TAP030, Write A Novel with Genre Expectations in Mind (Part 1 of 2)
I hope you are all well and are staying safe.
Writing to market or writing with genre expectations in mind is often seen as a dirty word. And, I think there are a few misconceptions, largely to do with confusing the strategy with writing to a trend, which is very different. For the sake of clarity, writing to trend is all about writing what’s popular. An example of that strategy is writing a paranormal romance feature vampires because they’re hot right now; that’s writing to trend. By the way, I have no idea whether that’s a hot trend, so don’t take that as gospel because it’s just an example I plucked from my mind a few seconds ago.
However, writing with genre expectations in mind is all about writing for your audience. I know you want to write what you love, but hear me out. As a writer, I get it, you need to love what you write, but you also need to write something that others will enjoy and want to stick around for long-term.
In this blog post, I will share the exact steps to write a novel with genre expectations, even if all you have is a story idea and you’re yet to write your first draft.
What to Expect from This Blog Post and Podcast Episode
Before we get into the tips, this episode is the first in a two-part series focused on how to write a novel with genre expectations in mind. In this first part, I want to focus on writing with genre expectations in mind for writers who haven’t written their first draft and merely have a story idea in mind. This episode will be great for you if you have a story idea or outline and want to write for an existing audience.
Part two, which will be in two weeks, will be great for those of you who have written the first draft or are revising and are concerned there’s no market for your book.
Don’t worry; the episode has already been recorded and edited and is scheduled on my podcast hosting providers website.
TAP030, Writing with Genre Expectations in Mind (Part 1 of 2)
Write A Novel With Genre Expectations in Mind
So, why am I recommending writing with genre expectations in mind? Here’s what most authors do when they write their first book. Just a side note, I include myself in this, too. Most writers will write the story they love without considering whether it will have an audience after it’s finished. As a result, they have a finished product that’s so cross-genre it’s difficult to market. In business, it’s easier to create a product or service to fill a need or demand than to create a new target market.
So, what should you do instead?
I recommend researching the online bookstores for genres that are in demand that you would love to write. Doing this would be easier than bending a story you’ve written to an existing genre. If you’re in the story idea phase of writing a book, here’s what you need to do.
Step #1 – Read Five Novels in Your Genre, and Know its Conventions
Choose five novels that you love with good reviews that are within the category you want to write. Then, as you read through each book, make notes on what happens in each scene and chapter, and notice how the story builds.
The second element you need to pay attention to is the types of characters that appear within each of the books you are reading. At the scene level, note how many scenes are character-focused, where the cast is reacting to an event and the number of action-orientated scenes. And, I’m referring to “action” in terms of fighting, battles, and big explosions. Actually, I’m also referring to “action” in terms of story events or plot.
Another vital element in a story is humour. How is humour used in the genre you want to write? Not every genre uses humour in the same way, and it’s important to get it right.
Lastly, consider how the stories in your genre end. Do the stories need to have a happily ever after moment? Or is an ending where neither the protagonist nor the antagonist get what they want, appropriate? Make all of these notes in a word document or an excel spreadsheet.
I know I’m a nerd; I love excel.
Analyse Your Findings
Now, look at the information you have collected. What are the common themes and story elements in each book? Consider which of these elements are non-negotiable.
How do you figure that out, you ask?
It’s simple; ask yourself the following question.
If I don’t have this particular element in my novel, will it still fit in this genre? Therefore, if the answer is no, you need to include it in your book. For example, if you’re writing a romantic comedy and it doesn’t end in a happily ever after or happy for now scenario, then you haven’t written a romance; you’re writing in a different genre.
My Big Oops
It’s important that you figure out where your story fits, and you don’t market your novel to the wrong audience. When I wrote Missing, I thought that I had written a crime thriller. I was so sure that I marketed my novella as a crime thriller to an entire book blogging tour and various email lists and pay per click ads. As a result, I received comments in my reviews like “it was a slow burn,” which refers to the pacing and it’s a convention of the mystery genre, not the crime thriller. And I also had other readers say that my story could be suitable for the cozy mystery genre. But, that it’s not quite right because James Lalonde is not a character that fits into the cozy mystery genre. The readers of that genre wouldn’t like the series. Eventually, I figured out that my novella was an amateur sleuth mystery.
That lightbulb moment I had about the genre of my novella was vital because It’s changed how I market my entire series. So, I’ve screwed up, and I’ve paid the price in my reviews. And, I made another mistake with the ending; I should have included the epilogue with Missing. The epilogue occurred six months later and isn’t essential to this story; technically, it impacts the start of another story in the series. To be honest, I wished I had taken the time and took these steps before getting my story professionally edited and published.
This is why I recommend that you take these steps; they will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.
Step #2 – Create an outline for your story
If you haven’t already, create an outline for your story. You don’t need to outline every scene in your story, focus on getting clear on the key moments or plot points. The reason why I’m recommending that you do this is because it will make the next step much easier.
Actually, I wouldn’t consider plot points and story structure at this stage of the process, that’s for later. Focus on the key moments in your story, and figure out whether your idea is structurally sound when you’ve created after you’ve figured out your story’s genre. You can always come back later and flesh out your story idea or expand your outline and check that your midpoint is in the right place. Just a side note, when it comes to story structure or three-act structure, use it as a guide instead of a rigid set of rules that you need to adhere to because that makes writing suffocating. There’s no need to obsess over the fact that your inciting incident is at the fifteen percent mark instead of at the ten percent point in the story. It’s just a guide. What matters is that your story is exciting and engaging for the reader.
Step #3 – Figure out where you are going wrong
Now that you’ve read five novels in your genre, highlighted the genre conventions, and outlined the key moments in your story, the next step is to determine whether your story idea fits your chosen genre. Do your story’s synopsis and outline include your genre’s important conventions? These conventions are the elements you discovered in the first step by reading five books in a genre you want to write.
A Quick Tip
For instance, if you’re writing a romance, do you have a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” moment at the end of your novel? If you don’t, I highly recommend that you change this because if you don’t have this element, you’re writing a tragedy and not a romance, which is about two characters finding love.
As you compare your story idea to your list of genre conventions, make a few minor changes to your outline and synopsis as you recognise elements that need to change. Perhaps, you’re in a situation that similar to mine where you thought your idea was a mystery, but now you realise that it’s a thriller because there’s more action and less cerebral elements. If that’s the case, you don’t necessarily need to change your story idea because you’ve discovered the correct genre for your book idea. The purpose of this exercise is to find the genre, not necessarily mould a story to a genre. But, if you realise that your story still doesn’t fit the genre, now is a good time to pause and consider if there’s another genre where your story could fit. After all, you could’ve read five books that aren’t like the idea you have for your novel.
A Quick Guide to Genre Conventions
To help you get a better grasp of the genre expectations, I’ve created a Genre Tropes Cheat Sheet featuring the conventions of the five biggest genres. These genres are Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. In addition, I’ve chosen to separate mystery and thriller because these genres have significant differences. You can also download this cheat sheet by filling out the signup form below.
When you sign up to the genre tropes cheat sheet, you’ll receive:
- A PDF containing the genre tropes.
- Plus, a weekly email dedicated to the genres, starting with romance.
- Downloadable recordings to accompany the cheat sheet.
- Updates with new genres and conventions (Cozy Mystery, Sweet Romance etc.).
I spend quite a bit of time researching these genres tropes because I don’t read in all of these genres. However, I did my best to research all of the genre conventions for the genres I read in and the categories I am unfamiliar with because I want this to be of value to you. But, I hope the Genre Tropes Cheat Sheet helps you to understand the main five genres. If you have something that you’d love for me to add to the cheat sheet and emails, maybe I’ve missed a critical trope or misunderstood something, then Let me know by commenting below or send me a message on my contact page.
To write a story with genre expectations in mind, you need to take these three steps.
- Read five books in your genre and know the conventions of your genre.
- Create an outline for your story.
- And figure out where you’re going wrong.
A Fourth Step
After you take those three steps, the fourth step is to continue fleshing out your story idea, outline your novel if that’s what you’re into, and start writing the first draft. But it would hurt to check to see if your story still fits into the genre after you’ve finished planning your story before you write the first draft. If you’re writing a book for fun, you’re clearly not listening to this podcast or reading the blog; you’re just writing for fun. However, if you want to write for readers and eventually make a career out of being an author, then you need to figure out a way to write to genre expectations while at the same time writing what you love. For example, even though I could write a romantic comedy, I don’t do it because it’s not a genre I love to write, even after considering its popularity. While at first, I might love it, the love soon fades, and I can’t maintain my interest. This is why I write in the mystery genre. The mystery genre can hold my interest when writing is challenging, and it’s has a strong readership.
Share Your Thoughts
But, what if you’ve already written a novel or three? The short answer is you need to tweak your story. In the next episode of the authorpreneur podcast, I will discuss the steps you need to take to rewrite your story with genre expectations in mind. And I will provide you with a set of actionable steps. If you want to download the genre tropes cheat sheet, please fill out the signup form below and join the emailing list. And, if you what to add anything or correct any mistakes that I’ve made in any of the genres, please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or fill out the contact me form.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.