Crystal Kamm

Written by

Crystal Kamm

9 January 2023


Understanding Book Genres: An Essential Tool for Writers

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Book genres are simple classifications, allowing readers to know what kind of book they are reading. They also allow publishers to know what kind of book they are being asked to publish, so genre knowledge is an essential part of the querying process. They also help you, as a writer, know what you’re writing, as a good working knowledge of your genre will keep you focused, with your readers at the centre.

Why is genre important?

Genres are like the flavours of the literary world – they provide a way for readers to easily find books that will satisfy their particular cravings, whether it be for romance, fantasy, mystery, or any of the other countless flavours out there. They also help writers market their work to the right people, as each genre comes with an audience of fans who are primed to love your book!

But genres aren’t just about personal preference – they can also reveal interesting things about the time and place a book was written. For example, the rise of the Gothic genre in the 18th and 19th centuries was influenced by a fascination with the supernatural and the cultural upheaval of the Industrial Revolution. The genres we love and choose to write in say a lot about ourselves, our society, and what we value.

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Do you need to stick to just one genre?

There is nothing wrong with writing in multiple genres. For example, a book might be both a romance and a mystery, or a science fiction and a dystopian novel. This is often referred to as “cross-genre” or “genre-blending.”

There are many reasons why an author might choose to write a cross-genre book. It may be a way to appeal to readers who enjoy more than one type of literature or to explore different themes and ideas that cannot be fully expressed within the confines of a single genre. Cross-genre books can also be a way for an author to challenge genre conventions and explore new literary territory.

That said, while many books can be classified as more than one genre, they are usually associated with one primary genre. For example, a book that is both a romance and a mystery but whose narrative focus is the relationship may be shelved in the romance section of a bookstore, even though it also contains elements of mystery. A good example of this is Twilight, a genre-blend of YA and paranormal romance. While it could easily be shelved in the romance section, it is usually classified as YA.

Common fiction book genres


Classics are works of literature that are considered to be of high quality and enduring value. They are often associated with a particular cultural or historical period, and are considered to be representative of the literature of that time. Classics are typically recognized as having had a significant influence on the literary landscape, and are often studied as part of literary education.

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Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is characterized by its focus on literary merit and its use of complex, artistic techniques such as symbolism, allegory, and literary devices like stream of consciousness.

Literary fiction is often written with the intention of exploring the human condition and answering fundamental questions about society, life, and the human experience. As such, it tends to be more character-driven and plot is often secondary to character development and the exploration of themes.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction is set in the past and is based on real historical events, people, and places. It combines elements of fiction, such as plot and characters, with real historical events and figures, using artistic licence to tell their stories.

Historical fiction can be used to explore the social, political, and cultural conditions of the time period in which it is set, and can often offer insight into the attitudes and values of the past. It can also be used to bring historical events to life for readers and to make the past more relatable and accessible.


Romance focuses on the romantic relationships between characters. It typically involves strong emotional connections, and may include elements of love, intimacy, and attraction.

Romance novels often centre on the love story between two main characters and may include elements of courtship, dating, and commitment. They lend themselves well to genre blending as the setting of Romance novels varies widely. Popular blends include YA, historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

As a versatile genre, Romance novels may include subplots involving family, friends, and societal pressures. They are often characterized by their emphasis on emotion, personal relationships, and the romantic love between the characters.

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YA (Young Adult)

YA, or Young Adult, literature targets adolescents and young adults, typically aged 14 to 18, but has a wide appeal for readers of all ages. YA books often focus on the challenges and triumphs of young characters as they navigate the complexities of growing up, such as friendship, relationships, identity, and self-discovery.

The genre can encompass a wide range of themes and subjects that make it perfect for genre-blending, including romance, science fiction, fantasy, contemporary realistic fiction, and more. YA literature is distinct from children’s literature and adult literature, and may address issues and themes that are more mature or thought-provoking than those found in books for younger readers, but tend to shy away from more overt and graphic representations of adult themes.


Horror is a literature genre designed to elicit fear, shock, and terror in the reader. It often involves the supernatural, such as ghosts, monsters, and demonic forces, and may also include elements of suspense, psychological distress, and gore.

The goal of Horror is to unsettle and frighten the reader, and it may explore themes such as the occult, the paranormal, and the survival instinct. Horror stories may be set in a variety of settings, including the real world, the past, or the future. It’s also a genre with a long and storied history, and has given rise to many classic works and iconic monsters, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the zombie.

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Crime and thriller stories focus on illegal or illicit activities, such as murder, theft, espionage, and fraud, and the efforts of law enforcement officers, private detectives, spies, or ordinary individuals to investigate and solve these mysteries. Crime and thriller fiction can take many different forms, including spy thrillers, cosy mysteries, police procedurals, and noir.

Crime and thriller stories often involve a central puzzle or mystery that the protagonist must unravel, and may involve complex plot twists and turns, as well as psychological insights into the motivations of the criminal or criminals. It can be set in the real world or in a fictionalized version of reality, and may be told from the perspective of the perpetrator, the victim, or the investigator.

Science Fiction

Science Fiction deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. It often explores the potential consequences of scientific, social, and technological innovations.

Sci-Fi has been called the “literature of ideas,” often explores complex and abstract concepts in a speculative manner, and is often characterized by a sense of wonder and exploration. It often also includes elements of horror, fantasy, and dystopian themes, which is why bookstores often shelve Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy novels together.


Fantasy is a genre that allows readers to escape the boundaries of the real world and enter into magical, imaginary realms where anything is possible. It’s the genre of dragons, fairies, and unicorns, of brave heroes embarking on epic quests and defeating powerful enemies.

Fantasy has magic at its heart, but the stories often delve into deeper themes of good versus evil, the power of friendship, and the search for identity. Whether it’s a standalone novel or an entire series, fantasy allows readers to lose themselves in a world full of wonder and adventure.

As you’re writing your own novel, it’s important to identify your genre and be aware of other books in that category if you intend to publish. Knowing your genre and other books that fall under that header is essential to pitching, selling, and marketing your book.