genre expectations

Genre Expectations: Thrilling Readers with Your Book

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

January 24, 2024

How should genre expectations impact how you write your book? It’s every writer’s dream to create a unique book that readers will love. But for many authors just starting or who haven’t yet built a substantial fan base, writing a book that meets genre expectations is an important aspect to crafting a compelling and distinctive story.

Genre fans are drawn to some common elements that are characteristic of the category, and authors have the challenging job of making sure their work sticks with the genre expectations without veering too far off, losing readers and fans of the genre in the process. The best way for authors to avoid surprising readers with an unexpected genre switch is to understand genre expectations before their book is published.

The Elements of Genre Expectations

Without any advance knowledge of a book’s genre, readers should be able to pick it up and, at a glance, have a general understanding of a book’s genre.

And after reading a few pages or chapters, a savvy reader should easily be able to confirm the genre, but four elements work together to create the foundational genre expectations that most readers will recognize as defining for any given genre.

1. Genre Expectations for the Book Cover

The easiest way to decide a book’s genre is to simply look at the cover. The color scheme, the graphic elements, and the font styles all point toward a specific genre, making the cover design the first and most obvious way to determine a book’s genre, paramount to the reader’s expectations for a book. While readers love plot twists and turns, a reader searching for a beach read title or a romance to take along on vacation might look for a book with a brightly colored cover, friendly font elements, and even graphic elements representing some aspect of the book’s contents.

Snagging the book and bringing it along to savor under a beach umbrella, readers would be shocked to discover a horror story or a true crime novel a few chapters in, disappointed in the author’s bait-and-switch tactics used to surprise readers with a genre that doesn’t fall in line with reader’s genre expectations of what lies beyond the typical book cover design.

2. Genre Expectations for Plot Arcs

While every book should have a distinct plot, every genre’s general plot elements share common characteristics. Readers expect books to stay within the realm of the genre expectations, even if authors throw in a plot twist, surprise element, or other aspect that doesn’t completely conform with the genre.

A mystery, for example, might include a parallel plot arc depicting a romance between two characters, but the overall feel of the book should skew toward the mystery genre. In other words, a reader should not begin a mystery novel only to find out a few chapters later that the book is in truth a romance novel that began with a mystery set up.

3. Genre Expectations for Archetypes

Is a fantasy novel really a fantasy novel without a character who is enabled by magic or some mystical properties? No, just like a romance novel without two characters who are attracted to one another or a horror story without an evil or dangerous character will fall flat with readers.

The pivotal characters included in each genre should be recognizable by the end of the story to a reader, even if the surprise twist is the beloved main character turns out to be the murderer or the suspected criminal ends up as the plot’s saving grace. Missing a key archetype can cause a reader to question an author’s ability to develop the story’s characters, potentially deeming the writer as untrustworthy.

4. Genre Expectations for Voice and Writing Style

Authors have a little more leeway in genre expectations when considering the voice and writing style of their work. But readers love a genre because, in many ways, books categorized similarly have a familiar feel, cadence, and style.

Books within a given genre should not stray too far from the way that others in the genre are written because readers have come to expect that when they pick up a historical novel or a science fiction book, the way it reads will be at least somewhat familiar.

Expectations by Genre

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular genres and what types of unique genre expectations readers have for them. Authors always have the liberty to make their writing unique, but these genre expectations are what readers know and love about each category.


A subgenre of science fiction, dystopian books have risen in popularity so much in recent years that dystopian books are now thought to be their own genre. Characterized by a future setting that includes major changes to government, society, and world leadership and apocalyptic surroundings that all originate in today’s world.

Novels like The Hunger Games and Red Rising both exemplify dystopian literature, with archetypal characters who fight against their disastrous new reality.


This large genre is marked by the presence of magic of some sort within the story, and readers expect to read fantasy books around 100,000 to 150,000 words in length. A few notable subgenres are popular within the fantasy category like epic fantasy, portal fantasy, and urban fantasy.

Historical Fictions

Readers who pick up an historical fiction book expect to read about a fictionalized moment in real history that reflects authentic cultural norms, customs, and settings in that period. Many subgenres within historical fiction offer authors the chance to combine a fictionalized tale about a real event or time in history with categories like mystery, romance, biography, thrillers, and even alternative history.


Readers who love this genre anticipate reading about two people who fall in love, despite the book’s main conflict that threatens to keep them apart. A true romance book will include a “meet-cute,” conflicts and separations and ultimately, a happily-ever-after resolution where the two characters end up together in an average of around 70,000 to 100,000 words.

Science Fiction

Stories in this category include a plot revolving around a futuristic, technologically advanced society. Readers expect these stories to take current tech, math, or science concepts and expand on how they might look in the future, looping the familiar with the possible.

Dozens of subgenres of science fiction let readers enjoy the elements of science fiction along with other popular genres, like mystery, adventure, time travel, military, and new categories like genetic engineering.

Thriller and Suspense

Readers love to experience high emotions from a book’s themes and plot lines. Thrillers which characteristically provide an exciting plot along with suspense books written to keep readers on the edges of their seats both offer readers a roller coaster of emotions.

Genre expectations around these two similar genres include emotion-inducing action. Thrillers offer readers an adrenaline rush as the action surges throughout the book while readers of suspense books expect the story to use building anxiety, fear, and anticipation to heighten reader emotion. Thriller and suspense books are usually between 90,000 and 100,000 words in length.

Creating a Unique Book within a Genre

Even though each genre’s expectations are well-known by readers, authors have many other tools at their disposal to create a one-of-a-kind, interesting book within any genre. Writers can play with conventions of characterization to develop distinctive characters.

Literary devices, settings, and themes can all be tweaked within any genre to create an authentic story that a reader of that genre will love. Authors don’t have to feel constricted by genre norms and reader expectations because writers have so many different ways to write a compelling story while still staying within the generally broad bounds of each genre.

What Happens if a Book Doesn’t Follow Genre Expectations?

As a creator, authors are free to write a story that defies a reader’s expectations, but doing so comes at a potential cost. Some readers may love the surprise, but most will be disappointed that their book selection was not truly the genre that they anticipated.

Readers most likely will put the book away, and leave with a negative opinion of the author, publisher, or book series. This is a big risk for any author to take, and especially for a self-published author, since this opportunity may be the only time a reader picks up your book to try out your writing. With the rise of “book Tok” and sites like Goodreads, even a few negative reviews revealing the unwelcome surprise genre-switch can be devastating to an author seeking a fan base.

Key Takeaway: Make sure that your work is accurately defined within the correct genre or subgenre, and then ensure that the advertising (including the cover design) all reflects general genre expectations so readers who already love a category of books will be willing to try your book, even if you have not yet created a name for yourself as an author.

When you’re ready to get your book published, consider Publishing Xpress!

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