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  • Writer's pictureChristina Crosland

3 Ways to Research the Genre You’re Writing

If you want to write a book that pulls readers in, you have to know what the readers of your genre expect.

Photo Credit: Dan Dimmock | Unsplash

If you are a writer, chances are you hope to get some readers—and a lot of them. Of course, gaining a reader following involves many steps, but one of the very first comes down to knowing who your readers will be—even before you’ve started writing.


Successful writers know their readers. They are familiar with their readers’ particular desires regarding plotline, character development, tropes, etc. And successful writers write books that fulfill their readers’ wants while also adding unique and thrilling angles.


But, you might ask, why write the same as what has already been written? Why not break the rules of the genre or create my own?


It all comes down to reader expectation. If a reader is expecting one thing and receives another, you can bet that they won’t be pleased when they close the book. Let’s say I pick up a book that claims to be a cozy romance, but the love interest leaves in the end. A tragedy is not what I was expecting, and my (negative) review of the book would reflect that.


Furthermore, if readers don’t know what to expect in the first place, they likely won’t even open the book. Most readers know what genres they like and will be looking for books that fall into those genres. If there’s not a clear genre represented, very few will pick the book up. This is why New Adult Fiction is struggling to gain hold—merely because readers (and writers) haven’t yet nailed down what it entails.


Thus, fulfilling reader expectations is a large part of creating a successful story.


To pull the appropriate readers in, you must know the main qualities of your book’s genre and employ similar structural elements and techniques. So, how do you find out what your reader expectations are? Here are three steps to research your planned genre.


 

1. Read at least five books in your genre—or, better yet, your subgenre.


Once you have your great idea for a story, it’s time to start reading. Research what genre your idea falls under and then check out as many books in that genre as you can. The more specific you can nail down your genre, the better. For example, instead of just reading five books in science fiction, find five books in your subgenre of science fiction, whether that be time travel, alien invasion, space opera, or any of the other many subgenres.


If I were to write a post-apocalyptic dystopia, one subgenre out of the long list of sci-fi subgenres, I would read books like these:


The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Atom Bomb Baby by Brandon Gillespie

Divergent by Veronica Roth

1984 by George Orwell


As you compare the five books you’ve chosen, write down common traits you notice between all of them, such as the tropes that appear over and over (e.g., a hero with a sidekick or love at first sight), the pacing of the plot (e.g., how long it takes to build up the story or get through the climax), or the resolution at the end (e.g., happy ending or cliffhanger).


You can also learn from the differences between the books you read. How did each book make itself unique? Did those unique aspects still stick to genre expectations? If they didn’t, was there a purpose or message behind any step out of expectations?


The more books you can read in your subgenre, the better, but five should give a starting scope for your genre.

 

2. Read the three most recent bestsellers in your book’s genre.


Now that you’ve read five general books in your genre, you have a good idea of plot and character expectations. Next, focus on reading the most recent bestsellers of that genre. Find the top three and sit down to take notes.


To continue studying post-apocalyptic dystopia, I might choose the current bestsellers on Amazon:


Sponsored Apocalypse by Blaise Corvin

First Necromancer by Coldfang89

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan


Just like you did in the first exercise, note what similarities these three books have as well as what differences. Do you see anything noticeable between the new releases compared to the books that you read before?


Reading three recent bestsellers will give you the most insight into what readers want right now. Trends change quickly, and what may have been popular for a genre ten years ago could be out of style today. Pay attention to the tropes used, characters depicted, and storyline developments. 


Consider the vampire character over the past fifteen years. After Twilight came out, vampires became huge in romance (not thrillers). Eventually, though, the vampire craze started to fizzle out, and a new shift in how vampires are portrayed is putting them back in genres other than romance.


Changes in the market can happen fast, and making sure your book keeps up with the current bookscape will make it much more likely for a publisher or buyer to pick it up. Even better, you may be able to predict what readers will want in the next few years. For example, AI has been an interesting subject in many sci-fi books, but now that it’s in the real world, it will likely start showing up in all sorts of genres outside of science fiction.

 

3. Read a classic and compare it with a new release.


Finally, as a last exercise, you can choose two books to compare: one from the classics of your genre—a book that has withstood the test of time and is considered worthy of literary critique—and a new release of your choosing (preferably one with high ratings). 


Of my chosen genre, here are two that I might compare:


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Extinction Trials by A.G. Riddle


It’s highly likely that you will notice significant differences in the writing style of the two books, which can give you an idea of how to incorporate both a timeless feel to your story as well as a new and trendy tone. Mark down the aspects of the classic story that you think still stand as strong, worthy elements of your genre, and then list ways the newest book either adds to those elements or involves new writing tools.

 

After such a thorough study of your readers’ expectations, you can now write or revise your book, knowing that you are fully prepared with the knowledge of your genre. Pulling common themes from all of the books you have read and incorporating those themes into your story will ensure that your readers stay satisfied as they read your unique and inspiring tale.

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