- Sam Polakoff
Choosing the Right Genre for Your Novel
Today, there are more genre choices for a novelist than at any time in history. That's a good thing. When I published my first novel, Hiatus, in 2018, I pursued a unique storyline without regard for how to pigeonhole the book into a genre. The story evolved from a recurring dream I had over ten years. I dreamt that my grandfather, who died when I was five years old, had been preserved and was able to reawaken once a year for twenty-four hours to spend the day with me. On the surface, what else could you call it but science fiction? The genre dilemma ensued because the book was more like a thriller with a business thread. Yet, because people were awakening from the dead – it felt like science fiction. Sci-fi buffs would likely disagree. Hiatus contained no alternate worlds with aliens. How could it be called science fiction? I resolved to call it a "sci-fi thriller," thinking that was the best marketplace compromise. After the book was published, I saw a review from a popular website referring to Hiatus as "one of the best medical thrillers that will keep you up all night." That got me thinking … medical thriller? The story also contained a strong storyline dealing with politicians, so maybe it was a political thriller. Purists of that genre would probably take exception. But the truth is, it had elements of all three genres, four if you count thrillers as a separate category.
Then came my second novel. Shaman was published in 2019. It dealt with a US Senator who learned he was reincarnated from a 15th-century Inca shaman. Others from that time also reincarnated and looked to exact revenge on the present-day senator for sins committed 500 years earlier. The reincarnates planned to weaponize climate change, a fight for which our good senator was ill-prepared. Consider genre for this storyline. What applies? Science fiction? Thriller? Sci-fi thriller? Political thriller? Paranormal thriller? You see how complicated this can get.
Last year, I published Escaping Mercy, a novel contemplating an overcrowded planet 150 years in the future. In addition to global politics, the story dealt with issues such as population control, homelessness, and healthcare. It did not fit cleanly into one genre. Again, you can argue for any of the categories mentioned above. The book was a 2022 Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award in both the political and medical thriller categories. The recognition was gratifying, although I would still consider the novel a sci-fi thriller.
Growing up in the 1970s, I loved movies like Logan's Run, Soylent Green, and Planet of the Apes. All these tales were described as science fiction back in the day. Forty-five years ago, there were fewer buckets from which to choose. In today's multifaceted world, there are more choices than most authors are even aware. Look at the Kindle Store on Amazon. You will likely be amazed at the depth and breadth of genre labels or what Amazon refers to as “categories.” There are thousands. It's nearly impossible to choose. So, here's my advice. Don't limit yourself. Choose all that apply and use the one that best fits any specific audience.