Part of developing our writing craft skills is reading in the genre we want to write. It's important because readers (and editors) can pick out writers who don't do this with ease. It shows in the manscript.
For example: If you're writing a thriller with a determined detective and there's a time slip in the story, then please read thrillers and science fiction to get a sense of both genre's landscape. Take time to understand how detectives unravel a mystery and read thrillers to understand how other authors ratchet up the pace and keep the reader hooked to keep turning those pages.
If you're new to science or horror or any other genre that you're writing, reading will only help you develop your writing skills and your knowledge of writing in those genres.
Honestly, it's so important to read the genre we want to write!
Studying the genre we want to write in helps us grasp the various layers of the genre landscape which are vital for satisfying our readers. We can then apply our learnings to our own manuscripts.
So let's look at some specific points on why it's a good idea to get intimate with our chosen genre...
Readers are smart!
They love their fav genre. They know what they like, and they know what they don't like.
These readers are your tribe, so it's important to think of your ideal reader and the promise the genre makes to them as the story develops. That way you can take another step toward creating a satisfying story they'll rave about.
Here's something else to think about:
- Readers with a love of romance, horror, mystery, fantasy etc often read voraciously which means they know the genre intimately.
- Readers are aware of the genre expectations (sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously), and they'll know instinctively if a story resonates with their genre's common themes, tropes, and worlds building etc.
- Readers want you to transport them to their favourite genre, and deliver on the promise made by the genre. They want to suspend disbelief and live vicariously through the protagonist, moving through the conflicts of the plot and the internal emotional experience the story offers. Readers look for stories that resonate with the genre they love. Give 'em 'same same' but give them a new taste that only you can write because of who you are as a writer.
So, I recommend reading as much as possible in your chosen genre to learn how other authors approach the genre you’re writing in.
Learn from those who have gone before, and build your understanding of the genre's landscape so you can add your original work and snag readers too.
That's a win!
After all... if we're not reading the genre we're writing in...
- How can we writers add something new if we haven’t taken a deep dive into the waters to find out what lurks beneath?
- How can we writers twist a trope if we don’t know what the tropes are because we haven’t spent the time reading the genre in the first place?
- How can we write original stories that not only meet but delight our target reader’s genre expectations if we haven’t studied the genre?
Consider the rhetorical questions above.
Are you reading in your genre? If not, why not?
Sure, don’t muddy your writing with the voice of another author. Stay true to your own voice, but do spend time reading your genre (maybe before writing the first draft, or before editing it). Spend time getting to know it. Play in it and then write your own original stories to add to the genre landscape.
How will your story add to the genre landscape?
That’s a good question, I think. Something to ponder…
I believe every story has something to add to the genre it sits in. I also believe that every writer has something specific to say that they want the reader to understand by the end of the story too.
Take a moment to ponder the questions below:
- What’s different about the story you’re writing from the others on the genre bookshelf?
- How is it similar?
- What will make it stand out in a crowd while also meeting the genre expectations?
- Does your story have something important to say to the reader that you’ve not seen addressed in the genre yet? What is it? Can you say it in one or two sentences when asked?
- How does your story fit into sub-genres…? What will the story add to the sub-genre? And, how does your story stretch the sub-genre to develop?
You may not know the answers to these questions right now but it's a good idea to contemplate them.
Because knowing the essence of what your story brings to the genre will help you to:
- Write the book jacket copy
- Write a synopsis that hones in on the main theme’s hook
- Write a pitch letter to agents outlining what your story brings to the genre, how it is similar and how it is different, and what you think your target reader will get from reading it.
You might not say your book is different from others on the book jacket copy but with the knowledge in your mind of how it is different, you can craft a powerful book jacket copy that hooks reader’s interest to turn the book over, open it up and fall into the pages so they can find out what happens next.
Also, if you’re planning to do a verbal pitch at a conference, or you’re applying for a writing scholarship, it’s a great idea to consider the above questions. Prepare in advance and jot down some points on how you might address these questions if asked.
Shine at the pitch by showing the agent, acquiring editor, publisher that you know your ideal reader, the genre market and the genre landscape.
Comparison titles (also known as ‘comp titles’) are books that are similar to your book in the genre you’re writing. But why is it important to know this?
Comparison titles are used when pitching to acquiring editors, agents, and publishers. It's important to have two or three comp titles in mind because this tells the publishing professionals that you know what’s current, where your book will sit on the genre shelf, what it is comparatively like for marketing purposes and how it stands apart too.
Being aware of recently published comparison titles when writing a pitch query letter to an agent, or doing a verbal pitch to an agent, acquiring editor, publisher, demonstrates you’ve done your homework.
With your hand on your heart, you can say with authority that your story is similar to another author’s novel, or that your story is written in a style of a comparison title.
Readers who enjoyed reading the comparison title may be drawn to your story because they know what the comparison title story promised, and they will expect your story to fulfil a similar promise. So they’re looking for resonance in your story and the genre. It's important to deliver on that.
Comparison titles highlighted in query letters and pitches for publication are, ideally, published within the last five years from the year you’re going to pitch. Steer away from using novel title that are ten, fifteen, twenty years old to compare your story for all three comp titles. Show the acquiring editor, agent, publisher, that you know the current genre market by citing at two recently published comparison titles.
When thinking of comparison titles in the genre you're writing, consider the following:
- Are the stories recently published? In the last five years or so?
If not, then it’s time to go searching for recently published titles to add to your collective genre knowledge and wisdom.
This knowledge will be invaluable when pitching and writing query letters for agent representation. Knowing current, popular, and current comparison titles show you’re committed to writing your best fiction, and you’re supportive of writers in the genre you love too.
- Do you know what is being read by your target genre readers?
If not, do some sleuthing on e-publishing platforms and see what’s popular. Read the blurbs and the reviews. Get a sense of what is hooking your genre target reader’s interest. This research is all about understanding the landscape and marketing of the genre you’re writing. It will also assist with identifying for yourself who your ideal reader is and what is hooking them to buy stories in the genre you love too.
- Are you familiar with the conventions, tropes, and expectations of the genre you’re writing in?
If not, read, read, read, and read some more current published stories in the genre you’re writing.
Get to know the genre’s obligatory scenes, the tropes, the genre expectations etc. Learn what they are, and if you really want to stray away from them, you can do so by making a conscious and informed creative decision.
Alternatively, use this knowledge to help you write a story that hits what your genre target reader wants to read, and also fulfils you as a writer.
Use your reader’s knowledge of your chosen genre to build resonance between your story and those that have gone before.
Read widely in the genre you want to write in, and you’ll pick up on story patterns/structures, become aware of popular (and sometimes overused/cliché) tropes. You'll see clever ways authors use genre expectations and obligatory scenes to create a unique story that meets their ideal reader’s expectations and surprise them.
Lastly, I also advocate reading widely across various genres to fill up your creative bucket and gain understanding of other genres too, but that’s a topic for another blog post, so I’ll leave it here.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post and found it helpful, but you’re struggling with your story and want some one-to-one fiction coaching, why not book a discovery call with me. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time, happy fiction writing.