Do you remember when you first started writing? What drove you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?

For me, like for many writers, it was a story that just wouldn’t leave me alone.

I’d always been a daydreamer, coming up with different scenarios or events, sometimes coming up with fan-fic-inspired character situations. The story that wouldn’t leave me alone just had to be written. (I’ve been writing since Junior High, but it’s so much different as an adult!)

So I wrote it.

I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew what I liked to read, so I copied that as best I could.


I was pretty clear about the story and that it would be categorized as a murder mystery.

As I started working with writers, though, it became clear that most new writers, the ones like me who had a burning story that needed to be written, didn’t know what their genre was. 

It’s not that they didn’t read a lot, or that most didn’t read in their genre. Some of them were very clear on what they liked to read, they just didn’t have the words to describe the genre.

Others read widely. Some of them wanted a mix of genres and knew it was going to be a challenge to find a label for their work.

Still, others wanted to mix things up. They wanted to have a murder mystery, a romance, a touch of sci-fi, family dynamics, and horror all in one book.

Do any of these sound like you?

Are you finding beta readers or critique partners, writing buddies, and groups having difficulty connecting with your characters or categorizing your story?

Genres have specific essential scenes and conventions they need to have to help a reader feel like the story is complete.

But that’s hard to do if you don’t know, understand, or are crystal clear on the genre.

Don’t worry, there’s hope!


You want to choose ONE primary genre.

To learn the most universal genres, look at how your local library or bookstore is categorized. You may even try Amazon, but they tend to get so niched down it becomes overwhelming.

Shawn Coyne has a great genre clover to check out, too. 

For your purposes, focus on the Content leaf for now.


Confused as to whether you have an action or a thriller?

Go back to what you want your writing to do the most: evoke a resounding emotional experience.

Ask yourself: What is the primary emotion you want them to feel? Here are some examples:

  • Edge of the seat, will they live or die?: Thriller
  • Who killed them and why?: Mystery (Coyne calls this Crime)
  • Madly in love: Romance

It can be tough. There are so many things you want the reader to feel, and those aren’t to be discarded on the cutting room floor. You can still get readers to feel some of those things. 

The primary emotion you want to evoke drives the genre, which drives the structure, scenes, decisions the characters make, and even the language you use to portray those feelings.

If you need a little help figuring that out, snag my FREE workbook that walks you step-by-step through the process of finding your genre. When you do, be sure to shoot me an email and let me know what you figured out!

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