What on Earth is My Novel’s Genre?

I have a misbehaving novel. Don’t we all?

It refuses to be put into a nice, neat box of one specific genre. No matter how much I shove, push, even sit on that box to squash it in, the novel just won’t sit there. It wants to spill out.

It kind of makes sense that anything I produce would be rebellious. Knowing this doesn’t make life easier though.

The Problems with Not Fitting a Specific Genre

I understand novels can be more than one genre. My problem is my novel wants to be many.

I don’t have a problem recognising genres. I’m well-educated in literature and used to teach it. It’s not an issue of not knowing.

My novel genuinely doesn’t fit the norm. I guess that should be applauded, but how does that work when pursuing the traditional publishing route? Will it be seen as a bonus or a hindrance? How do I categorise it if I self-publish?

To date, I’ve called it a thriller, so as to be concise, more about that in a moment…
People want to know what you’re writing. Telling them it’s a thriller, comedy, contemporary, historical, crime thingy, isn’t catchy.

How will I pitch it? Do I go with one genre, two or the whole caboodle? Will it look like I wouldn’t know a genre if it bit me on the arse?

We have a saying of, ‘If the cap fits, wear it’. My novel is wearing enough caps to create a crowd of chavs on a Saturday night, drinking cider in the park.
Maybe looking at each genre would help *knows it won’t but it fills up a blog post*.

Brought to you by the medium of cat pictures. Because. Cat.


I guess my novel is thrilling. It thrills me I wrote it.

It has the thriller elements of tension, suspense, keeping readers guessing, false turns, surprises, and excitement.

So, let’s say it’s a thriller.

Then we have another problem. Thrillers aren’t just thrillers nowadays. They have a shed-load of sub-genres: action, psychological, conspiracy, crime, disaster, eco, forensic, legal, medical, mystery, religious, political, romantic , spy, supernatural, and techno.

My head hurts.


Crime catA few crimes happen in my novel. The plot revolves around a possible crime of manslaughter or murder.

But I have no dogged detectives hunting for clues. There are no coffee-drinking coppers who stumble upon evidence – apart from a couple at the end who were convenient (don’t tell anyone about my lazy-arsed plotting).

I do have characters trying to find out what happened. Amateur sleuths, I guess. However, my novel feels too sarcastic and comedic to be a crime novel.


My novel is not a straight-shooter. The setting and characters wouldn’t let me.

There’s no way you can write about 1980s council estate life in England without the funny phrases and naughty things the kids got up to. This is no Enid Blyton experience.

Laughing catThe residents are funny. I know this. I lived it. We had a sense of humour. To not have that in the novel is stripping the council estate setting of its colour.

Characters live in a community of sarcasm, light-hearted digs, and amusing anecdotes.

This novel could be a comedy but the death of a teenage girl is no laughing matter. To lighten the mood on that would be crass.

Comedy lightens the darker elements. The thriller genre juxtaposes alongside the comedy. It works.

Do I say this is a comedy thriller? Does such a thing exist? Have I just invented it?


Historical catThe third person narrator in my novel takes us back to the 1980s. Ancient as this makes me feel, apparently writing about the eighties is deemed historical writing. I feel like it happened yesterday.

How the hell can a decade that shaped my life to such a large degree now be history? I guess we’d go the library and books from that decade would be in the History section.

I refuse to go with this genre. I’m not ready to amass cobwebs just yet.


My main character’s narration takes place now. She is looking into how a girl died in the 1980s. Confusing? Not really, unless you try to push your novel into those pesky, tiny genre boxes.

Do I say my novel is half contemporary because half of it is in the present?

I think right now I want to escape to the eighties and be a kid again when I didn’t know genres, but that would then make this blog post historical *disappears into a worm hole*.

The Final Verdict: Not Fitting the Box

Not fitting into a boxI still don’t fully know.

I am erring towards a thriller, as my instincts have stated from the beginning.

I think the problem is that the market is full of thrillers at the moment and I cannot see where my novel firmly fits. I confess that could be partly down to lack of confidence. I read a lot. I am constantly wowed by the incredible thrillers I read.

My novel isn’t an edgy psychological thriller. It has elements of playing with the main character’s mind and some mentally disturbed characters. I don’t think that makes it psychological in terms of what it does to the reader.

I am doing my novel a disservice. I believe it will grip you and keep you reading until the end. I have to believe that or it will never be published.

I think it is a thriller in that you will want to engage with it, be swept along with it, and hurtle around the twists and turns.

I think you’ll also be amused. I hope you will laugh and appreciate the comedy. The characters want you to chortle, guffaw, cackle, and giggle (guess who has been trying to substitute the word laugh recently in her novel?)

Let’s make it a thriller with a side order of laughs.

Now find me an agent who understands it.

Do You Ever Have Issues with Genre?

Have you had problems defining the genre of your writing? What have you done to address it?

Have you read something in a specific genre and thought it didn’t belong in that category?

Does the concept of genre ever stifle you? Do you feel the need to fit the mould or break free?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

12 comments on “What on Earth is My Novel’s Genre?

  1. Once again – great article. Answering your question, yes, it was a bit stifling trying to fit the genre. I’m glad I didn’t. I suspect I am not alone.

  2. I have the same problem with my multi cultural, psychological, mystery thriller, mental health, women’s issues memoir. It’s important to pinpoint a genre and thus an ideal reader, so I guess it’s a memoir first. Aloha

    1. I guess that’s what we need to do; choose the main genre to help the reader but have an awareness of his we’ve covered multiple genres.

      Thanks for commenting, Maya.

  3. Yup, so far two of mine are way off base. One i’ve listed as horror, but it’s mystery, thriller, sci-fi in one. The second I have Sci-fi, and it’s more general fiction, psychology, romance, intrigue all set in outerspace!

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