Writing a book in a specific and marketable genre can feel like bringing in a lot of rules. It's very easy to feel tied down to a narrow range of possibilities. So how do you balance your own creativity with fulfilling your promises to your readers?
First step, make sure to pick the genre that you most want to follow. What elements does your story include? What genre do those fit best? Your book will always do better if you start from a place of similarity, and not differences.
Be careful to separate out the essentials from the culture. For example, if you like Lord of the Rings but dislike magic, you aren't writing high fantasy. You have to consider the heart of your story. What elements could you remove and still feel like the book does what it needs to? What elements can you not remove without changing the whole book? It's the immutable elements that need to match your intended genre.
Here are some elements to consider:
What type of conflict do the characters face? (Interpersonal, massive battles, internal struggles, political, etc)
What methods of conflict resolution are used by the characters? ( talking, magic, gadgets, car racing, etc.)
What type of climax does your book have? (Declaration of love, conquering a personal weakness, defeating a bad guy, etc.)
What type of antagonist do you have? (Abstract concept, person, country, etc.)
What themes are you writing about? (Personal growth, inner reflection, flaws in our society, relationship issues, etc. )
What is the draw of your book? (A cool character, a wild magic system, a deep social commentary, a specific historical setting, etc. )
After answering these questions, you should be able to tell which answers are essential to your overall story, present in large portions of the book, and necessary for the most basic pieces of the plot. The other answers may be subgenres or elements of your age range or just things to put in your query.
You'll want to take these essential elements and match them to the genre that they best fit. Try to be as specific as you can. Nicholas Sparks movies may be considered chick flicks, but they aren't advertised as rom coms. Knowing your subgenre can help you accurately identify your book's audience and quickly explain it's basic elements to readers and/or industry professionals. (Self- publishing authors may want to use Amazon categories to define their subgenres, while authors headed for traditional publishing may want to stick with BISAC labels.)
If you have trouble finding the right genre, check out my post about it here.
You'll need to know both your genre and age range in order to successfully publish and market your book. Make sure to define both as specifically as you can before you do your final editing, querying, or start marketing.
About my coauthor:
Elestrei Engrei was a huge help at providing the author perspective for this post.