Where Does Your Writing Fit?

By David E. Sharp

I stumbled on an article on genre by Amy Rivers, Director of Writing Heights Writing Association that resonated with me.

It describes a familiar struggle. A writer gets an idea, follows the inspiration, turns it into a story, and now must shove an original work into a predefined mold. And who is the writer that sets off on a journey to follow conventions? That is not how writers work! Naturally, the manuscript does not fit the frame, and Writer must now shoehorn it into the closest approximation. 

It takes some effort, and bits of the manuscript still stick out here and there, but Writer shoves it in there, and now if you look at it in the right light and tilt your head just so, you might think it looks like a thriller. Setting aside the crowbar, the Writer notices the “Police Procedural” mold in the corner and wonders if that is the better fit. After all of that effort, Writer sighs and picks the crowbar back up.

With all the genres out there, how do you choose?

The lines can be blurry. A plot takes place in the past, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s historical fiction. A murder is solved, but it may not be a mystery. And even a story full of spaceships and robots may follow more conventions of fantasy than science fiction. (I’m looking at you, Star Wars!)

What is the point of genre, and why do we need to fit inside a stupid box anyway?

Rivers suggests that genre is a tool, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is a shorthand way of connecting the right books to the right readers. It is a brush that paints in broad strokes to signal the readers who are most likely to enjoy it. We call a book Mystery, which could mean Miss Marple, Philip Marlowe, or one of many cat detectives. Broad strokes do not work well for us—we are writers and connoisseurs of nuance—so we find finer brushes. Subgenres refine our writings a little further. Comp titles refine a little further still. Then an elevator pitch adds some detail.

Genre and I go way back. Our relationship has been different depending on my role at the moment. As a librarian, I use genre to connect readers to books they may enjoy. As a reader, I use genre to find books may want. As a writer, I defy genre at every turn and dare anyone to define my style! Find my books now, potential readers! I double-dog dare you!

All right. That is a bad strategy. Don’t listen to writer-me. Instead, let me speak from my decades of experience in libraries and bookstores.

Genre is less about confining you and your style; it is more about putting your work in the path of readers who will enjoy it. Even an imperfect genre fit is still a great fit. I have talked up numerous titles with conversations that began something like, “It’s not quite a mystery and not quite a romance, but at the same time, it’s both!” Genre is a talking point. It is a place on the bookshelf near other books your readers might like. It is a chance to be discovered. It is NOT a science.

Between Genres.


Figure out where your book should be shelved in a bookstore. Let this be your guide.
Acquaint yourself with subgenres and niche genres. Specificity is your friend when ranking on databases.

Decide on the best fit and also a couple runner-up categories. Amazon usually displays a title’s place in three genres for any given title.

Speaking of Amazon, you should familiarize yourself with their genre categories in particular. Strategic choices can help you reach the top of your bestseller lists and improve your discoverability.

You can start here.


Select every possible genre. You want to be found by the right readers, only some readers.

Be a perfectionist. Even subgenres can be surprisingly broad. You don’t need a perfect fit. You just need to make someone say, “Ooh, that does sound interesting.”

Overthink it. Sometimes genre is in the mind of the reader. A sci-fi novel with romance elements to one reader may be more of a romance novel with sci-fi elements to another. You just get it on the right lists so both readers can find what they’re looking for.

The Book Industry Standards and Communications is the global system for categorizing books.

Book Genre Dictionary

Genre Research

Published by Writing Heights Writing Bug

A blog by writers for everyone interested in books, reading, writing, and just about everything in between.

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