Mystery or Thriller or Suspense: which is YOUR book?

your humble host

You wrote a book!

Now: where does it belong on a book shelf, and what online categories do you choose to market it?

You’d think it’d be easy, and it kinda is, but it also kinda isn’t.

Allow me to explain…

…via my normal circuitous route.

Once upon a time, I wrote what I considered a romance. A guy goes on a business trip to Italy, falls in love with a beautiful young Italian lady, and they have a passionate affair. Sounds romantic, right? And it is! There’s also a lot of funny stuff – as in humor – that goes on. So maybe it’s a rom-com, a romantic comedy.


Poggi cover FINAL
my poor, uncategorizable book

See, there are RULES for this stuff, and even though it’s an amazing story, the rules of romance say you can’t have a guy cheat on his wife (forgot to mention – he’s married), even if he sees the wrongdoing of his ways and confesses everything and gets back together with his wife at the end. That don’t fly in romance. No cheating.


Okay, so… is it a comedy? It’s really funny.

Ha! No.

There’s no sex in a comedy. (There was a lot of sex in the book because it was a romance – or so I thought.)

Maybe it’s… well, what is it?

Jenifer says it’s literary fiction.

Okay. WTF is that???

Wiki says: “Literary fiction is a term used in the book-trade to distinguish novels that are regarded as having literary merit from most commercial or “genre” fiction.”

I . . . have no idea what that even means.

Stephen Petite puts it this way: Literary Fiction is anything that does not fit into a genre. (Genres are things like Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Romance, Western, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc.)

Now, while that makes more sense to me, it also sounds like a dead end, dump-it-here approach. We don’t know what it is, so let’s call it that. Good luck marketing that!

And the NY Book Editors site puts it this way:

“Literary fiction doesn’t follow a formula.”

Well, I definitely didn’t do that with Poggibonsi! Maybe Jenifer is right.

Okay, but let’s start over. Let’s start where you should start: when you get an idea for a book. Write what you want, but maybe know where it’s going. When you are finished, most of you will have written a romance or a mystery-thriller-suspense thing.

Which did you write?

Leaving romance aside for now, let’s look at what’s in the story.

Per Allison:

Mystery = that thing happened, let’s find out what

Suspense = we gotta keep that thing from happening


She even sent me an article from Daily Writing Tips that helps explain it all. Per the article:

Mystery – Thriller – Suspense…

The three genres are closely related.

In each type, a character is trying to get at the truth of something, or prevent some bad thing from happening.


The main character is occupied in tracking down the truth about an event, usually a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it is usually moderate, and becomes a problem only as the detective approaches the truth. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist.


The protagonist is in danger from the outset.


The main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.

What if your novel falls into overlapping categories? The DaVinci Code, for example.

  • Describe where your book fits in a bookstore shelving scheme,
  • you need one or two words at the MOST
  • Anyone who uses three or more words is an automatic no because it’s clear they don’t understand categories, and they don’t know what they have.

So, what did you write? Figuring out which slots your story fits into is important because as you go to choose your categories on Ammy or when you pay to advertise it on a mailing/newsletter/ad, you need to put it where OTHER people (readers) are looking for that sort of thing.

I call this selling milk in a milk bottle and not in an oil can.

Figuring out which category your book belongs in is an important step in not doing a lot of crying about why it’s not selling.


3 thoughts on “Mystery or Thriller or Suspense: which is YOUR book?

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