How to know your book genre and agents

How to Know Your Book Genre and Win Agents

Do you know your genre?

Are you a writer? What do you write? Do you know what section your novel would be in a bookstore? Do you know your genre?

Know your genre and get published

If you simply answered fiction or nonfiction, that’s only the start of your journey. When you browse online or brick and mortar bookstores, you have to choose between an array of categories: fantasy, historical, romance, science fiction, etc.

When you’re in the beginning stages, you might not know what genre you are yet. Don’t worry. If you’re still in the middle of writing your book, then you have time to figure that out. Sometimes we don’t really know our own style until we finish a book.

However, if you’ve reached the point where you’re getting serious about your work and are contemplating publication, then you NEED to know your genre. You won’t be able to submit to an agent or publishing house if you don’t know what category your book falls under.

Knowing Your Genre is EVERYTHING

You probably have your favorite genres and head straight for those sections of the store or library. Chances are, your style follows much of what you read, so your genre is probably something you already read.


When you’re published, readers will find your work the same way you look for a new novel to read. This is why agents need to know your genre in order to sell your book to publishers. 

Knowing your genre shows agents and publishers that you know how to market your book and appeal to fans of that genre. 

Ahem, by the way. You cannot ask an agent what your book’s genre is. They want YOU to tell THEM.

When you know how to label yourself accurately, then you show agents that you understand the importance of that genre’s expected plots, word counts, tropes, character depictions, themes, etc..

For example, if you’re a romance writer, then your romance fans have specific expectations within their genre, including a happy ending. Obviously, there are variations, otherwise all books would read the same. Romance fans know what can deviate and what cannot.

Readers know what to instinctively expect from their favorite genre. Writers need to know, too.

Read More to Know Your Genre

How can you know your genre if you don’t read it?

I say this all the time, and I will continue to do so — you need to read to write better.

Reading within your genre will familiarize yourself with the expectations of your readers. This will help you automatically keep to your genre’s expectations while you write.

Every genre has specifications and limitations that readers, agents, and publishers expect you, the writer, to uphold:

  • Word count
  • Character arcs
  • Plot points
  • Endings: i.e. Romance = happy ending, Literary = perspective, Mystery = revelation

Know Your Genre Overlaps

Sub genres are great ways to include other genres of interest. 

They can also confuse your book categorization if you don’t know how to label your book correctly.

A mystery can have elements of a romance novel, along with similar themes. But, if the book does not follow the plot arc of romance novels, then it is NOT a romantic genre. It’s a mystery novel with romance elements. That book would be in the mystery section.

However, if your book is following the romance plot arc, but also includes a mystery theme, then it IS a romance novel with mystery elements. That book would be in the romance section.

Get it?

Knowing your genre also helps you differentiate between similar genres, like Magical Realism and Paranormal, or Mainstream and Commercial Fiction. I still can’t differentiate the latter pair. Good thing they aren’t my genre — sigh.

How Do You Know Your Genre?

Sometimes, we’re just too close to a project to critique or label ourselves easily. Honestly, that’s not a good enough excuse. You need to know your book. Agents and publishers require this.

If you’re an avid reader and you still don’t know your genre, then it’s time to do more research.

Browse other books that you think are similar to yours. What genre do they fall in?

Ask beta readers. What genre do they think your story falls under?

Don’t go solely by your beta readers’ word, though. Take the advice, then double check with your own research.

Your book may fall under more than category at this point. If so, it’s time to see what differentiates those categories. You may need to alter your plot or word count to fit the mold of a particular genre.

I know, fitting a mold does not sound appealing. But, if you want a standard publisher, you have to fit their expectations.

See what genre your book comes closest to before you start to edit.

I wasn’t sure if my own novel was a romance or speculative fiction. I’ve enjoyed reading romance for years, so I’m familiar with the plot arcs. However, I realized that romance was a secondary theme in my book, so I now label it speculative fiction with romantic themes. However, if I REALLY wanted to write a romance, I could alter my plot to fit the expected high and low falls with my MC’s love interest.

So, tell me — what book shelf would your novel rest on in a bookstore?

Ask Amelia

If you still need help deciphering your book’s genre or need a second pair of eyes for proofreading or beta reading, just ask. Leave a comment below or contact and request help. Let me know what genres you typically like and describe the elements of your book.

Amelia Marina

In college I studied literature and creative writing, earning degrees in both fields. Since then, I have written copy for numerous industries, wearing many styles of hats. Biographies, newsletters, product descriptions, and blogs are all part of the ever-changing suit that freelancing has dressed me in.


  1. […] Know your genre’s style, story length, expectations, etc. and follow it. […]

  2. It seems like such a simple question but your words of wisdom force us to reevaluate our writing to zero in on the most accurate description for our work. Thank you.

    1. Exactly! I used to think it was the easiest question to answer about my writing. Now, I plan my labels more methodically.
      What are your possible genres, Natalie?

  3. It can be surprisingly challenging to figure out your own genre sometimes, particularly if sub-genres get involved. I was recently trying to figure out if a short story I wrote fell under fantasy, dark fantasy, or horror. I ended up just going with fantasy, but that “dark fantasy” label is tricky since it blurs the lines with the horror genre.

    1. Short stories are definitely trickier. We cover so much ground in such a short time and the rules tend to be looser. If you have all the elements of several genres, your short story could probably have several labels, depending on where you submit.
      For full length novels, however, I feel like sub genres help narrow down those extra elements that aren’t the main themes.

      1. Ah, that’s a helpful way to look at it. Thanks!

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