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How to determine the genre of your passion project?


New Member
I've been working on an idea of mine for a while now, and while it can be classified as a collection of short stories without a doubt, I can't distinguish what would lean this story more into the sci-fi, supernatural, or fantasy genre. (I've also heard of cosmic horror, but only a few stories in the book may meet the criteria for that.)

When I summarize this book to my friends and family, I'd like to be able to put it into one or two genres for simplicity purposes. It mainly revolves around the experiences of a few of the 1001 Reapers, which escort dying souls into a specific destination in the Overworld. The majority of the stories take place in modern America, where the reapers face both real and supernatural occurrences among humans and Wanted Supernaturals that cause a panic when they're discovered by mortal eyes. I suppose that label could lean the book towards the supernatural genre more than anything, but since the answer to that question is still foggy to myself, I'll ask another for clarity:

What criteria does a story need to be given a specific genre(s), and how do you categorize the contents of that story into those criteria?

Eduardo Letavia

From your description, Pup2701 , I would tag your stories collection as "urban horror fantasy". Now, regarding the criteria for the tagging itself, I would argue that first it would be up for the author and next to the publishing company, if there's one behind it. Genre tagging is just a convenience to help readers find what they want faster for the most part, and some authors don't even care much if at all about what genre their creations fit in.

But thinking about categorizing a bit deeper, you have to distinguish two things: the envelope or decoration of your story and themes underlying in it. Allow me to use a rather common example, Star Wars. This franchise mixes quite a bit of scifi with some epic fantasy elements to tell both a heroic story but also a family drama:
  • The scifi and fantasy elements are there to give shape to the worldbuilding and help building a certain mood, but it's almost entirely replaceable with another setting like medieval, or even prehistoric!
  • The heroic tale and the family drama are the core, the heart of the story and what defines it. It's what you cannot replace or change with anything else, unless you want to aim the story towards some other notions.
So, from the envelope perspective, Star Wars is space opera or sci-fantasy, but from the theme point of view is a story of heroic growth and family... soap opera. From the marketing point of view you'll use the most shiny and luring envelope (also aiming at a certain public target), and you may hint the themes underlying in the story in its synopsis.
The main thing to realise is that genre is a marketing tool only. There is nothing in the text which determines that a book is fantasy and not romance or mystery. So, how do you determine genre? You figure out who will like the story, what genre they expect the story to be and then that is your genre. Get people to read the story and ask them what genre it is. Go with what the majority says.

The question is what do you want to do with it?

If you want to traditionally publish (unlikely with a collection of short stories), then you need to figure it out in advance, since you put the genre on your cover letter and you aim it at a specific editor. But there is no reason why you can't send out your story to 3 different editors or publishers / publishing departments with a different genre slapped on to. If it has horror and fantasy elements then you can send one copy to a horror publisher and the next to a fantasy publisher. It just takes more work.

If you want to self publish, then you can get Amazon to place your book in up to 10 genre's. If you need more than that you either wrote something very strange, or you need to do a bit of thinking.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the genres are a very modern invention, only made possible by the internet. Go to a physical bookstore and browse through the books. There is no "urban fantasy shapeshifter werewolf romance" genre. Or M/M paranormal romance or whatever other genres are popular these days. You will find genres like "Literature", "Romance", "Science fiction & Fantasy & Horror" and so on. They're very broad. In a brick and mortar store, your book would simply end up in the science fiction, fantasy and horror section, somewhere between Pratchett and Rowling (if it was published under Pup2701).

As for what you describe, I would go for either Dark Urban Fantasy or Superhero.