May 28, 2018

The Importance of Genre

By Mike Nemeth

You’ve finished your novel and you’re proud of it. Your friends and family are proud of you. You may be savvy enough to predict the obstacles you face: early readers who misunderstand the story; rejections from agents; criticism from editors; an unexpected lack of interest from the media, reviewers and bloggers. You clear these obstacles and wait for the royalties to roll in. Then you are surprised by one last hurdle: confusion over how to categorize your work for distribution.

Physical bookstores have relatively few categories of fiction and getting misplaced in the mysteries aisle when your book is an action-filled thriller isn’t the end of the world. Online bookstores, however, have a plethora of detailed categories to make searching millions of titles easy for sophisticated readers. No problem, you think, put my book in that often-searched mysteries category next to all the bestsellers. But wait, if your novel doesn’t conform to the definition of a mystery, it can’t be categorized as a mystery. Then it must be a thriller, you think, because it is a thrilling read. Well, it is a thriller only if it conforms to the definition of a thriller. Otherwise you’ll have to keep looking for a home for your story.

That’s what happened to me when I published my debut novel, Defiled. I wrote a story that made the points I wanted made about our legal system and I never gave genre a thought. When asked about genre, I suggested legal thriller, then mystery, and finally just thriller and found that my plot didn’t conform to any of the established formulae. Eventually, an experienced editor labeled it Crime Fiction, a category in which the protagonist is an anti-hero who fights for moral superiority against faceless institutions. I had never heard the definition before writing the book.

As a writer, we are faced with a dilemma: Will we follow a predefined formula for a genre, or will we write what our creative instincts tell us to write and let the chips fall where they may? Having learned from the confusion over my debut novel, I faced this dilemma with open eyes as I plotted the sequel, The Undiscovered Country. It couldn’t be a mystery because the characters don’t know there’s been a murder until it is unexpectedly solved in the climax of the story. It couldn’t be a thriller because there was no way to keep the victim alive either.

So, I intentionally wrote the story as Crime Fiction, the genre that comes naturally for me. Knowing the genre rules made plotting easier. Writing for a genre makes sales and distribution more efficient. Being correctly categorized in a genre simplifies reader searches. Understanding genre is an essential step in the education of a writer.
Mike Nemeth is a novelist, blogger, non-fiction writer, former basketball coach and retired Information Technology executive. The Undiscovered Country is the sequel to Defiled, an Amazon Crime Fiction bestseller. Mike’s other works include 128 Billion to 1, an examination of “March Madness,” the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. Mike now lives in the Atlanta suburbs with his wife, Angie, and their rescue dogs, Sophie and Scout. Mike can be followed at,  @nemosnovels, @nemosnumbers, and Facebook/mikenemethauthor.

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