Welcome back to a segment called Thanks, Tips, where I break down vague publishing advice and make it more transparent or actionable for you.
This installment looks at the phrase Know Your Genre and helps you to understand what it means and how to do it.
The simplest iteration of this is you have to know where your book fits in the market. What BISAC code will you use? What categories does it fit in on digital retailers? What shelf would it sit on in a bookstore?
What do your readers expect when they open your book? It’s essential to understand why readers like your genre, and then you need to play to those conventions in some way.
Now, I’mma stop you right here before you even say it. You are not recreating the genre. You are not crushing the tropes, and you are definitely not educating the readers of your genre on why what they’ve loved up until this point has been wrong.
If you try that, you are murdering your career. I promise you. There is nothing readers hate more than being talked down to by an author.
These moments happen mostly in the romance genres because some pompous newbie author decides they’re going to write a “real romance” with all the corrections and right ways to do it.
Just don’t do it. Please, for the love of all things sacred in this world, do not try to show readers why they are wrong. They’re not wrong. And you will only come out of it looking like an ass. The only thing that will set your book apart in the genre is if you are faithful and loyal to your voice and your story. Don’t try to rip off a popular series either—that’s the flip side of the argument.
Whew, sorry about that. Tangent complete. Back to the good stuff.
Know your Genre
Putting it all together
- Read in your genre. Anything and everything you can get your hands on even if it’s only loosely tied to what you’re writing about. Sometimes authors like to think that what they are working on is so shiny and new that it couldn’t possibly fit in such a tight genre box. It can, and it should. Readers don’t like to take risks, so if you can’t clearly state why they’ll enjoy your book, they won’t pick it up.
ACTION: Go to your library and pull a stack of books that you would love to read. Sit on the floor with them all and scan them. Look for things like voice, POV, chapter length, structure. Just take it all in, and if the book hooks you take it home. You can do the same thing on your favorite e-retailer and download a ton of samples.
- Research your categories and BISAC codes. Hop on the Google and check out BISAC codes, which is how all book retailers classify books, so they know where to put them. Your story can have two on Amazon and up to five on other sites.
ACTION: For Amazon categories, get onto the top 100 lists and start down that rabbit-hole with pen and paper handy. If you have KDP Rocket, this research becomes extremely simple, but it can be done on the site. List out your five BISAC codes in order of importance, and choose ten categories on Amazon.
- Compare your book to chart-toppers in your categories. Note here I did not say compare yourself to bestselling authors. Please don’t get stuck here, feeling like you’re not enough, or that you’ll never live up. This exercise is about figuring out your genre and collecting data on books that have similarities to yours in trope/convention/tone. It is not about your worth or value as an author. You are enough exactly as you are.
ACTION: Find the top ten books in your ten different categories. What books are crushing multiple charts? What do their covers look like, and how are their blurbs written? Are they KU or Wide? How many reviews do they have? What are readers saying about the stories?
Once you have all this data, you will naturally see how and where your book fits. You’ll know where to say Hell No, or Yes, Definitely as you write, edit, cover, and publish your book. Knowing your genre is about having a broad understanding of what is happening in the industry so that you can make smart and educated decisions about your work.
Your goal is not to copy bestsellers or reinvent a genre; it is to stand firm and confident in your story. Only when you know your genre inside out can you stretch and bend the conventions to give readers a truly unique experience.