Genre is defined as a category of artistic expression. Books, movies, and music all have genres.

When you write your bestselling novel (they’re all going to be bestsellers, right?), you’ll need to specify its genre when you’re querying or when you’re self-publishing. Each genre has rules that you should familiarize yourself with during your writing process to make sure that you aren’t breaking your contract with your reader.

Wait? Reader contract? What’s that?

Well, it’s a tacit agreement between you and your reader. You agree to follow some basic rules of the road and they’ll agree to read your book.

One of our favorite genre reference lists is here. Let’s talk about some of them.


One of our favorite lines from the Romance reference is this. “And a happily ever-after ending is requisite.” Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to leave your characters in perfect, wedded bliss on the last page. But you can’t kill off both characters on the last page. Romance novels are typically somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words, but slightly longer and slightly shorter books are fine. But if you’re writing a romance novel that’s 200,000 words long, you might have a hard time getting an agent to take you seriously.

Science Fiction

In order for a book to be considered science fiction, it has to involve science. While that probably seems silly to say, you can’t simply throw a spaceship into a mystery novel and call it science fiction. If you took the science out of a book and it falls apart, then it’s science fiction. If you can replace the science piece with an ancient painting, for example, then it’s not science fiction. These books are typically longer: between 90,000 and 125,000 words, to allow for the author to explain some of the science.


These books are typically shorter: 50,000 to 75,000 words and focus on the lives of twenty and thirty something women.  You can have a number of components in chick-lit. Mystery, romance, and even comedy.

Whatever your genre, make sure to know the rules. If you try to sell a romance novel with no happy ending or a science fiction novel with no science or a thriller with no life-threatening danger, you’re risking violating that all-important reader contract and opening yourself up to poor reviews. And no one wants that.