Is my genre a niche?


Every new writer has had it happen to her.

She has worked for months or years to finish her first book.  When she finally is ready to show it off to someone in the publishing business, the publisher or agent or editor asks her this question.

What genre is it?

“Uh, uh, it’s about a guy and a girl,” the author stammers as she wonders what the hell a genre is.

“I didn’t ask you what it was about.  I asked you what genre it is.”  The book professional sits back in her chair and thumps the top of her desk while the writer squirms.

“Well, someone gets shot at the end of Chapter One.”

The book guru drums the desk.

“Oh, and there’s a mystery about who fired the shot.”  The author feels herself sinking under water, her future in the book business dead on arrival.

“I can’t do anything with a book if I don’t know the genre.  How am I supposed to sell it?” The book pro says all righteous indignation. “Is it a thriller, a mystery, a romance?

“How about literary fiction?” The author grasps at straws.

“Oh, so you’re William Faulkner in disguise?”

The author retrieves her manuscript, beats a path out the door. When she gets to her car she Googles the word genre, scratches her head.

She just thought she was writing a story.

We’ve all been there.  But, genre is not a bad thing in the book business.  It’s not an attempt to denigrate the art of writing.

The truth is that readers prefer certain types of books. If an author hopes to find those readers she must write books in the genre, or category, the reader loves.

If an author doesn’t know her book’s genre, she has not yet focused on a cardinal rule of the book business.

Genre determines how a story is told.  A story about a girl and guy plays out one way if the book is a romance, another if it is a thriller.

Along comes niche.

Today’s book market, the long tail of online sales, is all about niches.

What’s the difference between genre and niche?

Niche is a micro-genre. (I just made up that hyphenated word.)

There are tens of millions of readers who search for books each day online.

They search for stuff like “Christian historical romance set in the 1890s in West Texas with cowboys and a teenage girl whose father is a pastor who abused her as a child.”

I made up those search terms, too. But you catch my drift.

The book market as it now exists is about books that target specific, well-defined reader interests.

I know what you’re thinking. A genre/niche that tight puts the author in a straight jacket.

Not really.

Micro-genres simply delineate the overall form of the book.

The author’s creativity does the rest.

Of course, it also helps if the particular micro-genre has more than twelve devoted readers.

That’s a blog for another day.


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