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I'm writing a novel which centers around a serial killer and his victims. I'm having a lot of trouble deciding whether it belongs in the horror genre (it's a disturbing, horrific slasher, and a lot of the book works on horror and dread) or in crime (because a lot is about the good guys' hunt for the killer, and also there's no supernatural element).

I've read other fiction which seems similarly borderline to me (Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, J.A. Konrath's first Jack Daniels book, and others), and on Amazon I indeed see these books listed in both categories. But I find it's important to have a single primary tag to focus on - for my elevator pitch, for query letters, for general promotion.

How can I tell which genre is better for my particular book? And, once I decide on one or the other as my 'main' genre, is there anything I need to do to fit better into the genre I've chosen, and make the book less borderline?

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On a not-unrelated note, our Genre Q&A contest starts in just a few hours! –  Standback Nov 13 '13 at 21:00

4 Answers 4

Which is the primary focus of your story: the villain, or the investigation? Is the investigation a tool to learn more about the villain, or is the cunning villain a means to complicate the investigation? Is the duel between the investigator and the criminal the focus, or is it just means to display the twisted mind of the criminal in all gory glory?

Answer that, and you'll know how to classify your story.

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Why do you want so much to fit your novel in a particular genre? If you have practical reasons, well, then I understand. But as far as I know, you can select multiple categories and keywords on Amazon. I think you should be happy you're having problems classifying your novel. It means it breaks some genre conventions, therefore, in my opinion, it's more likely for it to be an original piece. Take Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl as example. Reviewers are still having trouble deciding whether it belongs to genre fiction or literary fiction. It is a thriller novel, but at the same time a romance novel. But genre aside, it still got into the #1 New York Best Seller.

I think forcing your work to be of a particular genre is like forcing your children to be of a particular religion.

Again, if you have practical reasons for it, then I would like to hear them.

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The category you put a story into on Amazon is only one aspect of genre. Another is the cover. Another is the tone of the back cover blurb. You generally get only one cover and one blurb. So should he feature the horror element, or the crime element? The goal is to attract readers who will like the story. So I like to ask an additional question when pondering genre: Which genre's readers are more likely to enjoy this book? –  Dale Emery Nov 13 '13 at 19:51
    
@Dale Emery Well, OK, I admit I'm not very familiar with the category part and the blurb. But why can't the cover be designed in such a way to reflect the two genres? Or maybe one that's more genre-neutral? (Like the cover of my example, Gone Girl.) –  Alexandro Chen Nov 13 '13 at 19:56
    
Genre-neutral means that the cover does not convey information about the genres, which greatly reduces the value of the cover for attracting readers. As for fitting two genres, you might be able to do that. The key is to use a cover and a blurb that clearly indicate what kind of story this is, so that readers who would like the story are attracted to it. –  Dale Emery Nov 13 '13 at 20:08
    
@Dale Emery OK, I understand. I think you might be right. For me I use a different approach: catchy title/cover (well, at least, that's my intent), as my stories don't fit any particular genre. Example: alexandrochen.com/kindle-ebook-ghost-earthquake. I don't have much experience in this, though (I just started), so I'm not sure which way generate more sales. –  Alexandro Chen Nov 13 '13 at 20:34
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+1 @AlexandroChen If you aim to write for and withing a specific genre, the outcome may be sterotypical. Many of the most intense books I have read don't fit into one genre, just as human life does not fit into one genre. If your story does not dictate a genre, then don't force it into one. –  what Nov 14 '13 at 12:18

I'm of the same mind as SF. Is the protagonist the killer or the good guys?

If it's a crime novel, tone down the blood spatter and have more in the precinct. Lengthen the scenes where the detectives throw theories back and forth; set up more red herrings to be chased down; show us how the footwork works. Give us cop lingo and police red tape.

If it's a horror novel, then we don't really care how the cops end up where they do, only that they arrive too late. Then you'd want to spend more time setting up how the killer chooses a victim, why the victim is appealing, how he gets to each one, what he does with each one. Maybe introduce the victim at the beginning of the day and thread in the killer stalking the person.

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I agree with SF and Lauren that who your POV character is affects this. But I'll take a different approach in answering this: when you talk about your project socially (e.g. with friends/family), what do you tend to focus on? What's exciting about this to you? When you're not worried about making a good, professional, business impression on an editor or publisher and can "just talk", what comes out of your mouth?

The angle that you're most excited about is probably the right one to pursue.

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