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Should Writers Choose Sub-Genres?


I'll state my opinion simply:

Genre and sub-genre is marketing. The entire point of genre and sub-genre is marketing to readers. If you want to attract an audience to your work, you should make every effort to make it as easy as possible for the readers who are likely to enjoy your work to find it. The more exactly you can pinpoint the sub-genre that describes your story the easier it will be for readers to find your books. So, if you want to gain a fan-base and make a living at writing, then yes, you should utilize sub-genres if they fit your work. (obviously if there aren't any sub-genres that fit your work, don't use them. NEVER lie or mislead your readers.)


Great post. Any more I'd say as a writer you'd be foolish not to define your novels in as specific a sub-genre as you can, just so you can really target those readers who are most likely to enjoy your stories (especially in the case of publishing to Amazon, since being in a specific sub-category also puts you in every larger category that your specific category falls under).

Philip Overby

Article Team
It's interesting because I've heard a lot of writers in various circles say they don't like to define their writing because it's a tool made up by publishers to sell books. However, when I thought about self-publishers, I wondered, "Well, what do they do to market? They must define their book some kind of way?" I guess this idea of sub-genres only being invented by publishers isn't exclusive anymore. I'm interested to see what grows out of self-publishing when certain groups of writers are writing similar kinds of fiction.

Kameron Hurley defining her God's War series as bugpunk and Chuck Wendig having a YA cornpunk series, are both situations where I wonder if other people will try to write in those same sub-genres.

I invented Splatter-Elf as a joke, but it's quickly becoming a defining factor of my own work: over the top, funny, weird, cartoonishly violent fantasy fiction.


Article Team
In my signature I'm using the term grass-root fantasy. I've never heard of it anywhere else, so I believe it's something I've made up on my own. I think, that in a way, the name of the sub-genre is something of a way of describing what a book is about, before the reader gets even to the blurb.

Seems the exact term is "Grass-roots, feel-good, fantasy."
The idea there is that it's a story about a regular guy, doing regular-guy things, in a fantasy setting. I'm not sure how well that actually fits the name, but I'll worry about that once the story is actually done.
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Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I think the term sub-genre is getting obsolete. The more books are being sold on the internet, the more it's going to broaden from sub-genre to tags.

I mean that's how the internet works. Even this thread has tags, "choose, online, publisher, sub-genres, writers." That's all a "sub-genre" is, a way of tagging books on a shelf.

I think we're going to see "sub-genres" based on a number of different items, like for instance, on the character's motivation. Characters who "yearn" might be a genre. Characters who are "anti-heroes" might be a genre. You might have genres based on how much or how little romance you have in your book. Under a basic tagging system, those kinds of tags would overlap with the genres we currently use, which are based more on the setting.

So you might have a book:

"epic fantasy, yearning, warfare, multiple POVs, FMC, mild romance...."

That would give you multiple tags or "sub-genres" readers could find you with.


Article Team
I bought a book a while back which had a number of characteristics/components listed on its back along with how high the book scored on this criteria.

I don't remember the exact details, but it was something like:
Romance: 4
Violence: 2
Sex: 1
Humor: 5
Action: 4
Paranormal: 5

I got the impression it was a system that this specific publisher used, and I haven't seen it again - but I can see something like amazon start using a system like that before too long. It'd probably be easier than trying to satisfy all the myriad of sub-genres authors come up with.


Kameron Hurley defining her God's War series as bugpunk and Chuck Wendig having a YA cornpunk series, are both situations where I wonder if other people will try to write in those same sub-genres.

I do find it amusing how many people feel the need to add "punk" onto the end of the name of whatever they've decided they're particular sub-genre is, especially since the original genre to do so -- cyberpunk -- seems to be the only one where the "punk" part of the name is actually used to accurately describe the style of the stories. Nowadays it's just trendy for writers to tack the word on to every manner of genre, almost none of which (at least that I've seen) have anything about their style that can be described by the word "punk".

Sorry for the random sidebar, but it almost annoys me (especially as someone who was a big fan of cyberpunk back in the day) how silly this trend has gotten.

I do have to agree with Devor -- I think the future of how we describe our fiction will be more along the lines of specific tags that readers can search for, along with more general categories to group the stories by.

Philip Overby

Article Team
I think in Wendig and Hurley's case it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek sort of deal, but I agree in some ways the "-punk" suffix has gotten a little out there.

Devor's point about "tags" I think is a good one as well. People definitely find content easier by using hashtags or tags on blogs or whatever. I could see things going in that direction as well.

However, I don't think sub-genres are obsolete as of yet. They still help people find exactly what they're looking for. Sub-genres like paranormal romance, steampunk, and hard SF are very specific. I found out in some ways that alternate history fans have extremely specific tastes.

While I think tags will probably become more prevalent, I still think sub-genres will probably become part of those tags. For instance a book like The Lord of the Rings would probably be tagged like this:

epic fantasy

Epic fantasy as a sub-genre tends to be pretty flexible though. I see many people get into arguments about what really defines epic fantasy. So I think the more specific the sub-genre or tag, the more helpful it is for readers to seek something out.

Svrtnsse's mention of a sort of rating system is pretty interesting. I think this could be an excellent way for readers to find the kind of fiction that they like. Like movies and video games, you could have a system that may say:

Extreme violence
Foul language


Light comic violence
Mild sexual content

I actually saw something like this with one site, but I forgot what it was called (The _______ Librarian or something like that.)
I understand the need to categorize books for marketing, but it irks me to no end. I hope the ebook world will help ease some of this under the rug a bit.
I do not like being defined as just one thing. I'm a whole person, my works are like me, they have love, loss, and violence. Adventure, and moments of quiet contemplation and self discovery. I don't fit in any one box, and I never expect my reading material to do so either. I prefer a much richer read. That may just be me, but if I tried to go the subgenre route there would be a lot of X/Y/Z/... going on.
I read the other thread where you mentioned "Tagging" specific elements rather than being vanilla about genre, I fully agree and as a reader that makes way more sense to me. However, having said that it would not work for actual book stores, can't exactly follow the #'s there.