Writing Craft 101: Genre and Target Audience

Genre: This is the category into which your story fits. There are many, many genres, but some of the popular genres include Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Chick-Lit, Action/Adventure, and Young Adult, among others.

These category headings are what you’d see at the tops of shelves in a bookstore.

Within these major genres are sub-genres and mixed genres.

For example, in the Romance category you could have Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance, LGBTQ Romance, Amish Romance, and countless others.

In the Sci-Fi category you could have Hard Sci-Fi, Space Opera, Time Travel, Near Future, Alternate History, Dystopian, and so on. Your story may span multiple genres and sub-genres, but if you went into a bookstore, where would you look for it? What books would you find it next to? What expectations might a reader have when picking up your book based on the section they found it?

Knowing your genre is important for finding your target audience, and vice versa. Many authors want to break out of traditional genre labels, and create their own genre. While your story should be new and fresh and unique, discarding all labels won’t really help you, because no one will know how to find your book and publishers and marketers will have a very hard time placing it. Agents, editors, and publishers want to know where your story fits so they know whether or not it will be something they can sell.

For example, if you purchase a YA Dystopian novel on Amazon, Amazon will then suggest other books in the same genre, rather than suggesting some obscure, label-free mash-up, which may be excellent but that their algorithms don’t recognize as similar. The same thing applies in bookstores. If you put “sci-fi” as your genre but your book really appeals more to epic fantasy lovers, the people who are browsing the sci-fi shelves will put yours back and move on to things that are more appealing to them.

Narrowing your story down to one primary genre and one or two sub-genres will help you sell your book. Knowing your target audience will help you to narrow it down.

Target Audience: Your target audience is the readers who are most likely to buy your book. If you’re writing romance, your target audience is probably women in the 25+ age range. If you’re writing Young Adult, your target audience is probably teens and twenty-somethings. If you’re writing suspense or hard sci-fi, your target audience is probably men. These are very broad generalizations, of course, but getting an idea of who you’re trying to appeal to will help you in your genre categorization.

Your target audience will parallel to an extent with your main character. Is your main character a woman on a search to find herself in a male-dominated corporate environment? If so, your target audience is likely 30-something women, and you’d categorize your story in Women’s Fiction or Chick Lit.

Is your main character a battle-hardened Special Forces male, trying to finish one final mission before retiring? Then your target audience is probably going to be men, and your primary genre will be Action/Adventure or Suspense.

Are your main characters a group of teens who discover they have special powers and have to balance figuring out their gifts with leading normal teenage lives? Then your target audience is probably teenagers and your primary genre is going to be Young Adult.

There is plenty of room for crossover and expanding your fan-base beyond your target audience. For example, a lot of people read Young Adult fiction. The Harry Potter series, the Divergent series, the Hunger Games series, and many others are marketed as YA, even though they have mass market appeal. If your story is good, you’ll draw in readers beyond your initial genre and target audience, but you have to start somewhere.

Take some time to browse around a bookstore or on Amazon and check out what books that are similar to yours are categorized as. Think about who your main character is and who is most likely to read your story. Then, add all those components together and label your story in a specific genre.

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