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Your Ideal Readers Expect You to Know Your Book’s Genre Inside and Out

Thursday’s Writing Challenge was all about publishing your genre-specific book. And it included some great information.

Admittedly, it might have been great information you weren’t entirely ready for if you’re not to the publishing point yet. You might be just starting out, or halfway through, or busy improving your finished first draft.

In any of those cases, let’s backtrack a bit on the genre train (I write as an actual train keeps blasting its horn a few miles off). Because you’re right: There are plenty of other stops worth taking on this exploratory journey.

Knowing your specific genre while you’re writing or editing is exceptionally – exceptionally! – valuable as well.

As yesterday’s post put it, “Knowing your basic book genre is vastly important to the writing process. It gives you a set of boundaries that helps focus your creative or professional abilities to better structure your story or message.”

Today, let’s discuss how.

As a writer, you’ve got to think like a reader much of the time, asking questions like:

  1. What will my ideal readers want to get out of this book manuscript?

  2. How will they interpret that last line after they read this next one?

  3. Will they hate me forever and never buy my books again if I take this one in “that” direction?

Depending on which direction you mean, the answer to question No. 3 might be yes.

You’re best off knowing your genre of choice inside and out.

Every genre involves its own set of expectations and rules. As the writer, you’re much better off knowing what those are, from proper word count to allowed elements.

Should your narrative have a happy ending or a shocking one? Is there a template you need to consider? Is the ending supposed to inspire or inform? It’s better to know before you start to write than after.

That way, you cut down on your editing time and amp up your chances of gaining a loyal following.

Romance novels have to involve a love story. That’s a genre-specific rule.

It’s a pretty broad genre-specific rule, of course, with so much room to play. That’s all well and good, but you don’t want to play too much if you’re writing a mainstream romance novel.

In that case, there are also genre-specific expectations you need to know about. As NY Book Editors states:

To create a satisfying romance novel, you need to follow a tried and true formula…

Boy meets girl.

Boy loses girl.

Boy gets girl.

There’s no use in trying to reinvent the wheel here. Most romance readers will demand that your story follows this formula.

Take especial note of that third expectation: “Boy gets girl.” NY Book Editors has something to say about that as well:

You need to create a satisfying ending to your novel. If you don’t, it will completely ruin the story for your reader and, perhaps worse, discourage them from reading any other romance novel you publish in the future. That’s not good.

The best plot is the one where the boy gets the girl at the end. Period. So, no matter what it takes to get your characters to this ending, make it happen.

Here's the thing. Nobody picks up a romance novel with the intent to be heartbroken by the last page. That’s what literary fiction may or may not be for.

In the same way, nobody picks up a horror novel without wanting to be significantly freaked out. Nobody picks up a historical nonfiction book hoping for intensely biased interpretations of the past, and nobody picks up a business book for poetic purposes.

Those are all fairly obvious examples, sure. But there are plenty of nuances to know about each genre as well – to say nothing about whatever subgenres your book might fit into.

All things considered, you want to make your manuscript count. And the best way to do that is to know what it stands for, genre, subgenres and all.


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