Publishers and agents like to categorise novels into genre. Partly so they know which shelf to put your book on at the library/bookshop. Genre refers to the type of story you’re writing. Here are some of the most popular genres and some very ballpark figures on how long they are.
- Romance: quite a broad spectrum, ranging from Mills & Boon category romance (Approx 55,000 words) to more mainstream romance. (Approx 90,000).
- Thriller: covers crime, psychological, cosy, political. (Approx 90.000).
- Historical: Period stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
- Sagas: Multigenerational stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
- Fantasy/Sci fi: Includes other worlds, past, present and future. (Can be 120,000 plus).
- Timeslip: (Can be 120,000 plus).
- Erotica: Includes all genres, from mainstream to niche. (55,000 plus).
- Literary: (practically any length – depending on publisher).
- Commercial Women’s Fiction: a catch all for anything that doesn’t come under another category. (80,000 plus).
I should also mention children’s and YA which isn’t a genre exactly but is a law unto itself. Length depends on age group and publisher.
The above list is not exhaustive. It’s simply meant as a very general guide. Publishers will usually state what lengths and genre types they are interested in receiving.
Digital publishing means that there is a great deal more flexibility than there used to be because the cost of printing doesn’t govern the length of a novel. Many publishers today will consider novels from 55,000 upwards and this was once thought to be too short (except for category romance).
It’s usually easier to sell a novel that fits into a genre because publishers see the market as being more defined. Readers of sci-fi like to read sci-fi. Readers of crime like to read crime. However there are, of course, elements of romance in most of the other categories. It’s hard to avoid as it’s so much a part of the human condition!
A true cross genre novel, for example, a psychological thriller cross fantasy tends to be much harder to sell.
Also, interestingly, although publishers don’t want to buy them, it’s very often a cross genre novel that will become an out of left field bestseller. Fifty Shades of Grey was (in my opinion) category romance plus bondage! Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was historical plus magic/fantasy.
As writers it’s probably better to know our genre and try to stay somewhere within it. However, I also think that we should write what we feel most passionate about and not follow too many rules. Phew! Did I mention it was complicated!