Happens in real life—oy!—but not such a hot idea in fiction.
Cozy mystery with a soupçon of blood and gore?
Only if you want readers coming after you with shoulder-fired missiles.
Sci-fi in a gauzy, vintage-y mood?
Not unless you want to find an IED in your driveway.
Genres come with rules that create guidelines for writers—and set up expectations in readers. Break those rules, disappoint those expectations and the reaction will be a polar vortex of one-star reviews.
You can’t build a house without a solid foundation, so before you start playing around with wildly inventive and creative genre mash-ups, you first need to learn to stick the landing.
Note from Anne: The terms YA (Young Adult, age 12-18) MG (Middle Grade age 8-12) and to a certain extent, NA (New Adult, age 18-25) define demographics, not genres. Almost all these genres can also be written for specific age groups (Although I wouldn't recommend MG Romance.) For more on the New Adult category see Chuck Sambuchino's piece for Writer's Digest.
Here's a list of some of the most popular genres with links to expert advice on how to write them:
Over half the books sold in the US are categorized as Romance. It’s the Big Mama of genres, competitive and potentially lucrative.
is Harvard for romance, useful to beginners and advanced students alive. Professors (successful romance writers and editors) tell all about how to write and how to market romance. (And it's FREE!...Anne)
We’ll stay in the Ivy league with Everybody Needs A Little Romance
, a group blog written by romance writers who share their opinions and insights, their triumphs and—sometimes—their tribulations. Romance writers, it turns out, are just like us.
, a chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America
) is devoted to the writing and marketing of contemporary (as opposed to historical) romance. Pros who write in genres and sub-genres ranging from “spicy to inspirational to young adult to adult” keep readers and writers informed and up to date via discussion forums and workshops. (This site requires RWA membership, but if you're a Romance writer, RWA membership is well worth the price...Anne
Have a good time and learn at Romance Divas
an award winning, website and discussion forum dedicated to romance.
The suspense must add to the romance and the romance must add to the suspense. Nora Roberts
lists some of her favorite Romantic Suspense authors—Mary Stewart, Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George (among others)—and explains the necessary balance between romance and suspense.
New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Gardner, lists 7 Tips for writing Romantic Suspense
ranging from setting and research to character and plot.
Patience Bloom, senior editor of Harlequin Romantic Suspense
, shares 5 Secrets for creating compelling Romantic Suspense.
As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
said you "know it when you see it." But the line between erotica and erotic romance has blurred in recent years. It can be a, ahem, "Gray" area. Here's a piece (complete with infographic) on the difference between erotica and erotic romance from Sorcha Grace in the HuffPo.
Got more than two people in the scene and there's no HEA? It's erotica.
Anna Quindlen, Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult are among the stars in a genre that can also merge/morph into Mainstream Fiction or Literary Fiction.
Author and blogger, Amy Sue Nathan, who hosts Women’s Fiction Writers
, defines this not-always-easy-to-define genre.
RITA Award finalist and former journalist, Wendy Wax, talks about the impact of headline news and real life on women’s fiction
Screenwriter and novelist, Paul FitzSimons, states that of all the major genres of fiction-writing, crime, fantasy, literary, comedy, sci-fi, erotica (thank you EL James for making it okay to include that last one) – the most popular and successful is women’s fiction. Paul has pulled together a list of useful links for women’s fiction
Chick Lit (aka Rom-Com)
Think Bridget Jones Diary, Sex And The City
and The Devil Wears Prada
. Chick Lit, breezy and humorous, is written in the first person and is about 20- and 30- something women living in a big city. A Chick Lit novel is about relationships—romantic and otherwise—as the heroine searches for a job, a boyfriend, an identity.
Editors at Ballentine and Harlequin
discuss what makes Chick Lit tick.
Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel
, by an author of chick lit, offers advice and a step-by-step method for writing the savvy and sassy chick lit novel.
While a romance novel usually ends with a wedding or a promise of one, a chick lit novel can end with the heroine having pink drinks with her girlfriends, dissing Mr. Wrong.
Note from Anne: Chick Lit is a bestselling genre that has found new popularity in the age of ebooks, but it was out of fashion for a few years. I see that Publisher's Lunch calls it "Rom-Com" rather than "Chick Lit" when talking about book deals
—short for "Romantic-Comedy." So if you're querying Chick Lit, you might want to call it "Rom-Com" unless the agent specifically asks for Chick Lit.
Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje come to mind as authors of literary fiction. Literary Fiction tends to focus more on character than plot although—because characters interact and events take place—LitFic does have plot.
The prose in LitFic possesses aesthetic value, and the theme(s) and emotions are layered, complex and serious.
Like other genres, Literary Fiction defines itself through cover design, titles, book formats and shelving. In addition, there are four characteristics
that make Literary Fiction a distinct genre.
Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
Think Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer, Dead until Dark
. Think noir, paranormal and magic.
At Heroes And Heartbreakers, Larissa Benoliel defines the difference
between these two popular genres.
Here’s a questionnaire that will also help distinguish between ParaNormal Romance (PNR) and Urban Fantasy (UF)
Award-winning author Jami Gold
is a go-to guru in PNR and UF. She conducts workshops and offers tips, tricks and tools for writers. Jami mixes in “elements of suspense and women’s fiction to create ‘Beach Reads with Bite.’ Her stories range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply.” (And she's going to be our guest in August!...Anne.)
Dystopian (Especially YA)
From Hunger Games
and Susanne Collins to Veronica Roth, this is a hotter-than-than-hot genre. In YA Dystopian fiction
you’ll find reading lists, reviews and expert analysis.
Here’s pro advice from YA authors Lauren DeStefano and Moira Young on writing dystopian fiction
and 5 more tips from "Miss Literati" about pushing the envelope
in this wildly popular genre.
Bestselling author P. D. James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL, is an English crime writer and creator of policeman and poet, Adam Dalgliesh. Baroness James has learned from writers like Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L Sayers, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Here are her 8 suggestions for writing a mystery
l, author of The Martindale Mystery Series, sweats blood. Not really but sort of, as he tells how to write a mystery.
Susan Spann, an attorney and author of the Shinobi Mystery series, says that “mystery novels work a lot like any other genre, except that mystery writers murder their imaginary friends.” Susan lists 25 things you need to know about writing mysteries
Ginny Wiehardt, editor and writing teacher, offers 10 rules for writing mystery
The author Agatha Christie and TV’s Murder, She Wrote
mean “cozy” to millions of fans who are looking for mystery sans graphic sex, profanity and violence.
delves into the specifics that distinguish a cozy mystery from a classic mystery. Find out everything a writer needs to know about this popular genre as Lynn analyzes elements including cover, protagonist, audience, setting, and plot.
Author Stephen D. Rogers
has written a useful run-down of characters, plots, setting and the exceptions that define the cozy mystery. Stephen also adds a list of resources and markets relevant to authors of cozies.
The Cozy Mystery List
adds to the information about the genre and recommends books, DVDs in this increasingly hot genre.
We’re in James Bond territory here. The thriller revolves around around anticipation and suspense, action and excitement. Unlike a mystery in which a crime must be solved, in a thriller the hero/heroine must prevent the crime from being committed or the dastardly plot from going forward.
Top thriller writers from Daniel Silva to Edgar Award-winner John Hart give advice about writing the can’t-put-it-down thriller
discusses the line between fact and fiction in a thriller and describes the nuts-and-bolts of his writing process.
The police procedural
ranges from Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.
Mystery novelist and college professor Margot Kinberg
discusses the wide range of this genre, its diversity, history and current status on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Writer.
Targeted to a large audience, Christian Fiction offers inspiration, positive uplift and points the way for relatable characters to resolve their real-life dilemmas via faith. Christian Fiction encompasses numerous sub-genres including mystery, sci-fi, romance, women’s fiction, historical and more.
CrossBooks, a publisher of Christian Fiction, reaches out to authors and lays out guidelines for writing Christian Fiction
with realistic characters confronting gritty issues like abuse and alcoholism.
American Christian Fiction Writers
(ACFW) is a professional authors’ association similar to Romance Writers of America (RWA) and/or Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The goal of ACFW is “developing the skills of its authors, educating them in the market, and serving as an advocate in the Christian Fiction publishing industry.”
Horror comes in a variety of flavors. There’s creepy, gross-out, and just plain evil. There’s H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub and Stephen King. Don’t forget slime, monsters, vampires and locked rooms. Horror, like all fiction, isn’t easy to write but here’s Ramsey Campbell
’s guide to avoiding the clichés.
Stephen King shares some thoughts about the craft of writing horror
Novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, Chuck Wendig, lists 25 things you should know about writing horror
including severed heads and septic fear.
At Hellnotes, Robert Gray suggests 13 tips about writing horror
Cowboys and Indians, sheriffs and outlaws, gunslingers and schoolmarms—we’re talking Westerns. Louis L’Amour, Tony Hillerman, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard are among the masters of the form. Western Writers of America
, sponsors of the annual Spur Award, represents professional authors of Western literature.
Popular sub-genres include Western Romance and Western Historical Romance.
R.L. Coffield offers these guidelines for writing a Western
and Adrienne deWolf’s writing resources for writing a Western
offers tips and research help.
The NaNoWriMo site has interesting facts about iconic Western towns like Tombstone and the dangerous perils of six-shooters plus more tips
for writing a Western.
Lyn Horner, bestselling author of Western Romance, shares tips and techniques
for writing a Western Romance.
Noted sci-fi/fantasy author and teacher, Jeffrey A. Carver, a Nebula Award finalist and developer and host of the educational TV series, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, has created an on-line course, how to write sci fi/fantasy
. “There are no rules, exactly,” says Jeff. “But we do have what you might call guidelines. And that's to have fun writing!”
Award-winning sci-fi author, Massimo Marino, takes a scientist’s approach to sci-fi. Massimo, who worked at CERN—an international lab for particle physics research near Geneva, Switzerland—then at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as well as with Apple Inc., and the World Economic Forum, has created a useful and entertaining Guide For Down-And-Dirty Hairy-Knuckled Sci-Fi Writers
Roz Morris, author, editor, bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor, shares 3 tips for writing watertight fantasy
, science fiction and time travel stories. Roz talks about the roles of logic and magic and illustrates her points by discussing mistakes she herself made and how she corrected them.
Author and editor, Charlie Jane Anders contemplates 10 “Rules” scifi/fantasy authors should break
. Charlie offers insights into portal fantasies, when it’s better to tell, not show, and the possibilities of faster-than-light space travel.
There are dozens of subcategories of SciFi/Fantasy, too many to go into here. Some are: Steampunk (The Anubis Gates, Homunculus) Space Opera (Dune, the Foundation Trilogy), Hard SciFi (I, Robot), Epic Fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), Cyberpunk (Neuromancer), Speculative Fiction (A Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World) and Time Travel (The Time Machine—not to be confused with Time Travel Romance like Somewhere in Time or Time Travel Women's Fiction like The Time Traveller's Wife.)