Book Genres: Now 3 Times Easier!

I've had some great interactions with readers over the years.  Signing books.  Meeting amazing people.  Getting to be an inspiration for those readers who also aspire to write.

Then there are the weird conversations that make me realize some people have more interest than knowledge about the complex world of books.  And I can't blame them.  As a writer, how much do I know about music genres?  Sub-genres?  Movies?

So in case you run into me or another unsuspecting author who's crawled out of their writing cave, here's an easy break-down of the most common book genres.  Anecdotes included.

Non-Fiction.  There are dozens of sub-genres here.  In short, if it's a true story or self-help, it's non-fiction.  The best way to remember this is the phrase "fact vs. fiction."  It gives you a built-in conversation starter if you want a cheesy one.

Fantasy.  This means imaginary worlds, races, and creatures.  Possibly magic.  Think Lord of the Rings.  It's the kind of story that transports you somewhere that only exists in the author's mind.  When I wrote fantasy 7-10 years ago, one guy thought "fantasy" meant "romance."  I don't, haven't, and won't write romance because I can't work within the confines of the genre (to be discussed below).  Fantasy is a flight of fancy, not a book of romantic fantasies.

Science Fiction.  Often partnered with fantasy as in "Sci Fi/Fantasy" because science fiction takes just as much imagination.  It can be an interpretation of our reality and society.  Sci fi usually incorporates futuristic elements, machinery, technology, and/or outer space.  Philip K. Dick is one of the most prolific and well-known sci fi writers, especially since his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was turned into the movie Bladerunner.

Romance.  Believe it or not, there are strict guidelines that readers expect in this genre.  If someone tells you they're writing romance, you can likely expect: a woman meets a man, they both have flaws but also good points, and although their flaws threaten to keep them apart, they eventually give in and accomplish something together.  This is the genre that Danielle Steel has ruled for decades.  Paranormal romance, which is gaining popularity, is a sub-genre here combining - you guessed it - romance and the paranormal (ghosts, demigods).  Books with same-sex characters being involved get their own genre: Gay and Lesbian.

Graphic Novels.  Some people think this term means books that are graphic in their violence or portrayal of sex.  But graphic novels are books with graphics - pictures.  They're the perfect blend of a comic book and a novel.  Some are historical, some are hilarious, some are autobiographical, and some are serious.  Take your pick.

Erotica.  I was recently asked about my new book, XZA, and explained it's in the general/women's fiction category.  The woman asking me about it got hung up on 50 Shades of Grey and kept asking how graphic my book was, insinuating my book was going to reveal something about my bedroom preferences.  Number one, the difference in genre should've been enough to tell her not to compare it to 50 Shades of Grey, and number two, XZA isn't non-fiction, so I'm not giving away as many secrets as she thinks.  Erotica like 50 Shades of Grey or Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy is designed to be erotic.  It's equal parts story and sex (give or take).  It's graphic, and not in the "picture with words" kind of way.  Where romance teases and titters, erotica shamelessly bares it all.

All the genres that are what they sound like.  Crime fiction centers around some kind of crime and/or cover-up.  Historical fiction takes place during a specific time period - Middle Ages, Victorian, Edwardian, Regency.  Horror involves things that scare you - killer clowns, blood-sucking vampires that don't sparkle.  Mystery is great because by convention, you're supposed to meet the guilty person long before you find out who did it, therefore putting the "mystery" in the mystery genre.  Thrillers are usually fast-paced thrill-rides, and the suspense genre keeps you in suspense on the edge of your seat.  Westerns take place in the west, sometimes the wild west.  Children's books can be written for any young age up to about 12.  The young adult genre takes over from 12-18.

General and literary fiction.  If a book doesn't belong in one of the categories above (or a genre listed on another site), it goes here: general fiction.  My Grandma Z. used to try to convince me my first novel, How Angel Fell Down, was a romance.  But it's not - it focuses on the title character and her repeated attempts at relationships.  Plus it lacks the kinds of scenes romance readers pay to read - and bookmark so they can reread later.  Literary fiction is similar but focuses more on the language and the telling of the story than just developing a story.  Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a great example.  As regular commercial fiction, it would've probably been slightly campy and focused more on the interactions of the people in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  But in McCarthy's more-than-capable hands, The Road sets a tone of bleakness that lets you feel what it's like to wander this landscape with so little hope.

I hope that helps.  Remember, most writers love to be asked about their work.  It's how my husband and I got together.  Memorize a thing or two about genres, and you might turn a writer into a fan of you.

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