Why Genre is Important When Writing a Novel

It is amusing how genre is one of the defining aspects of a novel. The novel and genre are so intrinsically linked. You cannot think of Lord of The Rings without thinking of fantasy, the Hunger Games with young adult or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy without science fiction. But why is it so important to be categorised? Is it even necessary? Wouldn’t you rather be hip and say I have a romance infused-fantasy epic-exploration of space kind of novel? Sometimes having to classify your novel by a single “narrow” definition can be confining or misleading.

Genre is important for a number of reasons and if you ever want to be published you need to have an appreciation of what genre really is.

Genre serves many purposes. The simplest is to quickly categorise your novel. Humans like to organise items which may not need organising. But out of the millions of books that exist in the world, yours will have a greater chance of sticking out but cutting away the unrelated books. You may not like to define your book for the sake of being pretentious but in doing so you enter the market at a disadvantage.

Publishers want to know your book will sell and be read. The genre is critical in determining your target audience. As much as we like categorising things we also like to read something that is familiar. Many readers will pick up a book simply because it is a certain genre. If you feel that no single genre can define you, use two or three, never more. Avoid using language or tropes typical to a genre. The success of many genre novels lie in their ability to surprise the reader.

A Song of Fire and Ice has been so successful due to George R R Martin’s ability to express such detailed human emotion and experience. The characters are so real and the fantasy adds to the colour of the world rather than confusing it. The Martian appeals to many readers due to its comedic elements and doesn’t choke the reader in high-order science.

Here the contradiction lies. Choose your genre so readers can find your work but feel free to expand beyond for wider appeal. What is important is the strength of story. If your novel is well written, intriguing and has interesting characters it will find success despite genre.

So don’t feel like choosing a single genre is selling-out. What you are doing is giving your novel the best chance to be read. After that you can do whatever you want.