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Commonly Miscategorized Genres and Subgenres: Why These Mistakes Matter

As part of the Author Engagement team at KWL, I assist in recording the categories of novels featured in our promotions. I thought it vital to clear up some misconceptions around certain genres and their sub-genres, ones that consistently lead to miscategorizations by our authors. We all make mistakes and I say this with no undertones of condescension. Even I had some incorrect assumptions about some of these categories before and throughout my publishing education. I once thought that steam punk had to do with some sort of historical punk culture, and genuinely thought a space opera had to do with dramatic battles as part of an interstellar musical. We live and we learn.

Why are correct categories so important in publishing?

The first, and most important reason, is that incorrectly categorizing your novel means that your title is being diverted from your target readership. Many readers, particularly lovers of mystery, horror, and romance, know their preferred sub-genres and their literary tastes are specific. When your novel is not placed in the right category, not only are you missing the mark with your target readership, you are also increasing the likelihood that the *wrong* group of readers will purchase your title and not enjoy it. This book was not a legal mystery, I’m giving it a bad review. Bad news all around.

Within the scope of Kobo Writing Life, books that are seriously miscategorized are rejected from publication. You can still submit another request to publish your title in the correct category, however. Even titles that are even slightly miscategorized (correct genre, wrong sub-genre) are also rejected from promotions. So incorrect categories can also prevent authors from taking advantage of this benefit to being a KWL author.

Below are some frequently miscategorized genres and sub-genres on our platform. No one writes in every one of these categories, but it is still useful and interesting information for any author.

Romance

Twilight is categorized as a paranormal romance
  • Paranormal: This sub-genre of romance is often confused with that of Science Fiction & Fantasy (Fantasy specifically). Paranormal might sound like anything that includes ghosts, spirits, vampires, werewolves, etc. The definitive difference between the two is that a paranormal romance occurs in the real world, while a fantasy romance takes place in other worlds or realities.
  • Inspired: A common misconception is that a story with a happy or inspirational ending and no sexual/erotic elements is an inspired romance. Inspired romance is associated with spiritual and religious elements, often those of Christianity.

Science Fiction & Fantasy

  • Steampunk: A common and incorrect simplification of steampunk is that any novel with historical Sci-Fi elements fits in with this genre. Steampunk is defined by technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Stories in this sub-genre feature contraptions and gadgets that are not historically accurate to the Industrial Revolution. A Gothic-era novel featuring high-tech elements for the time period, for instance, is not steampunk (that would be several centuries too early).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an epic and hilarious Space Opera
  • Space Opera: This is another miscategorized Sci-Fi, which some believe is associated with any dramatic plot occurring in outer space. Crucial elements of this subgenre are space warfare and interplanetary battles, often occurring in multiple galaxies and/or universes, through advanced technology allowing for travel at the speed of light. Space Opera is associated with melodrama, action, and adventure and often features a chivalrous hero.

Mystery & Thrillers

Blake Pierce’s Mackenzie White Mystery series is categorized under Women Sleuths
  • Women Sleuths: The common misconception with this sub-genre is that any novel with a mystery-solving female counts toward this category. Often authors place their novel in this category when it features a male and female mystery-solving team. This category is meant to exclusively feature a female detective, investigative reporter, etc., or multiple women solving a mystery.
  • Hardboiled: In this category, authors tend to incorrectly associate it with any story featuring detective work. While hardboiled and detective mysteries do have elements in common, there are crucial differences between them. Hardboiled mysteries are typically associated with an antihero, violent organized crime, and a corrupt legal system.
  • Legal Thrillers: A common misconception with this genre is that a story revolving around a crime of legal origins counts. Legal thrillers are associated with legal professionals solving a case, featuring plot elements in and/or out of the courtroom. A detective or PI who stumbles upon a legal conspiracy associated with a string of murderous coverups, for instance, would not be placed in this genre.
Agatha Christie is considered one of the original writers of Cozy Mysteries
  • Cozy Mysteries: This sub-genre is sometimes believed to be associated with lack of violent and graphic crimes, a G or 14A mystery if you will. This is not always true. Cozy mysteries generally do not possess these elements, but the category is also associated with a confined setting such as a house or village and often features an amateur sleuth. There are generally no serial killers featured in this genre, as the culprit is often someone the sleuth knows.

Literary Fiction

Yann Martel’s literary novel Life of Pi features magical realism

While I previously discussed sub-genre misconceptions, this is a more serious issue, because it is an incorrect categorization of an entire genre. Some assume that a novel is literary fiction if it contains elegant prose and/or does not focus on a specific genre (I was guilty of this earlier on). Literary fiction, while often having a lush and elegant form of writing, also places a focus on character rather than plot. That is not to say that plot is not important in literary fiction. Some of the best literary novels are page turners. Author and writer instructor Henry Chapman offers wise words on plot in literary fiction: “if writing a gripping plot is important in genre fiction, in literary fiction the plot can be less momentous, more subtle, less frenetically-paced, more beneath the surface.” Literary fiction also deals with complex themes and human emotions, and meaningful content.

Gothic Fiction

One of the most celebrated Southern Gothic novels

Another well-established miscategorization revolves around Gothic fiction. This genre is not exclusively associated with the Gothic era. Gothic fiction often takes place in this era (between the 12th and 16th centuries), but it can take place in other time periods. One of the most famous examples of Southern Gothic, for instance, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which takes place in 1930s Alabama. Gothic fiction is often associated with supernatural elements, such as hauntings and mystical prophecies, but not always. Realist forms of this genre feature the dark and evil elements of humanity and society, establishing an ominous atmosphere without the elements of fantasy.

For a complete list of sub-genre definitions, refer to Writer’s Digest

Did you find this article helpful? Are there any other genres or sub-genres that should be given attention? Leave a comment for the KWL community!


Amy is the Author Engagement Intern for Kobo Writing Life. She helps answer author questions and programs the book promotions and deals on the Kobo site. She comes up with creative blog content related to the craft and business of self-publishing, book news, and more. Amy studied Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa and Publishing at Ryerson University. She has worked as a content author of literature study guides and as a literature educator.

11 Responses to “Commonly Miscategorized Genres and Subgenres: Why These Mistakes Matter”

  1. stevehillwriter

    I’m writing a middle-grade book on pirates and I’m wondering which genre ‘pirates’ fit into (‘Fantasy’? – no, ‘Historical Fiction’ – closer, but as it’s not really historically accurate as such), or whether they’re a sub-genre all to themselves…

    Reply
    • Amy Evans

      Hey Steve, great question. Your books would be classified as Historical Fiction. A novel does not have to be historically accurate for it to be in this category. Along with Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Historical Fiction is quite popular among middle-grade students 🙂

      Reply
  2. Carolyn Haines

    Great article, thank you. I also had some misconceptions that you helped clear up. Could you possibly dive into the sub-genres of horror? Also, what about a mystery with elements of romance and a crime solving cat with a POV?

    Reply
    • Amy Evans

      Hi Carolyn, I can certainly direct you to a resource for horror sub-genres. I did not go into this on the blog, as I focused on Kobo bookstore genres and sub-genres for practical purposes – on our site, Horror is classified under Fiction & Literature or Sci-Fi & Fantasy. Writer’s Digest has a thorough list of Horror sub-genres: https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/get-published-sell-my-work/genredefinitions

      If the mystery has a heavy element of romance/is one of the central focuses (other than solving the mystery), romantic suspense may be more appropriate. I would need some more details on this crime solving cat. Is the story geared toward younger readers? Is the cat a detective?

      Reply

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