Niching: Genre Writing

Updated on March 1, 2024.

I may not be able to list my Top Five favorite books at any given moment, but I can tell you my favorite genres (in no particular order, of course):

  • Military/Espionage Thrillers
  • LGBTQIA+ Romance
  • Police Procedural/Legal Thrillers
  • Urban Fantasy/High Fantasy Rebellions

And those are just fiction. Since those are my preferences as a reader, one could assume I write in those same subgenres. Even more, one might assume those would all be the subgenres I edit.

But there’s a massive difference in having reading, editing, and writing preferences. You can only “write what you know” but so much, even with search engines at your fingertips. Those search engines, after all, are only helpful to the degree that you know what questions to ask and how many different ways to phrase them.

Even craft books can only offer so many tangible examples and exercises, whether in general or for your chosen subgenre. So why try to niche at all?

Join me on this mini adventure to learn some concepts that hopefully will help you figure out how best to answer that question.

An Expansive Subgenre World

Writer’s Digest has an amazing reference list of 114 fiction subgenre descriptions for writers, both experienced and newbies. When I stumbled across it in research for this week’s blog, I was flabbergasted.

I knew there were plenty of the usual suspects like the preferences I listed above. Some of these, though, I’ve never heard of. What that says, that these different subgenres exist, is that there are more options than you think that you can explore as a writer.

Writers and Editors Who Specialize in Your Genre

It’s expected that both writers and editors have a broad understanding of the mechanics of storytelling. How to piece together clauses, build out realistic worlds, and give plausible reasons to care about characters.

Find the folks that do their work in your chosen line of writing. They will understand not just those broad “rules,” but know of or have direct experience with the nuances of specific genres. For example, I may read the occasional high fantasy adventure, post-apocalyptic science fiction, or dark mystery horror, but I could never write or edit those types of stories. I know plenty of people who do, though!

Primary and Secondary Source Material

There’s only so much publicly available information, even for noir horror. As I said, Google and Bing only know so much, even with millions of search results to sift through. As you narrow down your specialty, consider your available resources. My novel-in-progress is a military romance. I’m lucky to know plenty of active and veteran military members to whom I can go to with broad questions about logistics, personalities, and operations. Google fills in another eighty percent.

Creative license gives you a little freedom, but readers still expect plausibility. So, consider the source material at hand. Figure out how to use it most effectively. But don’t push the bounds and slip into the melodramatic. That’s an easy way to ensure your reader rolls their eyes and tosses your book into the DNF pile.

Read. In. Your. Genre.

I cannot stress this part enough. Sure, the other three tips are great, but in terms of importance? The only way to truly understand and then apply the principles and nuances of your genre are to see how other writers within it tell their stories. You won’t (and SHOULDN’T) have to plagiarize or copy their style, but you can study their tactics and then tweak them to become your own.

I recently finished the seven-book Tier One military thriller series by Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson. I’ve moved on to the six-book epic fantasy rebellion Red Rising saga by Pierce Brown. I’ll likely follow that up with a few standalone LGBTQIA+ romance books by Riley Hart and L.A. Witt.

Only the latter is what I consider my specialty as a writer, even with my debut novel having military aspects. I read authors who write in this genre; I network with editors who specialize in this genre. I’ apologize daily to my assigned FBI/CIA/NSA agent who monitors my search history and repeatedly inform them I’m just a writer.

Have you decided which genre you wanted to write in (or are currently writing in)? If you don’t know yet, keep these tips in mind as you experiment along the way.

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