Use Genre at Every Stage of Self-Publishing to Sell More Books

“The Path of Least Revision”


When it comes to selling books, genre is your guiding light. Readers from each genre have certain expectations about the books they read. If you write romance, you’d better have a HEA or HFN (happily ever after or happy for now, respectively). If you write epic fantasy, you’d better have a magic system with internal logic that’s not just there to help your characters along.

Readers want to read something that excites and delights them, but the challenge isn’t to write something so unique it doesn’t fit any category—it’s to be creative within genre guidelines. If you promise one genre, but it doesn’t meet what readers expect from that genre, you risk disappointed or confused readers.

woman reading with highlighter

I’ve read a few romance books, for example, where the relationship is tied up nicely (the “I love you”s have been exchanged, and their future as a couple is all but secured) with a quarter of the book left to go. The remaining pages become a frustrating experience, as important events come and go without an established endpoint.

No matter which self-publishing stage you’re in, understanding your genre can help you sell more books.


Begin with research. What genre are you writing in? Look at the bestselling books in that genre, either by clicking around online or cruising your local bookstore. Read the back cover (or the product description, if you’re online) to note common themes and structure.

Purchase some of those books and read them. Reading is the best way to learn genre conventions. Once you know what these genre conventions are, you can make sure they’re incorporated into your writing—before you ever begin writing. *ahem* That means plotting of some kind.

By considering genre first, you’ll cut out a lot of headaches further down the publishing road.


After you’ve laid the foundation in pre-writing with genre, now’s the time to execute. This stage may actually be when you think about genre least. While you want to use what you learned about your genre to guide your writing, you don’t want it to strangle your creativity.

The goal of writing your first draft is getting the story out. You should attempt to follow the outline you created during the pre-writing stage, but don’t get hung up incorporating everything genre-related in the first draft. You (and your editors or beta readers) can address much of that during editing.

notebook, pen, coffee mug, and phone on a table


Once you’ve finished your first draft, you can dig back into genre again. At this stage, you’ll want to examine how well you’ve executed your outline and whether your story meets the genre conventions readers will be looking for.

If you’re struggling to edit for genre, do one (preferably more) of these activities:

1. Search the Online Writing Community for Genre-Specific Editing Tips

Although writing is a solitary activity, many writers use the Internet to connect and share their experiences with other writers. Try a Google search for “tips for editing [genre]” to start.

2. Find Genre-Specific Writing Craft Books

As wonderful as general writing craft books are, reading one that’s specific to your genre can elevate your story that much more. Digging into the genre conventions gives you more actionable advice for how to edit your book.

3. Ask an Avid Reader in Your Genre for Feedback

Also known as “beta reading,” asking an avid reader in your genre can help you determine if you’ve followed genre conventions—or broken them, in either a positive or distracting way. Keep in mind, however, that the opinion of one reader won’t be representative of all readers, even within the same genre.

4. Hire a Developmental Editor

You can also bring in a professional to assist you with edits. The right editor will shape your draft so that it hits all the right genre conventions to thrill your readers.

person holding a book in front of face

Book Cover Design

It shouldn’t be a secret that your cover can sell (or repel people from) your book. And it’s not just that a “pretty” or “interesting” cover sells—it’s that the cover clearly communicates what the book is about. If your potential readers can’t guess your book’s genre within a few seconds, they’re going to pass. Confused readers don’t buy books.

When readers say they want something unique or “fresh,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they want a book that defies genre conventions. Readers need a framework for understanding what your book is about, and genre is that framework, in both cover design and writing.

Your research from the pre-writing stage will come in handy during design. Review covers of bestselling books within your genre—you’ll find certain themes or elements (such as typefaces) present. Use those themes and elements to your advantage, creating a cover that falls within genre expectations—but that has elements unique to your book.

person holding ereader with print book on table

Online Book Distribution

When readers buy books online, they’ll seek out the genres—or subgenres—they usually read in, which is why genre becomes imperative to understand and use when you begin distributing your book.

In fact, not understanding your genre during the distribution stage is one of the biggest mistakes many first-time authors make. If your book isn’t positioned correctly, it’ll be harder for the right readers to find it, and therefore harder to market later.

When you list your book with third-party retailers, you’ll be prompted to place your book in specific categories (sometimes called BISACs) and add keywords. Pay attention to these categories and keywords.

Categories will classify your book within the appropriate genre. Readers won’t wade through a general book category or type in “genre-defying book” (or “really awesome book”) into the search bar—they’ll go directly to the genre (or subgenre) they want to read or search genre-specific terms, like “paranormal thriller” or “culinary cozy mystery.”

Once your book is in the appropriate category, you’ll want to include themes or elements about your book as keywords. If your book falls under the mystery, thriller, and suspense category, for example, these elements could include types of characters (e.g., private investigator or female protagonist), moods (e.g., dark or fun), or setting (e.g., small town or urban).

See more about keywords for Kindle Direct Publishing.

open book, flowers, and drink


The first step to good marketing is writing a great book—which is why so much of this article about selling more books is devoted to non-marketing stages of publishing. Marketing may help get your book in readers’ hands, but your book has to stand on its own afterward. Producing quality books can only help your marketing efforts.

Marketing is also where your genre research and writing come together. In fact, everything you’ve done with your story itself so far is a form of marketing. By following genre, you’ve positioned your book in a way that makes it easier to market.

While marketing is listed after distribution in this article, many marketing tasks (such as writing back cover copy or the book’s product description) happen earlier in the process. Your back cover copy or product description should follow the framework of other bestselling books in your genre. This might mean having two or more paragraphs that introduce each of your main characters (e.g., romance) or writing from the perspective of your main character (e.g., some new-adult books written in first person).

How do other authors in your genre market their books? What activities work best for them? Do those activities. That’s what readers in your genre will expect from you and your book—and that’s what will help you be more successful.


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Amanda Shofner

Amanda Shofner satisfies her desire for adventure with the written word and helps others do the same. Currently writing romantic suspense.

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