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Writing To Match Genres & Categories – Or In Defiance Of Them (the Indie Author’s Prerogative!)

Writing to Match Genres & Categories – or in Defiance of Them (the Indie Author’s Prerogative!)

Headshot of Debbie Young

Debbie Young kicks off our new series about writing to match genre expectations

Choosing the right categories as you self-publish your work on various ebook, print and audiobook platforms is a complex issue for indie authors, not least because each platform classifies books in different ways to the industry standard BISAC system. That's obviously a decision we don't have to make until after we've written our books. But is that leaving it too late? should we really be considering category-related issues before we even write the first word, choosing which genre we're planning to write in – that is, if we choose to write in a clear-cut genre at all.

There's good reason to consider category-related issues before we even write the first word, including choosing which genre we're planning to write in – that is, if we choose to write in a clear-cut genre at all.


4 Reasons for Writing in a Specific Genre

Why do genres matter anyway?

  • photo of old-fashioned metal filing cabinets

    Reasons to compartmentalise our writing into genres

    A genre such as cozy mystery or police procedural provides a useful shorthand to readers and to stockists of what to expect from your book, making it more likely that they'll choose your book if that's the kind of book they're after.

  • Standard genres make it easier to your categorize your book on self-publishing platforms – although each might each use slightly different terminology, their categories at least it helps you reach readers who are looking specifically for books in your genre.
  • It positions your book alongside others that are like yours, so you're more likely to share a shelf in a bookstore or on an “also bought” or “if you liked that, you might like this” listing online.
  • Genre expectations provide some basic rules to guide you as you write your book.

Attitudes to Genre among Traditional and Indie Authors

That last point begs the question:

is it wrong to label a book in a specific genre without adhering to the rules?

Trade publishing houses apply these rules pretty rigidly for fear of alienating large audiences won by focusing hard on genres. Big publishing companies subdivide themselves via different imprints to delineate beteween different genres. Many small publishing companies define themselves by the genre that they publish, eg The history press. Genre is an essential part of their brand.

cover of Hampstead Fever

Different routes for different genres: Carol Cooper self-publishes her novels, while her medical books are trade-published

Thus even the most successful author for a publisher specializing in sweet romance would find their manuscript for a dinosaur porn novel rejected, no matter how well written or imagined.

That strict application of genre standards has been a launchpad for many an indie career, such as ALLi author member Carol Cooper, a medical professional who has written countless textbooks and healthcare guides, self-publishes her fiction.

How Binding are Genres for Indies?

As author-publishers, we can write in any number of genres we like – and even invent our own genres, if there's not a trade one to suit what we want to write. Adult

Adult coloring books were once a non-existent genre, and an indie initiative before being picked up by the trade.

But for the sake of satisfying readers, it's worth considering genre expectations, even though there's no publishing director (except yourself!) standing over you to make you comply with them.

Most readers neither know nor care how a book is published – they just care whether it's a good read. And if they buy a sweet romance and come across explicit sex, or a cozy mystery that's full of blood and gore, they are likely to be upset, leave negative reviews, and avoid your books in future.

Wilfully mislabelling a book to try to reach a wider audience is a betrayal of reader trust.

It's fine to disregard the rules of a sweet romance, provided you don't label it as such – or you do so at your peril.

Introducing a New Series of Posts about Genre

cover of Lincoln in the Bardo

Breaking the literary mould? – this year's Man Booker Prize winner

We're therefore starting a new occasional series here on the ALLi blog that will offer guidelines on the most popular genres. This will help you decide:

  • exactly what you are writing
  • whether to adopt the usual rules for that genre
  • whether to apply the constant indie author prerogative to write what you like and be damned

Or indeed to do so without being damned at all, as shown by today's winner of the Man Booker Prize (awarded for literary fiction, perhaps the most confounding and controversial genre of all). Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders sounds like a classic rule-breaker, written mostly as dialogue and in 166 voices. Interestingly, it has accrued a real mix of reviews prior to its win, from 1* to 5*. I've just downloaded a sample to see whether it meets this reader's expectations of literary fiction… I'll be adding my review to the mix when I've read it.

#Authors - should indies stick with genre expectations or apply their own #selfpub rules? - @DebbieYoungBN discusses Share on X



This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. truly interesting articles in this post, I learn heaps every time, hope that one day I’ll have tons of experience too and can contribute as well.
    Many thanks for the post.

  2. Rules? For an indie author? Some prize remarks from a VERY well respected industry professional at the Winchester Writers’ conference a few years ago may be informative.

    (By the by I write medieval crime comedy (yes, really), because I have always written comedy, I like it and I found the historical crime genre ripe for the picking…)

    So, I was told:
    1. “No one publishes humour.”
    Yes, apparently no one at all. No one publishes Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams or Robert Rankin or Jasper Fforde… so don’t bother.

    2. “Medieval Crime Comedy is three things and you’re only allowed one.”
    So Genres are only allowed to have one word, Romance, Thriller, Horror etc. I suppose cozy-crime only gets away with it if there’s a hyphen.

    Yes, there’s no BIC code for humour, yes I have to call it historical and humour and crime but we indies are here to change the world. Blurb tells readers what to expect and with 65,000 sales I’m no longer that bothered what the industry says my pigeon hole should look like…

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