Genre: The Details of Self-Publishing

You’ve written a novel, and it’s time to start thinking about releasing it. You want to self-publish it, and start looking into putting it onto somewhere like Amazon. Looking at how to do so, you – oh, wow. That’s a lot of options. How do you know which genre to pick for your book?

For many people, the genre is obvious. If you’re writing science fiction, that’s pretty clear from the start. But you might find that you comfortably straddle more than one genre. I found this with Mundane Magic. Whether you’re listing in one genre, or a primary and subgenres, what does the choice mean? What should you take into consideration?

Today, we’re starting a series where we look at the details of self-publishing.

In this first post I’m looking at four important considerations when it comes to picking your genre. But you shouldn’t just take my word for it! Each of my points will contain at least one source that I have used in researching self-publishing personally.

What’s in your Genre?

Whatever genre you pick, you are going to be compared to what it already contains. This can be a huge boon or a damning condemnation, and frankly is the crux of all the points I want to make for you today.

Perhaps the most obvious point of comparison is length. The average length of a novel varies wildly depending on your genre. If you’re writing a fantasy epic and you’re pushing 150,000 words, you’re probably just about safe. But if you’ve written a romance novel and it’s that long? Then your book is going to stand out, and not in a good way.

This article on The Write Life goes into detail about what the average and ideal lengths for each genre are, as well as the reason behind keeping to (or occasionally breaking from) your average word counts.

Choosing your Cover for the Genre

You’ve probably already realised that the genre you pick will definitely inform what your cover looks like. It’s no secret that what your cover looks like can drastically improve your book sales. What you might not realise is just how much of an impact your genre has on that cover choice.

The difficulty is finding a balance between standing out and being recognisably part of your genre. This article at the fantastic ALLi Self-Publishing Advice blog (which genuinely has been 75% of my self-publishing education) is a case study of how much of a difference a genre-specific cover can make.

My advice when you’re tackling this problem is research, research, research. Go to bookshops and look at the covers in your genre(s). Scan through Amazon and see the difference between the bestsellers and the books you find on page 200 of your genre. Spot the things that are common and the things that are absent – once you’ve found those boundaries, you can push them whilst staying inside them.

The Meta of your Genre Choice

Genre also does a lot of things that are hugely impactful, but you won’t see as visibly.

For example, the ‘similar to’ or ‘also bought’ options you see on websites like Amazon are much more likely to include books of the same genre. This is also represented in a mundane sense in physical bookshops: genre books are all kept together.

Digitally, the size of your genre makes a difference too. If you pick a smaller genre, you’re going to be ranked a lot higher than if you’d picked a larger one, and thus more likely to get noticed. But on the other hand, you might suffer from people not finding your book because they’re not looking in your genre.

The danger with genre is messing up the balance between being too specific and not specific enough. This post on the ALLi blog articulates well why genre matters: “if [your readers] buy a sweet romance and come across explicit sex, or a cozy mystery that’s full of blood and gore, they are likely to be upset, leave negative reviews, and avoid your books in future.”

Pricing for your Genre

The last consideration I want to cover is price. Books cost different things in different countries, in different formats, and – though you might not realise it – in different genres too.

It’s easy to think of the price of your book as mostly affecting your royalties, but it also really affects your book sales. If the average price in your genre is £2.99 for an eBook and you price yours at £7.99, no one will buy it. If the figures are reversed, the same may still happen – people might take it as a comment on the quality if your book.

For more information about how to price your book, this article from ALLi (yes, I am obsessed) is a really great start.

Genre Isn’t Everything: A Final Warning

The thing with self-publishing is this: we’re playing in the playground of traditional publishing, but we get to bring our own toys.

Yes, we’ve got to abide by some of their rules or we’ll be kicked out of that playground. But we can also introduce new things. Like I’ve said above, it’s all about finding a balance. Yes, you want a book that people will want to buy and read but, most of all, you want to write the book you want to write.

You can still push the word limit with that epic romance novel – just not too much. You can have a knockout, unique book cover – but still make it recognisably science fiction. Just make sure you spare a thought, every now and then, for the traditions of your genre.

Those traditions are a good guide to your readers’ expectations, and to the success of your book. So don’t fear that your genre is imprisoning your book: let it empower it instead.

If you liked the resources given here, check out my list of resources for author-publishers!