When writing fiction it is really important to be aware of what genre you’re writing in, and what expectations readers in that genre have. (This is true for traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. Though if you’re traditionally published you would be getting advice from an editor and the publishers themselves, who hopefully would have experience with this and be able to guide you to the best choices.)
At a basic level we all know that there’s a difference between a romance, a thriller, and a science fiction story. And while you may have elements of many genres in your writing you need to know which is the main one. For example, is the romance the driving force behind the main plot, or is it a sub-plot? The easiest way I find to think about this is whether the story would work with that element removed. If it would, then that’s not your main genre.
Amazon lists over 2,300 sub-sub genres (down to a max of five levels I think) and while you can list your book in up to ten of these you want to have one that’s your focus. For the book I’m currently drafting it will be
Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Teen & Young Adult : Science Fiction & Fantasy : Fantasy : Paranormal & Urban : Werewolves & Shifters
If you want to investigate the different sub-genres on Amazon then you can either do it yourself by poking through the links on their site, or use a tool like K-lytics or Publisher Rocket. Of course the different Amazon sites have different categorisations, as do the other ebook marketplaces. Go look at all of them to see how they are organised.
If you get it wrong then you will struggle to find the right readers for your book, and you may alienate those who do read it. If your cover and blurb imply your story is a sweet romance, but actually it’s an explicit reverse harem story you’re going to have a lot of unhappy readers. Unhappy readers means returned books (yes ebook purchases can be returned), bad reviews, and problems being able to sell your book to anyone else. So you need to make sure your story meets (most of) the expectations for readers in your genre.
Genre manifests in multiple ways; here are some to think about:
Point Of View
Romance readers want to be immersed in the emotion of the story, and so writing in a third person omniscient point of view wouldn’t work so well for that genre. Whereas writing in first person, or limited third, where the reader can feel what the characters feel is much more normal.
YA books are more often written in first person than adult literature, even within the same genre.
Most readers come into a book with an idea of what’s going to happen. For example, in a murder mystery there will be a death near the start of the story, at the end they will solve the crime, and in-between will be lots of investigations, red herrings and wrong turns.
In a romance it’s expected that the two lovers will meet near the start of the story, be pushed away from each other, decide to fight for their romance, and then end up happily with each other.
In a space opera you expect futuristic technology, space ships, intergalactic travel and epic battles in space.
Are there specific words that are used in your genre? For example Regency romances talk about the ton as the group of people from good society who attend social functions in places like London or Bath. (though I’m not entirely certain that it is historically accurate). If you’re writing fantasy they you need to know your elf from your dwarf, or other fantastical creatures.
What is considered a satisfying ending for your genre? For Romance it’s a happily ever after, or possibly in a series you can get away with a happily for now. For a murder mystery it’s when the murderer has been brought to justice. For a space opera the battle is over and the dust is settling. You need to bring your story to a satisfying conclusion, though if it’s a series then you need to leave some strands open for the next book to take up.
A cliffhanger is where the story ends in a moment of danger, ie someone’s hanging off a cliff. If all characters are in a point of safety, even if the story arc as a whole hasn’t wrapped up then it’s not a cliffhanger.
If you do leave a cliffhanger then be absolutely certain to be upfront about that in your description, otherwise readers will often feel cheated.
How long a book is depends on the story being told, but there are expectations of how long books are and these depend on genre. A 40,000 word story is much more acceptable in romance than scifi, whereas the 120,000 epic is much more usual in fantasy than for a thriller. Here is one guide to expected length by genre, though it’s focused on getting a trad deal the general principles apply as readers read across all methods of publication.
Covers and fonts
Every genre has it’s distinct style for covers and which fonts they use, and often they vary for the sub-genres too. You should be able to look at any (good!) book cover and immediately know this is a fantasy story, this is a sweet romance, this is a cosy mystery, etc. even before you read the title. You want your cover to fit in with the others, and yet stand out as unique. This is why covers are so important and getting a cover designer who is knowledgeable about your genre can be critical to success. Book covers are at least 90% of your marketing, so if they’re wrong you can have a problem finding the right readers, and those you do find will often be upset that the story doesn’t mee their expectations
Overall, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and there will probably be successful books that are exceptions to all of these. Just defying genre conventions makes your job as the author much more difficult. And it’s not something that should be done by accident. The best way to learn about these are to read widely in your genre, read about books in your genre. I’ve found the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcasts where they analyse different stories and which genre they’re in to be helpful for this.