These are the broad classifications – you’ll see the shelves in bookstores labeled somewhat like these:
- Action / Adventure
- Thriller / Suspense
- Science Fiction and Fantasy
Genres are subsets of categories. For example, the Romance category has Chick Lit, Bodice-Ripper (derogatory), Christian (actually “inspirational”), City Girl (variation of Chick Lit), Community, Erotic Romance, Erotica, Ethnic, Futuristic, Gothic, Hen Lit, Historical, Contemporary, Mainstream, Medical, Romantic Comedy, etc.
The closer you can identify your genre, the more targeted your audience and the better chance you have of matching readers' expectations. This will lead to better marketing/promotion, better acceptance of your work and better sales.
Genres have their combinations, too. Any genre could be Young Adult, Children, Inspirational, Futuristic, etc. You can cross Science Fiction with any other category. A mystery could be Historical or a Thriller. (Mystery = Something happened, how or who made it happen? Thriller = something is going to happen. You can obviously combine a mystery and a thriller).
John Olson says readers want:
- Transcendence (take me away from here)
Within reason (you rarely have Romance/Sex in a children’s book), you can have many genres in one novel. You could pump up one or more, but can always mix them up.
Am I going to be stuck in a genre?
No. For example, R.A. Heinlein is known as a science-fiction writer. He started out with Young Adult (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel) and ended up in the adult science-fiction genre (Time Enough for Love). In his case, the adult writings have no explicit sex, so they are definitely not in the erotic SciFi genre. He joyfully wrote in both genres.
You must at least keep track of the genre in which you are writing your current work so you can target your audience (readers) as closely as possible. If you can brand yourself as an excellent X genre writer, you're better off.
That's not to say you cannot write other works in other categories or genres. Romance fiction is the best-selling fiction category. Whether you are male or female doesn't make a difference, but you need to stick to the Romance genre standards.
Your current work may -- and probably should -- have romance in it without being the Romance genre; they are different structures.
If you wish, you can always use a pen name when writing in different categories or genres; that's up to you. You might be "branded" as a Romance writer so your mystery work needs to have some specific wording in the blurbs to distinguish it as such. You'd shop/market/promote each as a specific type. Your reputation might or might not carry over between the genres.
Picking a Genre
This could be tough. In the Sorcerer novels, they originally started out as erotica. Shortly, though, the ideas and philosophies gained more importance, so I would now classify them as Erotic Science Fiction since the erotic aspect is an integral part of the philosophical background.
So, pick out one of your favorite works from the list you made in part 1. Can you put a classification and genre to it? What aspects of the work contributed to your decision?