Key-Word Cavalry: Novel "doesn’t fit a genre"

This has been quite a bone of contention the previous times that it got mentioned on this blog, but since I haven’t ever really written about it myself, I thought I’d put my opinion out there.

So… you wrote a book. And it was beautiful. And unique.

So unique that it transcends genre.


After all, who are those evil corporate monsters to push your baby into a box that it never will comfortably fit?

Well, beloved searcher, while I have no idea what you were thinking as you typed today’s phrase, if it sounded like the above, you might want to look into going through a mind-shift.


For more than one reason:

First one would be if you want to trad publish, you want to make your book as easy to sell as possible. The easier it would be to sell, the bigger chance you’ll have of getting published. Publishing houses need to know which shelf your book needs to sit on. And it can’t sit on five different shelves. Because that would be stealing space from the poor person who wrote a simple but beautiful story that fit in only one genre.

Ha, you might say, I want to self publish. Excellent point, searcher. Except, we humans are silly creatures. You say: Epic romantic fantasy dreamscape with sci fi elements. We read: MESS.  This is not a poTAYto poTAHto scenario. Besides. I think it’s a lot better to be pleasantly surprised about what’s in the book. Rather than reading every single aspect of it while perusing the synopsis. 

But MISHAAAAAA, you might say, my book does not fit into a genre. Why am I going to put a square peg into a round hole? My answer to this is simple: Guess what. Most people’s books don’t fit exactly into a given genre. If they did, there would be no variety. Monotony is boring. Boring is bad. BUT, there is hope yet. If you stop being so worried about insulting a few strings in your storyline, you’ll find that some of those holes you mentioned are more square than others. Your peg will fit. Maybe not exactly, but close enough.

So… go for broad strokes. No story will be exactly equally fantasy/thriller/romance or whatever. If you sit still and think about it, one aspect will be bigger than the others. Do you worry more about the epic world than the thrill or romance? Then it’s a (thrilling but never say this) fantasy. If the thrill is more important, it’s a thriller (set in a fantasy world). If the story would cease to exist without the romance, it’s a romance (set in a fantasy world). Not that hard, is it?

Or perhaps you’re not dead sure about what genre you’re supposed to go for. In that case, there’s a useful genre map.
How did you decide on your genre?


18 thoughts on “Key-Word Cavalry: Novel "doesn’t fit a genre"

  1. Ooo, I like the genre map.

    I write in many genres and some are crossover to some extent. My most recent publication lands more into space opera (even though I call it space fantasy romance). For the Amazon categories (and yes, they make everyone categorize their work, so you better know what genre to put it in), I used science fiction short story and romance short story, even though my story is very light on the science and more made up but involves aliens. Yeah, dilemmas, but yes, I completely agree you have to know where to place these stories. 🙂

  2. Wow, that's a pretty cool map. Be right back, clicking for an hour~

    Exactly, if nothing else, your marketers (including sale-spaces) and most of all, your readers, are going to want to know what your genre is. Not to mention, it's a lot easier for me to say “I write fantasy” than to say “I write urban fantasy with sci-fi elements, and there's a lot of romance and erotica, and most of it is queer, so…” You also have to be very, very careful because once you mention some (sub)genres (like erotica or LGBT) that's going to overpower everything else in some eyes.

  3. I had an editor tell me that my book was part one thing and part another, and it couldn't be. I'm not willing to re-write a book just to get it published, so that was that. I think if your goal is getting published you have to fit into a box. If your goal is writing the story you want to tell, I don't know that I think you should change it just to sell it. But I do think self publishing offers the alternative of not fitting into the box. If you think you might fit several genres, I wouldn't necessarily point them all out. But some people prefer things that don't fit into a box.

  4. Such true words, Misha. Even if you're not sure, it's better to label your book with a genre category than say it doesn't fit anywhere. Because it does, it always does. I really like this genre map, and now I want to go exploring!

  5. I often have trouble determining to which genre my projects belong. So I find your advice quite helpful, to look out for the elements that are essential for the story. And it's great to now have a map with all sorts of genres.

  6. Hey Misha,
    For a moment there I wasn't sure if that was a photo of a Sudoko game or some old Sega Megadrive game named 'Columns'.
    Now then, must go and figure out what genre my grammar anarchy, run on sentences, surreal, quirky, serious, philosophical, empathetic style of writing, within one posting fits into…And what about the postings written by Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet star? Maybe her 'pawblicity agent' might know..
    Take care Misha and happy writing. Your adoring, yet humble fan, Gary 🙂

  7. A difficult one for most people. With chn's books it's just the age range and a simple subject matter choice. I love Goosebumps and would love to write an English version, but struggling with what to call it!

  8. GReat post and insight. I'm with you on the wide brush stroke. My first book was dark religious horror. When I wrote it, there were scant pub'd books in this genre and agents weren't looking for anything too tough to market. Now, more so. Sometimes it takes awhile for a genre to open up and be popular.

  9. I love that Genre Map! So, I totally agree with you about the advantages of fitting into a genre, but MISHA, what if I love 4 different genres equally and can't make up my mind between them? 🙂 I guess even if your book falls solidly into a genre, it's hard to sell your next book if its in a different genre!

  10. I just started writing fantasy because that's what I was reading most at the time. Now after reading books in some different genres, I've noticed my wips are getting some aspects from those genres. Thankfully only in small doses so far.

  11. The genre map is awesome! I think writers tend to overthink the whole “genre classification” thing. If we just put on our reader hats for a while and asked ourselves where we would go look for this book on the shelves, I think we'd get our answer pretty quickly.

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