TAP031, Write a Novel with Genre Expectations in Mind (Part 2 of 2)
I hope you are all well and are staying safe.
Welcome to the final instalment of this two-part mini-series on how to write a novel with genre expectations in mind. There’s nothing worse than reaching the halfway mark as you write your first draft or even as you’re starting the revision stage to realise that you’re not sure if there’s a market for your book. If this is where you are at, then don’t panic; it’s quite normal not to know what genre you’re writing in as you write or finish your first book.
But, there’s something you can do about it.
In this episode, I’m going to share with you five steps to revising your story with genre expectations in mind.
What to Expect from This Blog Post and Podcast Episode
Before we get into the tips, this episode is the second in a two-part series focused on how to write a novel with genre expectations in mind. In this second part, I want to focus on writing with genre expectations in mind for writers who have written their first draft or are ready to revise their story.
However, if you’re at the story idea phase then the first episode will be better for you.
TAP031, Write A Novel with Genre Expectations in Mind (Part 2 of 2)
How to Write or Edit with Your Audience 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’m including 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.
But what if you’ve finished writing the first draft of your story.
Before you do anything else, go through your story and write a one or two-sentence summary of each scene in your book. Creating this list of scenes is important because it will make the five steps I’m about to share with you, easier to complete.
So, please do not skip over this.
Step #1 – Finish Your First Draft
The best thing you can do for your story right now is to finish your first draft. So, take a deep breath, don’t worry too much about whether your story fits into a genre until after you’ve finished writing. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you can’t edit a blank page. So, write the first draft for you, then revise and edit for your reader.
The One Thing to Avoid
I can’t stress this enough; if you get to the halfway mark and realise that your book is so cross-genre, it doesn’t fit anywhere on the bookshelves in a store, continue writing the first draft. Because if you pause here and go back and rewrite, edit your outline, and fix the story, there’s a massive danger that you may not come back and finish.
Why, I hear you ask?
I’m going, to be honest and say it; revision is like pulling teeth.
Revision is challenging for those first few novels that you write. After you finish your first draft, you’ll be in this weird state where you know you need to revise, but you don’t know what to do because the advice that’s out there is vague. There are blog posts that say, go through your first draft and fix the mistakes; WTF! You’re new; this is your first book. You won’t know what those mistakes are yet.
Back to the topic at hand.
The most crucial thing you can do for your future writing self is to finish the first draft. It’s only by achieving this significant milestone that you know that you can finish a novel. Tackle all the other problems like reader expectations in the next step, but for now, your only task is to finish. Focusing on completing your first draft then coming back and writing with genre expectations in mind is the easiest way to avoid shiny object syndrome as a new writer. This is how some writers never finish a story but have several unfinished manuscripts, it gets heard, or they realise the story their writing is so cross-genre that they panic and move on to the next new thing. Break the cycle today by finishing the book you’re writing.
Learning that you can write a book is a far more valuable lesson for you to know right now than writing the first draft to reader expectations.
Please do yourself a huge favour and finish writing your story.
Step #2 – 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 #3 – Figure Out Where You Are Going Wrong
A few years ago, I was at a publishing event organised by Orion Publishing in the Foyles Bookstore along Charing Cross Road in London. During one of the question and answer sections, someone asked one of the authors if they write to genre or market. And, the author said, “no, I just write the story I want and the marketing team figures out how to sell the book.” It’s not a direct quote, but it sums up the spirit of the answer that was given. Unlike a traditionally published author, you do not have a marketing team to figure out how to market your books.
Read your first draft and pay attention to the things that are out of your genre. Look for the genre conventions that are deal-breakers. Those conventions are a necessity for the readers, like a happily ever after for romance or the crime being solved and justice being served at the end of a mystery.
Are you ticking these big boxes for the reader? If not, you will need to go back and add these elements to your story.
And, sometimes you may need to rewrite your story’s ending. Or, more often than not, you may need to rewrite the parts of the story you love in favour of writing to reader expectations, especially if you want to write commercially or have a career as an author. But, unless you’re writing for fun, at some stage, you need to think about your readers.
So, start today.
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.
Step #4 – End it Right
The ending you give your story is what will entice the reader to pick up the next book. So, it’s crucial that you get it right and make it memorable. In terms of endings, if you do something that’s not expected, then you should expect polarising opinions “loved it” or “hated it.” And those polarising reviews are tough to read because you’re tossed to and fro between the differing views.
James Patterson mentions his experience with this in his masterclass regarding the ambitious ending with one of his books. But, this was done on purpose. And, he’s James Patterson; and that’s important to point out. He already has an established fan base of readers who will, quite literally, read anything he writes. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you and I don’t have this type of readership yet, so save your genre-bending ideas for when you have super-fans.
If you want to know more about writing an ending for your story, I’ve devoted an entire episode to this in season one; you can listen to episode 021 on how to choose the right ending for your story by clicking this link.
My Second Big Oops
In light of this, you could write an epilogue that hints at how the current book has affected what’s to come. For example, the epilogue in my novella, Missing, shows the reader where the characters are in six months and how the story has changed their lives. This scene occurs after book three, and based on feedback, leaves the reader curious about the next books in the series. Thus, it does what it’s supposed to do. I made this choice because my story doesn’t end in a way that’s appropriate to the genre, but I felt the ending was realistic and posed an important question. So, I kept it and wrote an intriguing epilogue instead.
However, I later realised that I screwed up the epilogue too. The epilogue left the readers thinking all of these characters would return in the next book, but that’s not the case; only James does. Eventually, I will pick up that storyline again, but I have to set things up first. So deleted the epilogue intending to use it as a prologue for an upcoming novel.
Step #5 – Test Your Product
After you’ve gone through your manuscript and revised your story with all of the things you found in steps one to four, you should have a story that’s written to a genre. But, what if you’re still not sure. Even if you’re confident, I still recommend you take this step. If you’re not sure whether you’ve written a story with genre expectations in mind, enlist the help of beta readers who read in that category.
Paid and Free
You don’t necessarily have to trawl the forums of Goodreads looking for free beta readers. Instead, use a service like Fiverr* and hire a few paid beta readers. The reason I suggest paid beta readers is because they’ve read and provided a lot of feedback, plus they work to a schedule and often have their criteria when giving feedback. When hiring a beta reader, check that they read in your genre and provide inline comments on your manuscript because getting these first impression comments are invaluable. Usually, a paid beta reader will charge around US$50.00 plus taxes.
Ask them about your story’s genre as a part of a survey as you collect feedback for your novel. All you need to ask is a simple question with a few options for the readers to choose from or leave the answer blank for them to fill out. And look at the most popular answers. And, this is why it’s important to hire more than one beta reader because you get more than one answer, and it’s easier to pick up on the common reader reactions.
So, where do you go from here? If you want more information on writing to market or write a novel with genre expectations in mind, check out these recommended books and courses. These recommendations come from my experiences using these products or come highly recommended through great reviews. First, however, I will point out which books I’ve personally purchased and read and those that I have not used.
Books and courses used and recommended by me:
- Write to Market by Chris Fox *
- How to Outline a Cozy Mystery by Sara Rosette *
- Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes *
- Courses by WMG Publishing – often, they have classes focused on writing a particular genre.
Just for the sake of transparency, I haven’t read this book, but it has a good number of reviews on Amazon.
Mystery: How to Write Traditional & Cozy Whodunits by Paul Tomlinson *
Another disclaimer, I recently became aware of this next podcast through an email that found its way into my spam folder, which is quite embarrassing because the email is old. My spam filter is strong, thanks to the programme that I use. But that wasn’t my point. I have not used any of these courses, but the courses are quite in-depth, from what I can see. In light of that, the Am Writing Fantasy Podcast has a range of courses on how to write fantasy, including all of the world-building and preplanning phases of writing.
To write a story with genre expectations in mind, you need to take these five steps.
- Finish your first draft
- Read five books in your genre and know your genre’s conventions.
- Figure out where you’re going wrong.
- Focus on your story ending.
- And, test your product.
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.
Share Your Thoughts
As always, I have an important question to ask. Are you struggling to write a story to a genre? Or, have you found a way to write a story to a genre that works for you? I want to hear from you. Share your tips or struggles in the comments section below.
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.