Genre and Subgenre – What, Why and How.

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In literature, where words ignite imaginations and stories transport us to distant lands, genre and subgenre serve as the signposts that guide readers through this vast literary landscape. They are the secret handshakes that connect authors with their intended audience, and they’re the keys to unlocking the treasures hidden within the pages of a book. Just as travelers might choose a destination that aligns with their desires, readers pick up books based on the genre that promises the adventure they seek.

At first glance, defining a book’s genre may appear to be a straightforward task – after all, genres are the broad categories like Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, or Fantasy that have been familiar to us since we first learned to read. But beneath the surface, in the heart of these genres, lie subgenres as diverse and intricate as a tapestry of dreams.

From Cozy Mysteries to Steampunk Science Fiction and Historical Romance to High Fantasy, the world of literature is a literary kaleidoscope, offering a spectrum of storytelling possibilities. In this article, we embark on a journey through this captivating literary labyrinth. We’ll delve into the significance of genre and subgenre, exploring why they matter not only to authors but to the readers who seek the magic of stories within their beloved categories.

So, grab your literary compass, dear readers, and let’s navigate the world of book genres and subgenres to uncover the keys to unlocking the tales that speak to your heart and soul.

What is genre and subgenre?

Genre and subgenre are categorization systems used to classify and define different types of literature, including fiction and nonfiction. These classifications help authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers understand what to expect from a particular book and provide a framework for organizing and marketing literature. Here’s a breakdown of these terms:


Genre is a broad category or classification that defines a group of books with similar characteristics and themes. It’s a way to label and organize literature based on shared elements such as style, content, and narrative conventions.

For example, common fiction genres include:

  • Mystery: These books revolve around solving a puzzle or crime.
  • Romance: Romance novels primarily focus on love and relationships.
  • Science Fiction: This genre explores imaginative and futuristic concepts.
  • Fantasy: Fantasy books often feature magical elements and mythical creatures.
  • Historical Fiction: These stories are set in the past and often incorporate historical events.


Subgenre is a more specific category that falls within a broader genre. It further defines the type of content, themes, or style of a book, offering a more detailed classification.

For example, within the Mystery genre, you might find various subgenres, including:

  • Cozy Mystery: These are lighthearted mysteries, often set in small communities, featuring amateur sleuths.
  • Police Procedural: These mysteries focus on detailed police investigations and the procedural aspects of solving crimes.
  • Legal Thriller: This subgenre explores legal cases and courtroom drama.
  • Hardboiled Mystery: Hardboiled mysteries typically feature gritty, tough detective protagonists.

In the nonfiction realm, genres might include:

  • Biography: This genre focuses on the life story of a real person.
  • Self-Help: Self-help books offer advice and guidance on personal development.
  • History: These books provide factual accounts of past events.
  • Science: Scientific literature delves into various scientific topics.

These classifications are not fixed or rigid, and some books may straddle multiple genres and subgenres. The precise classification of a book can sometimes be subjective, as it depends on the focus, tone, and unique characteristics of the work.

Recommended Reads: Discover your literary audience.

Nevertheless, genre and subgenre labels are valuable tools for readers, authors, and the publishing industry, as they help people find books that align with their interests and preferences.

Genre and Subgenre
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Why is genre and subgenre important?

Defining the genre and subgenre of a book is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Targeted Marketing: Knowing your book’s genre allows you to market it to the right audience. Different genres appeal to different readers. When you identify your book’s genre, you can create marketing campaigns, book covers, and promotional materials that resonate with the expectations of that specific audience.
  2. Discoverability: Books are often categorized by genre in bookstores, libraries, and online retailers. If your book is misclassified, potential readers may not find it, leading to missed sales and opportunities.
  3. Reader Expectations: Different genres come with distinct conventions and reader expectations. Readers who choose a particular genre have certain assumptions about the story’s style, themes, and tropes. Meeting these expectations is key to satisfying your readers and building a loyal fan base.
  4. Competitive Advantage: By accurately defining your genre and subgenre, you can better understand your competition. This knowledge allows you to differentiate your book and identify what sets it apart from others in the same category.
  5. Literary Agents and Publishers: If you’re seeking traditional publishing, agents and publishers look for manuscripts that fit within specific genres. Properly identifying your genre and subgenre can make your manuscript more appealing to industry professionals.
  6. Reader Reviews: When readers leave reviews, they often mention the genre. Accurate categorization helps your book receive reviews from readers who enjoy that genre, which can contribute to its overall visibility.
  7. Book Recommendations: Many online platforms use algorithms to recommend books to readers based on their past choices. Proper genre identification improves the chances of your book being recommended to readers interested in your genre.
  8. Cross-Promotion: In the world of self-publishing and indie authors, cross-promotion with authors in the same genre or subgenre can be highly effective. Accurate genre identification helps you connect with potential promotion partners.
  9. Libraries and Bookstores: Libraries and bookstores organize books by genre, making it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for. Correct categorization increases the chances of your book being stocked on their shelves.
  10. Reader Satisfaction: When readers pick up a book within their preferred genre, they are more likely to enjoy the reading experience. This leads to positive word-of-mouth recommendations and potentially long-term fans of your work.

Defining the genre and subgenre of your book is like placing your work in the right section of a library, where those most interested in your type of story are more likely to discover and enjoy it. It’s an essential step in ensuring that your book finds its intended audience and achieves the success it deserves.

Is defining genre and subgenre for nonfiction writers too?

Yes, defining genre and subgenre is important for nonfiction writers as well, although the way these concepts apply to nonfiction differs somewhat from fiction. Here’s why it’s important:

  1. Audience Targeting: Nonfiction books span a wide array of subjects, from self-help and business to history and science. Just as with fiction, understanding the genre and subgenre helps nonfiction authors identify their target audience. Different subjects appeal to distinct readers, and knowing your book’s genre allows you to tailor your content and marketing efforts to reach the right readers.
  2. Reader Expectations: Nonfiction genres, like memoir, self-help, biography, and academic, come with specific reader expectations. Readers picking up a self-help book anticipate advice or guidance, while those exploring a biography expect a life story. Meeting these expectations ensures reader satisfaction.
  3. Market Placement: When nonfiction books are categorized correctly, they are more likely to be placed in the appropriate sections of bookstores, libraries, and online retailers. This increases the visibility of the book to potential readers looking for content on a particular subject.
  4. Competitive Analysis: Understanding the genre helps nonfiction authors assess the competition. They can see what other books on the same subject are offering and identify what sets their book apart.
  5. Agent and Publisher Consideration: If you’re pursuing traditional publishing for your nonfiction book, agents and publishers seek manuscripts that fit within specific nonfiction genres. Properly identifying your book’s genre makes it more attractive to industry professionals.
  6. Content Focus: Defining the genre and subgenre helps you maintain a clear focus on the subject matter. It guides your research and content creation by ensuring that you address the relevant topics and issues within that genre.
  7. Book Marketing: Genre affects book marketing strategies for nonfiction as well. It determines which communities and platforms to target for promotion, what reviewers to reach out to, and where to advertise.

In nonfiction, the concept of subgenre can be a bit more fluid. It often relates to the specific angle or approach you take on your subject. For example, within the self-help genre, there could be subgenres focused on mindfulness, productivity, or relationships. These distinctions help readers understand what aspect of the subject your book delves into.

In summary, even in the world of nonfiction, defining genre and subgenre is essential for effectively reaching your intended readers, meeting their expectations, and making your book discoverable. It’s a valuable tool for both authors and readers seeking knowledge and information in a particular field.

How to identify genre and subgenre of your manuscript?

Discovering the genre and subgenre of the book you’re working on is crucial for effective marketing and targeting the right readers. Here’s how you can identify them:

1. Understand Genre and Subgenre Definitions

  • Start by gaining a solid understanding of what defines a genre and subgenre in literature. Genres are broad categories like Mystery, Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, etc. Subgenres are more specific categories within these genres, such as Cozy Mystery, Cyberpunk, Historical Romance, or High Fantasy.

2. Read Extensively

  • Read widely within your general genre to familiarize yourself with the typical themes, styles, and tropes associated with it. This will help you identify where your book fits.

3. Analyze Your Book’s Themes

  • Consider the central themes, elements, and overall tone of your book. Is it primarily focused on solving a crime (Mystery), exploring futuristic technology (Science Fiction), or delving into a historical love story (Historical Romance)?

4. Characterize Your Protagonist

  • Think about your main character and their role in the story. Are they a detective (Mystery), a space explorer (Science Fiction), a detective in a historical setting (Historical Mystery), or a romantic lead (Romance)?

5. Setting and Time Period

  • The setting and time period can be indicative of genre and subgenre. For instance, if your story is set in a medieval world, it might fall into the Fantasy subgenre.

6. Plot Elements

  • Analyze the key plot elements. Is there a murder to be solved (Mystery), a dystopian society to navigate (Dystopian Science Fiction), or a central love story (Romance)?

7. Ask for Feedback

  • Share your book’s synopsis or a few chapters with beta readers, critique partners, or writing groups and ask for their input on its genre and subgenre. Fresh perspectives can be enlightening.

8. Research Existing Titles

  • Look at books in bookstores, libraries, and online retailers that are similar to yours. What genres and subgenres are they categorized under? Your book should fit in these categories.

9. Consult Industry Resources

  • Literary agents, publishers, and online resources like Publisher’s Marketplace, Writer’s Digest, or Goodreads can provide guidance on where your book belongs.

10. Be Open to Hybrid Genres

  • Some books don’t neatly fit into one genre. Don’t be afraid to consider hybrid genres or multiple genres if your story contains elements from more than one category.

11. Avoid Overthinking

  • While it’s essential to accurately categorize your book, don’t overthink it. Sometimes, the genre will be apparent, and trying to force it into a specific category can lead to confusion.

12. Keep Reader Expectations in Mind

  • Remember that readers often have specific expectations when they choose a genre. Your book should align with these expectations to satisfy and engage your target audience.

By carefully considering these factors, conducting research, and seeking feedback, you can determine the genre and subgenre of your book, which will guide your marketing and help you connect with the right readers.

As we draw our exploration of book genres and subgenres to a close, we find ourselves standing at the crossroads of countless literary adventures.

Genre and subgenre, those essential signposts in the vast literary landscape, are not mere labels but rather invitations to embark on unique and enchanting journeys.

In this ever-expanding world of storytelling, the diversity of genres and subgenres mirrors the richness of human imagination. From the fantastical realms of Epic Fantasy to the intimate charm of Cozy Mysteries, every reader finds their place. It’s a testament to the universal power of stories, transcending borders, cultures, and time.

So, whether you’re an author crafting your next masterpiece or a reader in search of the next literary treasure, let the knowledge of genre and subgenre be your trusted guide. With these keys in hand, you can open the doors to worlds uncharted, characters unmet, and emotions unfelt.

The magic of literature lies in its ability to transport us across time and space, and in understanding the language of genre, we become the co-creators of these captivating journeys. As we continue to explore the endless bookshelves of this wondrous library of human experience, may you always find the stories that resonate with your heart and leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Happy reading!

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