Some writers assume choosing a book’s genre is the last step – once your story is finished, you slap on a genre and start selling. However, if you plan on selling your book to anyone but your family, it’s important to consider more than just your original idea when sitting down to draft your story.

Choosing a genre will not only help you market yourself as an author, but narrowing your pool of options has other benefits as well:

Consistency breeds creativity:
Sometimes putting restraints on yourself can actually make you more creative. When you can literally write about anything, it can seem overwhelming, and you may find it’s difficult to start. On the other hand, choosing a genre puts you in a box that can help you focus and even come up with ideas we haven’t seen before.

You look more professional:
Publishers want to know that you know the importance of and how to market yourself. The more confidence you have, the better.

You become the expert:
The more you write in one genre, the more you’ll be seen as the authority in the genre. Think about it: what do you think of when you think James Patterson, Steven King, JK Rowling, Nora Roberts? You think mystery, horror, fantasy and romance, right? These authors have become the authority in their genre. Even if they write outside of their normal scope, they are still considered the experts in their respective genres.

But how do you start to decide which genre is best for your story? Here are six things to consider when writing.

1. Marketing is Important

It sounds appealing to stay open to writing within any genre, because you’d be free to pursue any type of story you wanted. But selling a novel comes down to marketability. It sounds shallow, but is true.

It will be difficult for a publisher to sign a writer, especially a new writer, if they can’t get a good picture of the brand. They want to know they can build a platform around you and your work. Publishers want to see potential for more books, similar to the first.

On the flipside, don’t choose a specific genre simply because it will sell. Spending years working on comedic pieces because they’re popular isn’t a good investment of time if you just aren’t funny. A lack of skills and passion for the genre will show, and it won’t sell. Instead focus on your skill and interests. Maybe you like the idea of writing mysteries, but you find yours fall flat and are too obvious but the relationships within them flourish. Try writing love stories with strands of mystery woven in.

2. Get to Know the Genre Options

A quick peruse around a bookstore or the Amazon Books page will show you the main classifications for fiction. Look at a few of the best sellers in each genre. Read the descriptions. What does each genre emphasize? Which does your story idea most closely resemble? Is your story predominately about a relationship and attraction? It’s probably a romance. Is your main character’s mission is to solve a murder? It’s probably a mystery. Are there elements of magic? Is it set in the past? Look for elements of your story that could help narrow down the focus.

3. Do Your Research

Even if you’re a fan of the genre, make sure you do your research and familiarize yourself with the beats the genre requires. Readers of each genre have expectations and will feel cheated if your work doesn’t hit certain points they’re used to. While you can take liberties as a writer, you want to give readers what they’re looking for if you want to sell your work.

4. Identify Your Super-fan

Who do you want to buy your book and why? The question isn’t who might enjoy your book. Of course the wanderer may pick up your book on a whim and love it, but the goal is to market to your super-fans. Can you identify them?

Keep genre conventions in mind. If you’re writing a romance novel, and the girl doesn’t get the guy in the end, you may disappoint readers. Disappointed readers could mean poor sales and bad reviews. You want your fans to be happy with the entire story, not just parts.

5. Your Story May Dictate Your Choice

Do you pick your genre or your story first? Opinions may differ, but it’s probably a good idea to have a general concept in place before choosing your genre. Each genre will take your story in a radically different direction. While it’s okay to combine a couple of genres into one story, you want to have a main focus. Identify the goal of your protagonist and see which genre that goal would fit into. Then mix in other genres that fit organically.

For example, if your main character’s goal is to solve the string of murders in her city, make that her priority. If you want to her to have a romantic interest, trickle that in without making it the most important element of your character.

6. You Can Always Change Your Mind

Many successful authors write in multiple genres. However they didn’t start out that way. They mastered their genre, built a fan base, and then moved on to trying something new. If you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to enture into other avenues.

Even if you don’t have a long list of writing credentials, don’t feel like a failure for changing your mind. Maybe you wrote a novel you were proud of in the romance category, but it just didn’t do well. Don’t feel bad for wanting to go in a different direction. You’ll find your niche eventually, and all of the initial work and learned lessons will have been worth it.