When deciding what type of book to write, it’s important to understand the concept of genres. A genre is an topic or subject which encompasses a group of books. There are some very large divisions between genres, and much more narrow ones as you go down the line. At the very top of the pyramid, all books are divided into two categories: fiction, and non-fiction.
Non-fiction books, despite what the name might sound like, refer to all books that aren’t made up. Some are told in a narrative structure just like a novel would be, with the simple difference that the events actually happened. Non-fiction books can be much more abstract, though; a simple cookbook, as it contains no fictional information, would also be considered non-fiction. Obviously, encompassing every non-fiction genre would be about as difficult as summing up reality, but if you’re considering writing a non-fiction book, there’s a good chance it fits into one of the larger genres.
A biography is a book written that documents a person’s life. Generally, biographers have to do a great deal of research, speaking with the subject in the case they are still alive, interviewing anyone else who might have known the subject, and examining any primary or secondary materials that may be relevant. Good biographers will take all of the information gathered, and weave that into a compelling story about the subject’s life.
A huge amount of non-fiction books that are published, especially those that are self-published, are self-help books. Generally written by people who have been successful in one walk of life or another, self-help books compile the wisdom and life experience of the author into a form designed to assist their readers in achieving their goals.
Some authors, especially journalists or people who have had particular experience with a significant event, will write a book detailing that event, how it happened, who was involved, etc. This can be about anything from sports victories to terrorist attacks. If you have a particular experience with any event that you think the public might find interesting, you might try writing a book about it.
Generally considered the more “entertaining” side of writing, fiction refers to all books that the author makes up. These aren’t necessarily less constrained than non-fiction, they’re just constrained differently. Instead of sticking to a set of true facts, fictional stories stick to a set of narrative principles. Just like non-fiction is a huge term encompassing many different types of true stories, fiction can be about pretty much anything. Regardless, a huge amount books fall into specific genres. Furthermore, readers will usually go after a specific genre, so writing towards a particular genre might be an effective way of ensuring readers.
The next major divide within fiction is that between literary fiction and genre fiction. Generally speaking, literary fiction is more focused on character development and exploration of themes, whereas genre fiction is all about the plot, with the story itself driving the reader’s interest. These are extremely vague lines, and the argument about what exactly qualifies as genre and what as literary fiction rages in academic circles. Suffice to say, most books that you were assigned in high school probably would be considered literary fiction, though as authors push more and more boundaries, the lines between get further blurred.
Genre fiction stories are the blockbusters of the literary world. They’re the most “entertaining” books, and consequentially, sometimes considered the least “cultured”. These are all dividers that don’t really mean a whole lot, though. If a story has a compelling villain, a ticking clock, action packed scenes, or a thrilling conclusion, then it will likely be considered genre fiction. Does that mean that it’s less good than a literary story? Of course not. There are countless different genres within genre fiction, but we’ll take a look at a couple of the most prominent.
Go into any library, and you’ll usually notice that the mystery section is absolutely huge. Readers love mysteries, and just about always have. Mysteries all follow a pretty standard structure: set up a crime, introduce a detective, catch a criminal. The infinite variation within that formula, however, is what has made mystery stories such a persistent genre.
Oftentimes, bookstores and libraries will lump fantasy and science fiction into one section, usually calling it just one or the other. Obviously, fantasy and science fiction aren’t the same, but they can be grouped into the larger genre of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction stories are those that aren’t about our world. Whether it be because minute advances in technology haven’t been achieved yet, or because magic saturates every part of the world. It all counts as speculative fiction, which is one of the most popular and prevalent genres among younger generations. As a result, many young adult novels fall under this category as well.
Knowing your genre is extremely important for aspiring authors. Not only does looking at other authors within that genre provide excellent guidance, but having a clear idea of where you stand is invaluable when approaching literary agents and publishers, or when trying to sell your work to prospective readers.