Whether your reader is scrolling online or strolling through a book shop, they have an idea of what to expect when they choose a book from a particular genre. As a writer, you will want to ensure your book finds its way to the proper shelf (virtual or otherwise) so that readers will be able to find what they’re looking for. Let’s explore some expectations for a few. Keep in mind that there may be exceptions, but there are general characteristics that readers look for and have come to expect.
Middle-Grade vs. Young Adult
Stories for middle-graders feature protagonists that are between the ages of 10 and 13. A lot of middle-grade stories are read by younger readers (perhaps as young as 8), and parents are heavily invested in purchasing and overseeing what their youngsters are reading. That being said, middle-grade stories do not contain profanity or graphic violence, and romance is limited to crushes and first kisses. Characters in these stories typically react to what happens to them in their immediate world, and there is a strong focus on friends and family. The word count for these stories is typically between 30,000 and 50,000 words and are usually (but not always) written in the third person.
Young Adult stories are geared for readers between roughly 13 and 18 years and may contain profanity and/or graphic violence. Protagonists are typically 15-18 years old and reflect the age of the reading group. Stories in this genre typically focus on how the main character fits into the grown-up world beyond family and friends. They may reflect on events and analyze their meaning in order to better understand themselves and the world they are becoming a part of. Because of this, YA novels are typically told in first person, from the protagonist’s point of view. Typical word count is 50,000 and 75,000 words, though it may go beyond that.
Romance stories are comprised of a central love story that has an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending (often referred to as HEA – Happy-Ever-After). The main plot of the story centers around people falling in love but struggling to make the relationship work. The central focus of romance novels is the development of a romantic relationship between two people where oftentimes society tends to get in the characters’ way. It may be apparent to the reader that your characters are destined to be together, but the characters themselves may not be aware of it. At some point, they will profess their love for each other, and when all seems to be going well, a new obstacle will present itself that will put their relationship at serious risk. The majority of romance readers are typically middle-aged and female, with sexual explicitness ranging from demure to hot and steamy. Typical word count ranges from 65,000 to 80,000 words, though I found in my research they can run from 50,000 to 90,000 words or more.
The key element to the fantasy genre is magic. Stories might contain fairy tales, myths, or legends in order to be placed in this category. You (the writer) will need to build a world for your characters (it should be fantastical and perhaps mythical/otherworldly), there will be magical forces present, and there’s usually some sort of quest/adventure that needs to take place. There are imaginary/unrealistic elements that you will need your reader to accept and settle into, and there is usually some version of a power structure/system of government. Perhaps there is a unique language or variations of several. In this magical world, there need to be relatable themes that the reader can identify with, i.e. evil, greed, and perhaps the triumph of good over evil (think about The Lord of the Rings). Within this genre, your characters still need to be believable and relatable–they need to be seen as “real” people. Fantasy novels range from 50,000 to 150,000 words, but this can vary within sub-categories of this genre. The degree to which sex/violence is included may depend on the sub-genre, such as fantasy/paranormal romance, contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, etc. Reading and researching sub-genres might prove helpful in determining the best fit for your story.
All of this fact-finding may appear rigid and confining, but if you can visualize it as a wooden (or virtual) shelf in a book shop, it might help. Once you find the right shelf and see that your story fits, your creativity and imagination can take flight!
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