Now you’ve got an idea in mind and have learned you’ve got all the ingredients to bring your story to life, you’ll need a few technical terms.
If your dream is to be published, it’s best to assume that once you’ve written a book in one particular style of story (“genre”) , your readers will want more of the same. You can change genre between books—I wrote six successful historical novels before switching to contemporary fiction— but when you first start writing it’s best to concentrate on working within a single genre.
There are as many genres within literature as there are authors. I write Romance. That covers a huge range of fiction from sweet to torrid, boy-meets-girl to same sex love via werewolves, shape-shifters and everything in between. The influential Romance Writers of America requires romance novels to contain two basic elements: a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Within those boundaries, there are all sorts of sub-genres. Here’s a brief run-down of the RWA’s latest guidelines:
Contemporary romance: can be set at any time from 1950 to the present day
Erotic Romance: incudes often explicit sexual interaction which couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. May overlap with other subgenres, such as historical or paranormal etc)
Historical Romance: novels set before 1950. One of the most popular sub-genres within this category is the Regency Romance, which is why the publisher who re-issued one of my earliest works, Lady Rascal was keen to add the label to the Amazon details. Madeleine and Philip’s story is actually set slightly earlier—right at the end of the eighteenth century.
Paranormal romance: deals in fantasy worlds, the paranormal, or contains elements of science fiction as an integral part of the plot.
Romance with religious or spiritual elements: ‘may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture’. Those beliefs should be an intrinsic part of the love story, and form part of the character growth and relationship development of the central characters.
Romantic Suspense: contains elements of suspense, mystery or thriller writing.
Young Adult romance: reflects young adult life as part of the plot.
Each of the categories above can be divided still further by their enthusiasts into sub-genres such as gay timeslips or erotic paranormal.
Readers need to know what to expect when they see your name on a book. If you decide to change genre further on in your writing career, it might be easier to use a pen name. The famous American novelist Nora Roberts uses several. For instance, she writes mainstream romance under that name, but uses the pseudonym JD Robb when she writes romantic suspense. She understands her loyal readers. They prefer to know what sort of story they’re getting, so they choose books with Nora’s appropriate name on the cover.
Readers know what they like, and may not be keen on change. Whether you write crime or romance, fantasy or literary fiction, learn all you can about the terms and conventions (“tropes”) you’ll need to use. Marriage of Convenience, Secret Baby and Friends to Lovers are three popular tropes within romance. Lots of background reading within your chosen genre will help with this. If you can use and talk about the terms like a professional, then you’ll be treated like one.
Think carefully about why you are drawn to write in one genre more than another. Make sure it’s really the right one for you. You may be writing within it for a long time! Unless the words you write come from your heart, your work will lack sincerity. Study the type of writing that’s popular with the audience you’re aiming to please. Read reviews. You’ll soon discover what readers like, and how their favourite authors work. Join Goodreads, and find out where else your target readership gets together online to discuss the books they enjoy. Investigating measurement services like Google Analytics and Quantcast will help you in your search.