It’s all about genre.

Happy Monday! It’s almost the end of July and then we have just a few more weeks of summer left! While fall is my favorite season (woodsmoke! crunching leaves! cooler weather!) I don’t like to rush my time along, and I’m going to make the most of August and the lazy days still ahead.


At any rate, I love being plugged into the indie industry, listening to what other top indies are doing, and where their heads are at right now. Mostly, at least last week while I was consuming information, it seemed the subject was choosing genre.

Choosing genre can be really hard for some writers, reluctant to settle on one thing for fear it will stifle their creativity, or they choose not to do it all together, claiming to be multi-genre authors with “something for everyone.” While I agree that we should write what we want to write so we never lose that spark of wanting to create, I’m still of a mindset that if we want readers to consume our work, then we need to figure out how to deliver that work into the hands of the people who will enjoy it most. A friend of mine writes in several genres, never publishes under a pen name and she spends a lot of time on Twitter directing readers to books she thinks they’ll enjoy. That’s great, and if she’s willing to network and “show people to their seats” like a theatre usher, then she should have at it. But while she’s curating her own library for her readers, when is she writing the next book? “Something for everyone” is hell on marketing.

I was listening to the Wish I’d Known Then Podcast for Authors with Jami Albright and Sara Rosett, and they interviewed guest Lee Strauss. I haven’t read any of Lee’s work (she doesn’t write a genre I read) but she had some great advice about choosing genre and figuring out what you like to write best through trial and error. (Hint: what you LOVE TO READ BEST is probably a good starting point for figuring out what you’d like to write best. And don’t @ me and say you read everything–I read widely as well, but if you take an honest survey of what you read, you’ll find a genre that tips the scales.) I commented on their FB page for their podcast that while this kind of information is great, the writers listening probably already know settling on a genre is the best way to go. Jami gentle corrected me and said you never know who will need to hear something like that. I agreed, but, on the other hand, a listener also has to be open to hearing the information, accepting it, and willing to apply it to their own careers.

Back when I started writing, if someone had told me to focus on one genre, I would have said, “But I am.” Little did I know that contemporary romance isn’t a genre. Contemporary romance is the ocean. Thriller is the ocean. Mystery is the ocean. Women’s fiction is the ocean. Drilled-down subgenre is a pond, a little pond where you can specialize in what you want to be known for to your readers. A duck can get lost in the ocean. Probably eaten by a shark. A duck is cute and safe in a pond. Lee’s interview proves my point–she settled into historical (1920s) cozy mystery. Can’t get any more drilled down than that.

If you want to listen to her interview here it is. She also goes a little bit into character attachment and what that means to a reader. I found it really interesting and may write a blog post about that another time.

I think talking about genre is interesting. There are so many people who think that choosing a genre will pigeon-hole them they refuse to do it, yet they try to query. Agents don’t want a book that’s a mix of three different genres. Your agent wants to see your book on a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble just as much as you do, and if you’ve ever gone into a bookstore, their shelves are still divided by genre. If you’ve got a romantic fantasy horror just waiting to get out, where is the manager of that Barnes and Noble going to stick your book? Romance? Fantasy? Horror? (Never mind what that cover is going to look like :P)

I like writing romance, I’m always shipping couples who don’t need to be shipped. I look for romance everywhere. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that’s what I wanted to write, but when I say contemporary romance isn’t a genre, I mean it’s too big of a genre to write in, too many subgenres and tropes, and like my friend who writes everything, my readers have to pick through my books to figure out what they’re going to enjoy most. That’s not a way to keep readers and, while it isn’t difficult, doesn’t have the return on investment that it could.

I think we get a little confused because when we publish on Amazon, or Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, we no longer think of shelves. There aren’t any shelves in the Amazon store, no end caps featuring the latest deal or overstock stores want to get rid of. Because of this, browsing is a lot harder for a reader, and they need to search for what they like, such as Vigilante Justice, or Small Town Romance. Then, if you have your keywords and categories correct, your book will show up on the results page. But, you’re saying, you can genre-hop and this will still work.

It will. When someone wants small town romance, maybe my Rocky Point Wedding series will pop up. (Likely not since my books are old and they don’t have many reviews, rending me useless to Amazon.) But say they like your Women’s Divorce Fiction you wrote under the Women’s Fiction genre–and they want more Women’s Divorce Fiction. Oh, you only wrote the one book, too bad, and they move on. Chances are really really good that they might read another one of your books anyway, but if you had more Women’s Divorce Fiction for them to choose from, you just caught yourself a reader who will read your entire backlist. Think of your Amazon Author Page as a store, and your list of books as a shelf. Do they all fit on that shelf? My books fit in Contemporary Romance, but with a sports romance trilogy, enemies to lovers, age gap romance, close proximity, then a four-book small town romance series, you can kind of see why a reader would like to read my enemies to lovers then drop off from the rest of my backlist. They aren’t similar enough to hold a reader’s interest. I wanted to be like Nora Roberts–able to write everything. I’ll never be like her. Her career and mine will never be the same.

I can see why you’d be balking, even to me it sounds extremely limiting, but the secret is to choose a subgenre and then have fun with the tropes. I chose Billionaire Romance to start up my pen name, but I can do anything I want with tropes. Enemies to lovers, fake fiance, my brother’s girlfriend is off limits, even a little mystery suspense. I’ll grab every reader who wants billionaire and more importantly, keep them because they know that’s all I’ll offer them. Had I known that, maybe I would have focused all my other books on small town romance. I am from a small town, after all, but it actually wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me to even write to trope. After four years of writing, you’d think that would have clicked into my brain a long time ago, but like many new authors, I was just writing the stories as they came to me and assigning the genre/subgenre/trope after the book was written, if there was even a trope after all was said and done. My sports trilogy and my Rocky Point Wedding series don’t follow tropes very well. It’s no wonder the ten books I have out never really did anything. I didn’t have a direction. Maybe all those who wander are not lost, but my books now are out in the weeds and there’s no pulling them back.

As for readers of blog posts like this, and listeners of podcasts like Jami and Sara’s, and even writers and authors who watch YouTube videos by indie authors like Derek Murphy who extol the idea of writing to market and writing to trope, maybe you aren’t ready to do things this way. Maybe you never will be, content to be a theater usher using social media and marketing to direct readers to that one book in your backlist they’ll enjoy. That’s okay. I don’t think my friend will ever change how she does things–she says she enjoys writing whatever she wants. Maybe you enjoy the creative freedom so much that you’ll take worrying about where your readers will come from in exchange. Or maybe in a couple years you’ll think back on this post and realize you’re in the same spot you were in when you read this and you’ll be open to a new way of doing things. And maybe Jami is right after all–maybe there are writers out there who don’t know there’s a better way to do things.

If you want to watch Derek Murphy’s latest video, here it is:

For me, this kind of content is interesting. While I was listening to Lee, I kept nodding, smiling even, because what she found out, I too have found out the hard way by way of little traction and no audience.

If you’re interested in trying it my way, and the way of other indies who have built and audience and are making a livable income off their books, how can you start?

  1. Pick an ocean genre. Contemporary romance, thriller, women’s fiction. The biggest umbrella you can find. Because while I said most readers don’t hop around, some do, and this wide net will catch a lot of fish. But then–
  2. Choose a subgenre. Subgenres are not tropes. Subgenres are niches within the larger genre such as billionaire romance, small town romance, vigilante justice, hard-boiled detective, family saga.
  3. Then choose your tropes. You might think that Billionaire Romance is limiting, but I’ve written 11 books so far, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet. It’s kind of like the idea “free as a bird in a cage.” You have boundaries and you know what they are so you have more fun playing. If you feel safe, you’re more secure in your story, and your confidence will come out in your writing.

Of course, coming from me, it would make more of an impact if I could say, see, my Billionaire Romance has made me $100,000 this year (God, that would help me with so many worries!). Of course, I can’t, but you can take a look at any indie author making it to see they stuck to a certain subgenre and used familiar tropes in their writing to see that I’m not wrong.

As far as genre and subgenre and tropes as buzzwords, I guess they’ll always be around. No matter how much you want to brush them off for the sake of your creative freedom, they are there for reasons that may we not understand let alone want to accept. That will have to be a choice you make, and I wish you the best!

Here is a good list of Genres and Subgenres from Writer’s Digest. I can’t help but note what the start of the article says. 114 Fiction Sub-Genre Descriptions for Writers

I didn’t find a list of subgenres or tropes for Women’s Fiction. Indie publishing has drawn hard lines when it comes to romance, something it took me a lot of time to discover. Women’s fiction is blurrier, but if you look women’s fiction authors, they still tie their books together, like Pamela Kelley and her Nantucket series, or Elizabeth Bromke and her family sagas. I did find a list of themes, and I think the article explains women’s fiction well and worth a read if that’s what you’re looking to write: Themes in Women’s Fiction


This is it for me this week. You can think of this blog post as filler, if you’d like, because I’ve blogged about this before (I hope it will be the last because I’m even starting to bore myself), but I’m spending the week in Georgia and my mind is already on vacation. I think genre, subgenre, and tropes are important though, they are the core of each book we write whether we want to admit it or not. Something clicked with me when I decided to write to trope, and maybe it will for you, too. Have a great week ahead!

Guest Blogger Sarah Lou Dale: Choosing a Genre and Writing to Market

Special thanks to Vania for having me on the blog again. I’m going to dive right in and get to the heart of today’s post. When a writer enters this business, they are told to write to market and for some of us, that’s where we start to fail. I’m not being negative, I’m being honest. In light of honesty, I’ll say I hate the concept of writing to market, or what I viewed the term to mean which I’ll cover in a minute. When Vania told me to do this, I scrunched my nose up in distaste. It felt so cookie cutter to me.  

Until recently, I thought writing to market meant you write exactly in this mold all others write in. Take a trope and write a different take on it but still stay in the same mold.  For me, that’s boring. As a reader, I don’t read books like that at all. I haven’t been able to do a survey for readers to find out if this is in fact true. I hear it from writers all the time, but not readers outside of the writing community. So, is it true? Is that what readers really want? I believe that forcing yourself to write something you don’t want to, to fit into a mold you’re “supposed to” takes away who you are as a writer.

I believe I took the advice too literally and it gave me a bad taste in my mouth. Writing to a mold or formula ISN’T what writing to market means. I now believe writing to market is writing what the readers want because they are the ones who put food on your table. If you go about writing whatever the hell you want, you risk alienating your readers before they even become your readers. I fully believe this to happen. As I was brainstorming how to write this post where it wouldn’t completely piss people off, especially my host, I got to thinking about another angle: genres. 

I’m currently in this zone where I’m trying to pinpoint what genre or genres I should be writing. I have story ideas in at least 3-4 different genres. I’m too old and tired to be creating pen names and everything for each genre. So, this is where writing to market comes into play for me. THIS is what I believe in. As a writer, you want to first decide what genre or genres you want to write in and settle into it. Research the genre completely to make sure you know what is expected of that genre, because there ARE expectations and you have to respect that. No one wants to pick up a romance book and get a bloody murder scene, ya know?

This is where you write to market. Your market is your genre and the readers OF that genre. But, how do you find the genre you want to write? I’m told to write what you like to read. That’s not good advice for someone like me because I read everything from space operas to paranormal, to romance to psychological thrillers. Writing what I like to read has me where I am at this point in time. Not knowing my chosen genres. 

But, there is a way to find out what genre you do enjoy. I’ll list them below:

Three Ways to Find Your Genre:

1) Write Short Stories: During my big move/transition from Hawaii to Mississippi, I am taking a small break from my crime fiction novel and working on a series of short stories. It’s easier to focus on a handful of 2,000-5,000 word short stories than a 70,000+ word novel right now. Plus, the practice is phenomenal to my growth. What am I doing exactly? I won’t dive into the whole project, but I’m writing 3-5 short stories in genres I know I have story ideas for. I just finished my first romance short story and already know it’s not likely I’ll be joining the romance club. I still enjoy reading it though. I call this strategy a process of elimination. Not only will you get a feel of the genre, but you’ll get the practice too. These don’t need to be published and can be used to practice the genre, editing, and formatting. 

2) Research: There are LOADS of articles online about each genre; including information about word count and the model in which to write as well as the must haves. Read in each genre you think you may like to write in and decide if you want to join those clubs. 

3) Listen To Your Heart: I know, it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Writing for me is such an emotional journey. At some point your genre will stick out to you and won’t let you go. Embrace it and guess what? It’s okay if it’s more than one. DON’T WRITE for a little bit and actually listen to your inner voice and see where it’s leading you. You’ll be surprised what you find out about yourself in the process. 

Regardless of what you choose to do, just know if you are a new author, it’s a good idea to figure this out before you start. One of my biggest mistakes was writing and publishing my debut novel before I really knew anything about genres. It’s a small part of what made that book a flop, which still breaks my heart today. 

Writing to market now has a new meaning to me and I believe in it 100%. Readers expect, when they find an author they want to read more of, a certain story, a specific genre. If you change course from writing domestic suspense to a contemporary romance without showing any indication that you’re a contemporary romance author, you’ll quickly lose readers. 

Writing is a gamble. You have to be careful how you run your business. Take risks…they are there to be taken, but be aware of your own abilities and really consider your readers or future readers when you start your writing business. Sometimes you’ll have to do things to readjust, but it’ll be so much easier if you know what you’re wanting for your business in the beginning. 

Jeff Elkins’ post on The Write Practice (https://thewritepractice.com/write-to-market/) gives some great advice on how to change your perspective when you hear the term “write to market”. It’s so good to know I am not the only one who heard that term and thought negatively about it. 

Jane Friedman is an author I respect and adore. Jane’s article (https://www.janefriedman.com/genre/) about genres and defining your genre is spot on and I didn’t realize we used the same term when it came to finding your genre: a club. It’s true. Once you find a genre you enjoy and write in well, the peers you encounter along the way will be just like being a part of the club. You’ll connect with other writers and together you will be able to navigate this crazy writing business. 

Special thanks again to Vania for having me on the blog today. I have my website back up and running. If you’d like to bookmark the page, sarahloudale.com is the web address and there you can sign up for my newsletter and receive a complimentary short story. I can also be found on Twitter (@MrsSarahLouDale) and on IG (@sarahloudale). Until next time, Happy Writing/Reading.

When Writing to Market Doesn’t Go as Planned

Anyone who has followed the blog knows I’m switching gears and moving from 3rd person past contemporary romance to 1st person present billionaire romance in an attempt to write more toward what’s selling right now. The change was easier than I thought it would be–this coming from a self-declared hater of 1st person present novels.

I made the change thinking readers would be easier to find. I wouldn’t say that switching to billionaire romance was trying to catch a trend because billionaire romance has been around since 2011 when EL James made Christian Grey a household name. Billionaire romance has been in the spotlight for over a decade, and only now according to Alex Newton of K-lytics, is reader demand for the subgenre tapering off. (It seems due to COVID every romance writer has decided to move to billionaire romance–I can’t blame them for doing what I did–and the market is, unfortunately, saturated.)

Lately I’ve been putting my KU subscription to good use and reading some of the top billionaire romances on Kindle. With a sinking heart I’ve come to the sad realization that my books don’t sound like them. For one, my characters are at least a decade older. My Stella and Zane series I have on the back burner are more with what’s selling now–he’s 31 through most of the series and she’s 27–which is still about five years older than the average for the female MC. In this new series I’m working on, the characters in the first book are a lot older than the average I’ve come across: Colt is 37 and Elayna is 35. Not only are they older, they act like it.

If you’re reading billionaire romance, it stands to reason there’s going to be a billionaire in there somewhere, probably the male MC, and you’d hope he’s smarter than the average toaster. The heroine will be unlike any woman’s he’s ever met before. He’s captivated by her vulnerability and her fresh outlook of the world. At least, that’s what you would think picking up a book like that. In the books I’m reading now–we barely read the hero’s POV, it’s mostly the heroine, and she’s immature, makes terrible choices, and overall is unlikeable.

I read these female characters and wonder why a man with his resources and good looks would choose a woman who throws temper tantrums and is irrational to the point where you wish her parents would have spanked her as a child for being so insolent. Of course, that turns into the hero’s job–making her grow the fuck up.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe I just don’t have the patience for characters that aren’t likable, maybe I’ve already raised my children and don’t care for characters half my age, but it makes me worried because my characters do not fit in. And I wonder what I’m going to do with that.

Did these authors do market research? Are they writing heroines they know readers adore? I look at a book’s profile on Goodreads and it has over a thousand reviews and most of them are positive. What is carrying this book? The sex scenes? The sexy billionaire? The cover? Are the readers that much younger than me they identify with the heroine and her constantly snarky attitude? There’s so much eye-rolling going on that my own eyes get sore just reading it.

The problem is, even if I had read these books before I started writing, I’m not sure I’m capable of writing such immature characters. My characters act grown up because I want them to be. Because I am. They’re professionals. They’re tackling life’s problems while also navigating falling in love. Yeah, some of their problems are more over the top than mine will ever be (corporate espionage! murder! kidnapping!) but if I wanted to write quiet stories I would have stuck to my small town romances.

I keep going back to Ana and Christian. Yes, she was young when they met–just graduated from college, and the scene where she gets drunk and throws up all over Christian’s shoes is on par with the books I’m reading now. But she grew up and it didn’t take her that long, either. She found a job in her field. When Christian took her into “his world” she didn’t embarrass him. Of course, I didn’t read the books–my take is from the movies, and that could make the world of difference, too. I read the Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day, and while Eva made some mistakes, her mother, married to a multi-millioniare herself, was there to guide her into Gideon’s world. Eva didn’t want to embarrass Gideon, she wanted to be an asset. The women I’ve been reading are so against wanting their men for their money (a popular trope in billionaire romance–the heroine isn’t impressed by the money) that they forget he’s more than his bank account. He has a reputation to uphold. He’s human–with feelings.

Trying to write to market, I completely missed the mark. A lot of authors are against writing to market, and you might be saying, so what if I did miss what I was aiming for? You can only truly say that if you honestly don’t care if people read your books. I’ve published for four years and fought tooth and nail for every reader. I’ll always fight to find new readers, but being able to get picked up by the Amazon wave and riding it for a while would be nice, too.

So what am I going to do with a book or series that isn’t quite right? Publish it anyway. Write my reader magnet with the same sophisticated characters that I’ll always write in the voice and style I’ve honed for the past four years and hope the readers who sign up for my newsletter to grab that freebie like my style and stick around to purchase books going forward.

It’s all any author can do–hope that readers like their style enough to stick around.


It’s tough to pick apart another author’s work–and it’s why I don’t leave book reviews, negative or otherwise. I could list every stupid thing I hate about the book I’m reading now, but what would that get me? Besides, I’m obviously an outlier, and all that tells me, and all that should tell you, is that when you’re reading an author you don’t like, you aren’t their target audience. The authors on the top 50 of billionaire romance–they don’t care I don’t like their books. They’re doing just fine without me.

I’m glad I’m doing market research–it will help me when I’m ready to publish and I can create a list of adjectives that will describe my books. Mature. Elegant. Professional. Down to earth. Intelligent. I don’t know about you, but I find intelligence extremely sexy.

I just need to find readers who think that, too.


If you want to know more about selling books not written to market, Lindsay, Jo, and Andrea recently recorded two podcast episodes about that very thing, and you can listen to them here.

Thanks for reading!