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THERE’S A GENRE ON EVERY SHELF WHERE DOES YOUR BOOK SIT?


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Many authors find it difficult to categorize their manuscripts because they believe book genre is an insufficient mechanism to do so. They feel that using book genre parameters to define what you should write is detrimental to the creative spirit because it doesn't describe the essence of a book. For example, the manuscript I just finished is a suspense novel with romance at its heart. I thought it was great until I was asked by an agent, "Well, which is it?" I chose romance, then changed my pitch and title. I pitched it again to another agent as a romance, and during the conversation, I spoke about the book in more depth. He recommended I change it to suspense. There was no compromise. It was now suspense. Back to the drawing board. 

Book genre is for readers and publishers more than the writer. It tells your publisher where your book will sit on a shelf joining all the other books like them. Remember when we were in kindergarten, and we had to learn to sort things according to category? Nothing has changed, except instead of using the word "category", we use "genre". As for a reader, book genre is not a reliable means of finding a new interest, but it is a good place to begin when trying to find something you might like. If the genre you choose is the closest description to your book, it may be enough to attract the readers you want. Let's look at three types of book genres: romance novel, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age.

Psychological thrillers and suspense are part of the overall thriller book genre but have some very particular features that make them different from others. Usually, individuals' deceitful mental and emotional circumstances are emphasized by psychological thrillers and concentrate on the devious depths of the human mind. In short, psychological thrillers can be twisted but so much fun! In the manuscript I had pitched, I pushed myself and researched. I read interrogation transcripts, talked to psychiatrists, and debated writing prisoners to think like the antagonists. I decided it was in my best interest just to research their cases. But what it also did was exclude parts of my story as central to the theme, driving me closer to my manuscript's true genre.

The romance novel focuses on two characters who fall in love and their efforts to establish a lasting connection. Typically, the central characters have intrinsically excellent qualities. When they encounter people and places, the characters will be drawn together, making their journey optimistic. My romance novel writers are probably cringing at my oversimplification because it is much more complicated. For example, when I added romance to my novels, especially in my suspense thriller, I needed to create instances of optimism in a world of lies, manipulation, and instability. In my other work in progress, I needed to create instability to drive my main characters together. But again, all the revisions moved me closer to the genre.

Lastly, the coming-of-age novel or A.K.A the Bildungsroman. A coming-of-age novel details the personal progress of the protagonist. Usually, it follows the protagonist from childhood to adulthood, but I challenge that. I think coming-of-age novels can be any stage of life where there is transition. What about the aging parent who needs help from their family as they age? What about the mid-life crisis? I feel these are coming-of-age stories as well. In my WIP,  the protagonist had to learn from the competing societal expectations and come into her own as a woman and not a daughter. I think that fits the description, but that's up for debate. 

So, how do you know which one to write? It's all so confusing. I have some tips:

1. Write your story.
2. Write it well.
3. Look at the plot points, and they will direct you to the genre.
4. Don't let anyone tell you what to write.
5. Revise, Revise, Revise...it's a marathon, not a sprint.


But wait...there's more. You didn't think it would be that simple, did you? When you are about to run that marathon, there's a lot of prep work you need to do. You wouldn't start a marathon without a warm-up. You need to know who else is running with you. The wisest thing you can do is to first become well-versed in the genre you're writing. If you look at your plot points and think your work in progress is a romance novel, then get out there and read the current best sellers. Second, read popular writers who've written similar books and research the different aspects of your genre. Ultimately, know what your book is and what your book isn't. If you do the work, read the comparable titles, and think your book is nothing like them, then go back to your plot points and look again because you're not in the right genre.  


But what if the book doesn't fit into any genre? That's okay. I am an out-of-the-box writer myself but knowing that about myself is an asset to my writing process. I know I have to be super aware of my plot points and make sure they are well developed, and lead the reader directly to the type of book I have written. Think of it like a treasure map where all dotted lines lead to the genre. So if you are like me, I would advise you to go back to your plot points. Please take a good look at them and see where they lead you. You don't want your book to sit on a shelf alone. No one in kindergarten enjoyed being the last one picked for the team, so don't do it to your book. It does nothing to your creative ability to tweak a few things if it helps to get your book to a shelf to call home. 
 

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