’s also a novel with a strong romance. “1984” is a literary novel, but it’s also a dystopian novel. These kinds of subcategorizations help your publicity team find readers. Unless you’re already established as a literary author, that label typically comes after one of your titles has gone through vetting by readers and publishing professionals who have declared your work “literary.” Most books and authors don’t start at that point; they grow to it.
  5. Trust the professionals helping you. Sometimes authors write books, and they really just don’t know what genre it’s in. That’s 100 percent okay. That’s what your agent, editors, and publisher are for. They can help you either decide what genre it is or shape it into a genre that it’s already trending toward. Of course, not every book is going to perfectly fit into a single genre, and that’s okay. If you’re aware of how your book compares to similar titles, it can even be a unique distinction. It’s okay to write a “cozy mystery that’s a little edgier than usual” or a “dystopian novel with a private investigator–style mystery.”

At the end of the day, a genre isn’t “what your book is.” Instead, it’s a tool for editors, publicists, and readers to describe your book to others to ensure that the readers who will love the book find it, and that’s what every author wants!

Sydney Mathieu is a digital marketing expert who creates innovative campaigns for author and publisher clients for JKS Communications. She is a well-respected book publicist with a graphic design background that makes authors’ visual promotions and social media pop. She focuses much of her time on promoting authors through social media, Amazon SEO, Goodreads support, and creatively getting promotional material into the hands of tastemakers.


(To become a Killer Nashville Guest Columnist, send a query to contact@killernashville.com. We’d love to hear from you.)

Thanks to Joseph Borden and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s editorial.