The Genre Dilemma

Back in the mid-2000's, the days when I was doing the query go-round (for the uninitiated, that's the process of querying agents for representation.  A disheartening and back-breaking process), what was hammered into me by my incessant research of how to approach agents, was how imperative it was that you define your genre in your query letter.

I admit, this presented a bit of a quandary for me.  Beyond the extremely broad "suspense" tag, I had no clue what genre my books fell into. 
In the name of research, I headed to my local Borders and pored over the mystery section.  I put a hand on every book on those shelves and read every back-of-the-book blurb (yeah, sometimes, I'm crazy like that). Some clear patterns began to emerge; romantic suspense was huge (hero and heroine fall in love against the backdrop of danger).  FBI profilers on the trail of the elusive killer were also huge.  Quirky detectives caught up slick capers.  Burnt-out detectives obsessed with their latest case.  Sadistic serial killers.  Legal thrillers.  Medical thrillers. Forensic science thrillers.  Sexless, alpha-female assassins.  Whodunits, of course.  Cozies.  Cat detectives.   Procedurals. 

It was overwhelming and more than a little discouraging.  I didn't write about ANY of that, nor was I really interested in doing so. 
It was only after I went home and started looking at my own bookshelf that I realized my "genre" was staring me in the face; psychological suspense/ domestic noir.  Patricia MacDonald, Wendy Corsi Staub,  Joy Fielding  and Mary Higgins Clark all wrote about the types of things I was writing about: the murderous husband, the wronged woman, the psycho ex.  The drama and suspense emanated from threats close to home versus crazed serial killers being pursued by single-minded law enforcement officials. 

If classifying the genre of your book was important before, in today's brave new Indie world, it can be downright make-or-break (just look at the emergence of the crazy popular New Adult category for proof).  Picking the right genre can provide incredible visibility for your book; the smaller the category, the better your chances of being discovered by new readers, especially if you sell enough to make the top 100 of your chosen category.  (I had this happen with "Sweet Little Lies," managing to be sandwiched between two James Patterson books.  Say what?"). 
When I was choosing my Amazon categories for "Sweet Little Lies," I went back to being a bit stumped.  It definitely wasn't psychological suspense like "Live and Let Die" is. Much the way I had scrutinized those Borders shelves all those years ago, I painstakingly examined the myriad of genres on Amazon.  After much research and lots of thought, I settled on Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue.  By definition, "intrigue" means "to carry on a secret or illicit love affair," which is at the heart of "Sweet Little Lies."

You might have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the right genre for your book

However, at the last minute, I got cold feet.  Probably ninety percent of the books in that category are...spy stories.  I worried I would piss readers off who wondered why this little domestic drama about cheating spouses was in a category dominated by assassins and double agents.

In the end, I chose the Crime and Murder categories, which are the right categories for that book.  I'm grateful that Amazon breaks its categories down so specifically, giving authors the opportunity to really drill down on what categories make the most sense for their books.

While it can be intimidating and at times downright confusing to try and choose the right genre for your book, don't let it get you down.  Don't be afraid to experiment until you find the categories that work for you.  Who knows?  You might even wind up creating a new genre in the process (see the aforementioned "New Adult").  Don't be afraid to write in the genre YOU want to.  It can be tempting to try and write what everyone else is writing.  In the end, you really do have to write the kind of book you want to read.

As always, back to writing.


  1. Thanks for the heads up on the genre issue as I am still writing and haven't tried publishing (so not facing that dilemma). Great attitude and I, too, am not afraid to write what I want to write. :-D

  2. Hi Suzette,
    It can be a pickle trying to decide where to put your book, especially since there are so many choices. And yes, we can't be afraid to write what we want, genres be damned! ;)


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