What's in a Name?
Sifting through the genre options.
Let me introduce myself…
An author and editor of novellas, novels and other things. Born in Toronto and raised in Yukon, I currently reside on Vancouver Island.
I currently freelance as culture historian, and a ghostwriter. Starting out at a ghostwriting company writing and editing a novella a week in nearly every genre for five years, I’ve made it to the next level of my career. Landing a three-book publishing contract with Extasy Books, the first of which titled Sweet Memories, is slated for release October 20th.
I live in a cabin in the woods with my dog and several squirrels and firmly believe The Smiths would have been better as a trio.
Find more of my work here.
The advice that’s often given is that fiction authors should write the book they want to read. This is great advice in theory, especially for younger authors who might be having trouble focusing because they’re instead focusing on how to prove their parents wrong and actually make money. The problem is, as can so often be the case when advice is taken literally, is that this can lead to writing a book only the author and maybe their family and friends want to read.
In the spirit of commonality, "write for yourself" can be best understood as discovering common ground with your potential audience, and using this shared connection as a guiding principle to write about subjects in a way that resonates with both your personal preferences and the preferences of others.
My own career took off in a huge way, not just in terms of ghostwriting and original work, when I started to lean in hard to the Romance genre. This led to the discovery of the bevy of different approaches and sub-genres available under the Romance umbrella, each distinct to the point of almost adversarial in some cases. The idea that Romance, or any other genre, is “all the same” is one of the greatest myths/misconceptions of contemporary entertainment. Money can get involved, and creators can get lazy, going with what is easy, but this shouldn’t reflect on the genre itself.
Exploring the Genres…
Having common elements is not the same as being paint-by-numbers. All you really need for a good Mystery is a crime, an investigator and an investigation leading to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Because of this Mystery can be anything from classic Detective stories like those of Sherlock Holmes, Hard Boiled fiction, fun and funny Cozy Mysteries, and the nearly-Horror levels of grit and fear coming out of Nordic Noir.
It is perhaps not surprising that a certain level of comfort and escapism has taken hold in the past few years. One of the main beneficiaries of this trend had been the once mocked and maligned Fantasy genre, currently standing at 49% of the overall adult fiction market. Particularly what is known as High Fantasy, evoking while also subverting, the tropes made famous by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein and Robert Jordan. Authors such as Geroge R.R. Martin with A Song of Ice & Fire (or Game of Thrones to TV fans), Brandon Sanderson, particularly in terms of his Mistborn books, and Scott Lynch with his fittingly named Gentleman Bastards book series. Each taking their own approach to High Fantasy, finding fans who resonate with it.
Another subgenre of Fantasy that is still going strong, despite flying under the radar for years is Urban Fantasy. Basically the logical opposite of High Fantasy, these stories use Fantasy themes and creatures set in the context of a modern city, making it a lot more relatable to 21st century readers while still having a degree of escapism. Two of the most successful titles in this sub-genre are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Less of a sub-genre than an attitude, much like ‘splatterpunk’ in terms of Horror, what is described as ‘Grimdark’ Fantasy, whether it be High, Urban or any other variation of the genre, has a growing following, especially among younger readers.
Romance has long neared the top of any list of most popular genres, usually coming in second or third in terms of sheer profitability, holding the number two spot at 42% of the overall market. It might seem easy, but not all sub-genres are crated equal, and some will resonate with more readers than others. By far the most popular versatile sub-genre is Contemporary Romance.
A fairly broad genre category, Contemporary Romance refers to any story set in the real world with characters in the mid-20s and later and living between 1950 and the present. Typically, they have a strong romantic subplot, and dynamics from characters who fall in love (which happen to be catalysts for the narrative).
Cover the basic essentials of the Romance genre in terms of there being two characters who fall in love and elements arising to keep them apart leading to a happy ending, and you can basically do anything you want in terms of topics and themes. More good news? Contemporary Romance is also the largest selling sub-genre, with nearly half of the overall romance market.
Popular Contemporary Romance books include: The Love Hypothesis, P.S I Love You, Bridget Jones Diary and The Notebook.
Young Adult Romance:
Taking up the number two spot is Young Adult Romance, partly influenced by the enduring popularity of Young Adult fiction in general. Sharing several aspects with Contemporary Romance, the main differences are Young Adult Romance focuses on characters who are younger, usually between 15 and 18, going through the ups and downs of first love, and are almost always set in the present day. There are also a few more limitations in terms of content, particularly around things like sex, and cursing but keep it around a PG-13 and everything should be fine.
Popular examples of Young Adult Romance include: The Perks of Being A Wallflower.
On the opposite end, Historical Fiction takes up the third place spot, demanding 39% of book sales, there often some overlap between genres. Basically what it sounds like, Historical Romance books are set before the 1950s, the main focus being on accurately depicting a time period and the romantic and sexual politics of the time. For those looking for something a little different, this could be a good option as, depending on the period, Historical Fiction can feel like working with an alternative reality.
A bit further down on the list but still popular enough to bear a mention, is the recent rise in LGBTQ Romance, particularly in terms of Young Adult Romance. Popular titles, all of which have been adapted to the screen, include: Love Simon, Call Me By Your Name and Out of Character.
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