Know your genre
"What do you write?"
This is the first thing most people ask when they hear you're a writer, and if you're reading this blog then most likely you already have a quick answer ready: "I write fantasy / crime / romance / thriller."
Those answers are great for when you're chatting around the braai, but when you meet other writers, pitch to editors or agents, or want to market your book to readers, you're going to need to be a whole lot more specific, because ever genre has a whole host of sub-genres. If you can't pinpoint where your books best fit, you're not going to be able to match your manuscript or book to the right kind of editor or audience, and worse, you're going to look like an amateur.
For example, calling your novel a 'crime novel' doesn't say much about what kind of crime story you've written. Is it a cosy mystery, a police procedural, a 'whodunnit', a crime thriller, Roman Noir, or a courtroom drama? I'm sure as you read that list a whole host of very different stories popped into your head!
I'm not going to make this easy and share a long list of sub-genres so you can pick one from the list and be done. No, if you aren't yet sure what types of books you write, I'm going to give you some homework.
How do you figure out what genre you write?
Your first task is to read. Find books that are similar to yours, then look at how they are marketed. Is there a review quote on the cover that says "best legal thriller of the year!" or a blurb that says "this classic whodunnit..."? If there aren't such obvious clues available, then Google the writer. How are they described in their Amazon bio or on Wikipedia? What do reviewers have to say about the books?
Your second task is to visit those book pages on Amazon. Scroll down to where that particular book's Amazon's categories are listed. Click on the category link and check out the top-selling books in those categories. Do they sound similar to yours? Browse the sub-categories listed in the left sidebar on the bestseller page to get a feel for how each sub-category differs.
But what if your books are different?
It's good to be different, and for your books to be fresh and unique and not just like every other book out there. When you are starting out and making your mark, wanting to impress an editor or agent, then being different is crucial. BUT: you still need to be able to help the editor or agent identify whether this is the type of book they might be interested in, and how they can potentially market it.
If your book doesn't fit a traditional category, then say that: for example, 'This book is a mash up of historical romance, courtroom drama and spy thriller' or 'this book is Jack Reacher meets Lemony Snicket.' This gives your target audience an excellent idea of what your book is about, just how fresh and unique it is, and shows that you know just a little about the genre bending you're doing.
You also won't know if your book is truly different until you know what the genres are, and what other books are out there. Nothing screams 'beginner writer who doesn't have a clue' than a query letter that says "this book is completely unique - it's a book aimed at teenagers about a girl in a futuristic, post-nuclear world". Because the agent or editor reading that letter will be rolling their eyes and thinking "hasn't this writer even heard of dystopian YA?"
In next week's post, I'll look specifically at how genre can be used to market and categorise your books, especially for those interested in self-publishing.