Publishing, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

The R-Rated Coffee Stand and the Importance of Knowing Your Genre

Coffee shop raw pixel
Photo courtesy of rawpixel on Mmm. I need to refill my coffee cup now…

All I wanted was a nice cup of coffee.

The drive around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula winds and twists beside Lake Crescent, near temperate rainforests populated by all sorts of wildlife: herds of elk, blacktailed deer, even cougars. I needed to be alert.

When we saw a drive-through coffee stand ahead, I decided to give it a try.

Shacks peddling over-priced coffees line Washington’s roads, bearing names like “Bean Me Up” and “Express Espresso.”

This one’s name surprised me- “Bouncing Betty’s.”

My first thought was something like:

“Bouncing Betty” anti-personnel mine circa WW2

Naming a coffee shop after an anti-personnel mine seemed a little…well, tasteless. I reasoned that maybe they were just trying to indicate that their coffee was very powerful.

Whatever. That sixteen ounce non-fat white mocha was calling my name. I pulled up to the window.

I’m not sure if the barrista’s name was Betty. She didn’t have anything to pin a name tag on to.

We don’t need to discuss just how quickly I drove away after she bounced away to help the customer at the other window. We also don’t need to talk about whether I distracted the kids by pretending there was a herd of elk  running past the car on the other side, all the while waiting for one of them to pipe up in that extra audible voice kids save for awkward situations, “Mommy? Where’s her shirt?” 

Nope. The point is, whether due to unclear marketing on the part of the shop, or due to  me being a little clueless, I ended up at a shop for which I was not the target audience.

Jamie Taylor books
Image courtesy of Jamie Taylor on

Has something similar ever happened to you when picking up a new book?

One of my friends grabbed a book off the library shelf a few years back. The cover featured an intriguing old castle, and the blurb described it as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

Then she started reading it, and got to the S and M parts…

Believe me, if you knew my friend, you’d join me in having a good chuckle at her expense (and don’t worry, she’d join in). She was not the author’s target audience.

The desire to avoid this kind of confusion gives authors and booksellers a major incentive to categorize their books by genre. Romances, mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories are neatly grouped for the reader’s convenience.

It’s not a bad system. Unless, of course, you aren’t sure into which genre your book fits.

Personally, I’ve found determining my unpublished book’s exact genre a headache. I can say I’m writing historical fiction, but there are dozens of sub-categories of genre to sift through, each with its own rules. If I’d been a little more forward-thinking I would have been smarter and researched all of these rules BEFORE writing the thing.

Ah well. It’s one of those headaches that I’ll just have to live through.

After all, going back to the coffee shop comparison, I don’t want someone picking my book up expecting a “Natte Latte” and being disappointed with a “Thinking Cup.”

To keep that from happening, it’s important to realize that a thriller, which has world changing stakes and a ticking clock, is different from a suspense novel or crime fiction.

Whatever genre the book fits into will influence the cover art, the blurb on the back, even the title. After all, you don’t expect to pick up a book with a smoking gun on the cover and read on the back, “This heartwarming romantic comedy…”

Now, my ability to explain all of the nuances of book genre off the top of my head are currently equal to my ability to produce a double half-fat frapuccino. I could probably find the directions online and make a passable attempt, but why not let the experts do it?

Following are a couple of excellent and interesting resources:

Blogger Kristen Lamb gives some great (and entertaining) insights on the importance of genre, as well as giving some good genre definitions  here.

Jacqui Murray has been doing an “A-Z” series on different genres, defining them and giving examples. Here is her blog post on genres in the letter “B” as in blog.

Do you have any other sources to share? Have you had any struggles determining the genre of your writing? Have you had any surprises when someone else’s genre was unclear?

Thanks for visiting!


34 thoughts on “The R-Rated Coffee Stand and the Importance of Knowing Your Genre”

  1. And then you get “Crossover” genres… Christian science fiction? What?

    Thanks for sharing your cross-genre experience! I also hate that with books, though I suspect with some it’s more marketing problem than author problem. I picked up a neat urban fantasy book to find out it was an urban crime story with one supernatural element. Not the same thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Yes! BUT how do you say ‘urban crime story with one supernatural element’ and still sound like you know what you’re talking about??? Give me a paragraph to explain EXACTLY what type of genre my story is, please?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Back to ‘Bouncing Betty’s.’, if anything she created a good conversation starter. I’m reserving all jokes. You’re welcome.

    As for things that came my way unexpected: Hmmm….back in the sixth grade I came upon an advertisement for a pen-pal. I sent them my money. Got a list of names and wrote to one of them. They were in Norway, Sweden. Something like that.

    In a nutshell it was porn. My young mind received an education unlike any other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post. I should forward it to my local bookstore. They have a used section and I love mysteries (less so “thrillers”) but I was surprised to find some of the books in both categories. To me, Louise Penny and Deborah Cromwell strike me as mysteries, not thrillers, yet their books, from the same series, were in both sections. Fortunately, I figured this out and could check them both out, but I wonder how many I missed till that happened!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s tricky isn’t it? I’d like about ten descriptors for every book, please! 🙂 Our library has only sorted fiction into “mystery” and “fiction.” I can’t find anything. (Of course, that may also have to do with hunting for books and trying not to loose the kiddos at the same time…)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Angry Robot Publishing will put in three short descriptive phrases on the backs of their books, “File under: Heist gone wrong, Squirrels are friends, and High-flying danger.” Stuff like that. (And yes, usually one is just a little bonkers.)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Anne Clare – oh I can believe that happens … then the genre – you’re so right Jacqui was very definitive and interesting in her ideas re genre – so many choices. Kristin – I must check in again with her – thanks for the links and recommendations … and I’ll try and avoid ‘funnily’ named coffee stands – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Good call with the coffee stands, Hilary! I’m glad that the links were useful. I need to read through Jacqui’s entire series more carefully and finally get mine nailed down.


  5. Yikes! about the coffee shop. Good grief–I’ve never seen that. Is it even legal? My first thought was Betty Boop but the second was bombs. I guess both were kind of right!

    Thanks for the mention. I am struggling right now on my WIP partly on genre but also on how to describe the book so people aren’t disappointed. It is Part 1 of a two-book story within a series. Way too complicated. Janet Reid (an agent with a wonderfully helpful blog) has taken my question on and says she’ll answer it on her blog next week. I can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh fantastic! I love Janet Reid’s “Query Shark” site! I sent in my query a while ago, but she didn’t pick it to take a ‘bite’ out of 🙂
      We didn’t even have drive thru coffee stands where I grew up, much less naughty ones lol! I THINK they’ve gotten stricter with them, as the one closest to us is now well back from the road with a screen in front of the window, so passers-by don’t get an accidental free show I guess.
      Best wishes with your book descriptions- it’s not an easy thing!


  6. Yikes! I’m sorry that happened to you. How awkward, especially with kids in the car.

    Lol I hear you on wishing you had done the genre research before writing. lol I’m in the same boat. I’m beginning to think that genres are just over my head. It seems like almost every one of my books leaves me confused when it comes to nailing down the genre.
    I’ve finally settled on the broader term of Christian fiction or Christian Historical fiction, pending on the story. Hopefully between the blurb and the cover art and title, readers will pick up enough info to know whether it’s right for them or not.
    My methods may not help the pickiest readers, but it’s the best I can manage in this tough field. One thing I have learned that was helpful was to make a list of authors similar to my writing. This helps me by examining their genres and it helps the reader if they’ve already tried the other authors.
    Thanks for the links! I can’t wait to check them out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yes, awkward is the word lol.
      It’s tricky to narrow it down, isn’t it? Your ideas sound great though, especially finding good comparative books. I hope the links are helpful 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They were!
        This genre issue is such a strange thing. Lol I always either walk away believing that I know more than I realized or that I’m worst off than I thought possible.
        I really enjoyed the link that explained the different between thriller and suspense. That was neat!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a book that’s for Christians, but dealing with some very adult themes, and when most people look for Christian books, they’re looking for G-rated. Kinda hard to say, “No, this book is for grown-ups only,” without going into a theological monologue on why yes, it is okay to write Christian fiction that isn’t squeaky clean, because that wouldn’t fit in a back cover blurb.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s got to be tricky! It’s almost too bad we DON’T have some kind of rating system like movies do- just a little something to stick on after the blurb that would let people know what to expect. Best wishes figuring that one out 🙂


  8. Back to coffee shops (love your intro anecdote to the post), there’s a sign in Second Cup that says ‘Cafe Diem’. That always gives me a smile whenever I see it. Genres? As varied as coffee beans. I’ve enjoyed your discussion here, like sipping a Caramel Macchiato and biting into a chocolate croissant. Just wondering, are you on Twitter? #MiddlemarchinMay is our coffee gathering there sharing our thoughts and favourite quotes while reading Middlemarch. If you’re one of those who avoids the place (and I don’t blame you), yes, we can always post and comment on our blog. Have a great weekend, Anne! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, and you too, Arti! Mmm, a Caramel Macchiato sounds good about now. I’m not on Twitter, and I have to confess, I still need to start Middlemarch. May got very full very fast, BUT I intend to hit the library today and grab my copy!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Gah, genre stuff! Just the differences between New Adult and Young Adult drives me bonkers.
    Remind me to lend you my copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ essays. She laments the advent of subgenres with the awesome wit you’d expect. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it in her ‘on the magic of writing’? I picked that up on your recommendation- great stuff! I need to finish a couple of essays yet as I got sidetracked- hoping for summer reading time while supervising the kids playing outside!


      1. Will do! I’ve picked up George Elliot’s Middlemarch for a reading challenge hosted by another blogger. It’s interesting, and a heftier novel than I’ve picked up in a while, but I’m diving in. Once I resurface I’ll head that way 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh! I know what Sleeping Beauty books you’re talking about! I have actually enjoyed them once, well the first one and part of the second. That was the genre I wrote for a long time. (Shocker, with you knowing me, right?) I still haven’t finished the trilogy, but someday I will find them again and will finish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol, no, Stevie, I can’t say that I’m entirely shocked 🙂 I haven’t read these- I’m more of a Gail Carson Levine fairy tale sorta girl, though we picked up the original Grimm fairy tales not to long ago, and they certainly have some interesting twists! (Hans the Hedgehog may be one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever read :))

      Liked by 1 person

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