Author Tamela Hancock Murray

How Do I Pick the Right Genre for My Book?

The “Your Questions Answered” Series


I’d love to learn more about the system behind categorizing books, specifically fiction. I want to write a book that fits well in a category and make sure a book I’ve already written fits into a definite category, but I feel like I’m missing a lot of specifics.

Also, I’ve learned from this blog that it’s important to stick to a genre so your readers know what to expect from you. What are acceptable parameters for staying “in your genre”? Are deviations like from fantasy to post-apocalyptic or romance to historical fiction still too different?


I see this question as a marketing challenge that is in place to help readers buy the books they want to read. As an avid reader, I’ve tossed aside novels that didn’t hold my interest after a few pages. Life is too short not to enjoy what I read for leisure.

The writer has to keep me engaged. And the writer has to give me what I expect. For instance, if I open a book expecting a romantic suspense novel but end up with a suspense novel with no romance, I might keep reading but will be sorely disappointed by the lack of promised passion. Likewise, if I don’t have any desire to engage in a romance plot that I think takes away from solving a crime, I’ll be aggravated by dealing with a couple’s romance on top of the crime-solving procedure. Further, if the book promises romance and suspense, but the crime itself doesn’t intrigue me enough to care whether or not it’s ever solved, I’ll be a disappointed reader. I hope this illustrates the “why” of categorizing books. That’s not to say that readers won’t buy a book that defies categorization, but those books have to be so special and unique that the publisher markets them in a way that emphasizes they are on top of a mountain, alone.

However, most writers create within a category. The author’s goal is to deliver on the premise. The name of the genre reveals all. For example:

Romantic suspense: A couple falls in love while solving a high-stakes crime where the clock is ticking, and they may be in danger.

Thriller: Characters solve a high-stakes crime where the clock is ticking, and they may be in danger; but no romance develops between them. The reader may get a glimpse of the characters’ home lives, which may include insights into their relationships, marriages, and parenting challenges. None of this will have anything to do with their crime-solving partner.

Cozy mystery: The crime, usually a murder, has already taken place offstage, and the present characters are generally not in peril. Rather than focusing on a couple, the story revolves around a personality who solves the crime. This category presents a puzzle for the reader to unravel along with the crime-solver, who may be an amateur. This method can be a set-up for a long series featuring a particular detective whom readers come to know and love.

Historical romance: The story takes place in the past, and love between the hero and heroine is front and center.

Historical: The story takes place in the past, with little or no romance present.

Contemporary romance: The story takes place today, and the love story is front and center.

Contemporary: The story takes place today, with little or no romance plot.

Fantasy: The story takes place in a world created by the author, that cannot happen as we know it today. The elements may include magic and wonder.

Science fiction: The wonders of science and technology offer the basis for the story, rather than fantastical elements. Usually set in the far future, but not always.

Post-apocalyptic fiction: A natural or human-made disaster decimated the world as the characters knew it, and the story is about how they must function within what fragments remain.

As for deviation, I believe an author can deviate within the genre as long as the story is fresh, as outlined in one of my previous blog posts, Inside or Outside the Box?

Just make sure to deliver on the promised tale.

Your turn:

Please offer any of your definitions of fiction genres I may have missed.

Out of the genres listed, what is your favorite title in a genre you enjoy reading?

For the entire series click here: “Your Questions Answered.”

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Hafwen Hostess surveys the conference classroom. She estimates about 100 conferees are there for Ava Agent’s class. At the stroke of one, Hafwen reads her introduction of Ava, which Hafwen pulled off the Internet just before leaving for the airport for the conference: A graduate of Liberty Baptist College, award-winning …

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Imagine the wounds delivered on Internet sites such as Amazon from readers who lack that respect. A major complaint I hear from distraught authors is that people download free Christian novels and then post hostile reviews. A cursory bit of research reveals some say they felt duped because they didn’t realize they were downloading a Christian novel. It is likely they just grabbed it because it was free and did not look at other reviews or the book’s description. These readers aren’t victims of duplicity, they were, at the very least, lazy and then blamed others when the book wasn’t to their taste. Unfortunately the temptation is for the author to strike back with a serrated reply.

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He Said. She Said.

A blog reader recently left an excellent comment on an earlier post:

Tamela, fiction workshop presenters taught me that the best word for “said” is “said”–that others only tend to slow down the reader’s eye. I’d appreciate a discussion on this.

While I don’t know the workshop presenters in question, what I can guess they meant is to avoid substituting creative verbs for “said” as a tag. For example:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare,” the cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards,” the dowager sniffed.

These tags aren’t without merit, because they do help convey the emotions and actions of the characters. In fact, they could even be expanded into effective action tags. At the least, simple punctuation would keep these characters from performing the improbable task of sniffing and chuckling words:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare.” The cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards.” The dowager sniffed.

So why would fiction workshop presenters tell writers to use the word “said” as a tag? I would say that there is a time and place to use a simple tag. In a fast-paced scene, a simple tag will keep the action flowing. For example:

“Get the gun,” Bruce said.


“I said, get the gun.”


“Don’t ask questions,” Bruce said. “Just do as I say. Now.”

In a case such as this, complicated action tags could slow down the rhythm and urgency of the scene, distracting the reader rather than adding to the story. The “said” tag is used infrequently to help the reader keep track of the conversation.

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How do I find a literary agent?

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2)      Talk to your agented friends to learn about their agents. Referrals are a big part of our business.

3)      If time and finances allow, attend a conference or meeting where your preferred agent will be appearing and meet the agent.

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