Why Writers Should Choose Sub-Genres

Wordle: Genres
Word salad. Not sure why Adult is so big. It’s supposed to be New Adult. Damn you!

I’ll admit, I’m probably just throwing this out there to see what reactions I get, but isn’t that the point of a blog? To share opinions and have discussions about things? If I didn’t want to have discussions, I would write a diary. Right?

In any case, today I want to tackle something that tends to rub a lot of writers the wrong way: sub-genres. Some don’t like to define their writing in any way while others tend to blend genres together to show what kind of influences their novels have. However, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to label yourself.

I think of it like this. Bands that were heavy metal in the 80s tended to have a lot of the same fans because they fell under that same umbrella of heavy metal. Later, grunge became the name for the scene that burst out of Seattle. Now we have in speculative fiction terms like steampunk, dieselpunk, grimdark, etc. If you really think about it, readers are going to label your work if you don’t. And if readers don’t, book sellers most certainly will. Doesn’t Amazon have a ranking for each category? By putting the word “fantasy” on your description, you are thus labeling yourself in some fashion.

So what are the advantages of choosing a sub-genre?

1. You can find an audience through other books. A lot of readers tend to pick up books by writers of similar styles of fiction. For example, if someone picks up a Brandon Sanderson book, then they’ll most likely pick up some of the other big names in fantasy at the moment like Rothfuss, Martin, etc. This is because readers often like to read things that are similar. This is why on social media you see people saying, “Can you recommend any books like ________?” or you see on Amazon “Recommended Books for You.” This isn’t set in stone, but more often than not, readers pick from the same genres if they like them. If you choose a sub-genre, then you’re not only helping readers find your book, but you’re also potentially helping other writers find an audience as well.

2. A lot of people are going to ask you, “What kind of books do you write?” If you say, “Well, I can’t really describe them” then you may have already lost a reader. If you say, “I write epic poetry about muskrat berserkers (something I actually did long ago(” then you may get a little more attention, maybe good, maybe bad, who knows. I think in fiction, vagueness isn’t really a strength. The more you can hammer down the kind of writing you’re doing, the more likely you may find potential readers.

3. Even if you’re writing in a broad genre, there are, like it or not, smaller distinctions made. In romance for example, there is paranormal romance and Harlequin romance. I don’t read either one, but I imagine there are some romance fans that that may like both, one of them, or neither. The more specific your sub-genre is, the more likely you may be to isolate fans in your broader genre. I find when I say I write fantasy, people say, “Oh, like what?” Fantasy is just too broad a genre these days. So I often say, “Well, it’s kind of like splattery, weird, funny, over-the-top fantasy with a twist of lime.” That might get more raised eyebrows and lose some potential readers, but it may also raise eyebrows in a good way. I find that in my case, people tend to be interested in the latter description more.

All in all, utilizing sub-genres can be another tool in you writer’s toolbox. It’s not completely essential, but in some cases it may gain your a reader when you may not have gotten one otherwise. 

What are your thoughts on writers utilizing sub-genres? Should it only be used by publishers trying to market or can writers use them too?