What Does “Genre” Really Mean?

image of the Aftershock book cover

This motivational self-help book was a collaboration with Kelli Poles and Mark Graham Communications

The term “genre” is nearly as old as literature itself. And, of course, books are not the only form of communication to use the term. Music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and just about every other means of creative expression also fall into genres. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus on genre in books.

But what is genre? Simply stated, genre identifies a book as a certain type. We all know (and perhaps are!) readers who are attracted to particular types of books. It’s not unusual to hear someone say, “I love mysteries,” or “As a reader, I gravitate toward nonfiction,” or “I’m addicted to fantasy!” All of these booklovers are talking about their favorite genre.

Books within a specific genre share these traits:

  • They contain easily identifiable common elements. Romance, for example, always revolves around a love story.
  • They have shared core values and characteristics. For instance, noir stories touch on a level of moral ambiguity, usually within a dark setting.
  • They meet reader expectations for the genre. If a book is classified as self-help but is actually a thinly-disguised autobiography, the author could be setting up readers for disappointment.
  • Their genre isn’t always rigid. Many books cross genres or cover dual genres. However, this comes with a caveat: successful books are generally marketed in a single genre, albeit sometimes with a subgenre (for example, historical mystery).

As an author (and if you plan to write a book or have your book idea ghostwritten, you are an author), it’s important to pinpoint your intended book’s genre. In considering book genre, it helps to visualize a bookstore. Where would a bookseller shelf your book? If shoppers were browsing their favorite section in the bookstore, would they find your book there – and would they buy it, knowing that the genre appeals to them, and your book is worth checking out?

If either of the above scenarios is unclear for your book idea, some research is in order. Read successful books in the genre(s) you’re considering, and take notes about them. Were you drawn to the genre and felt comfortable reading in it, knowing the books you’ve read share the traits outlined above? Did books meet your expectations for the genre? What worked and what didn’t?

What about your own book project? When you assess your book idea or initial draft, do you feel it will provide readers that same level of comfort and familiarity within the intended genre? If not, can you narrow your focus, ensuring your book appeals to fans of the genre?

If this seems overwhelming, know that you’re not alone. Many people considering the prospect of writing a book feel overwhelmed by these concepts. Luckily, help is available. A talented ghostwriter can help you solidify your idea, identify your genre, and jumpstart the writing process.

What are you waiting for? Readers are out there, and they’re eager to read your book!