What Should You Write about? (Topic & Genre)

Images from Shutterstock

Images from Shutterstock


When you decide to write a book, you’re faced with important decisions:

  • Which genre should you choose? Which subgenre?
  • What topic should you write about within that subgenre?
  • What features will your story have?

But there are other important considerations that go along with these, which are often overlooked:

  • Is there an audience for what I really want to write about?
  • Could I attract more readers by writing about something slightly different?
  • What are my marketing assets?

You’re not the only person who will read your book, right? At least you hope not!

So if you only write what you want to read, doesn’t that seem somewhat selfish?

You’re a reader, too, of course, which may help you, as a writer, develop a style and feel for how to write.

The challenge is to find the right balance.


Here are factors to consider when choosing your genre and topic:

  • Familiarity: Which kinds of books have you read? The more experience you have with the subgenre, the more you’ll be aware of readers’ expectations.
  • Ability: In which subgenres are you best equipped to write? Look at this both in terms of ability and marketing.
  • Knowledge: On which relevant topics, relevant for your subgenre, are you knowledgeable? Marketing is a factor here, too.
  • Research: You should do research for your work of fiction, and this can be very handy when it comes to marketing.
  • Assessment: What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing? when it comes to relevant content knowledge?
  • Goals: What are your writing goals? Authors with vastly different goals should approach this decision somewhat differently.
  • Receptiveness: How receptive will the target audience be to you as a new author? If self-publishing, you also want an audience that will be receptive to indie books.

One of my coming posts will be on the topic of researching your fiction book, with specific ideas for how to take advantage of this in your marketing. (Stay tuned.)

There are many advantages to thinking about marketing in the beginning, and not as an afterthought.

I’m not saying that you should write for money.

I am saying that you should think about how you will attract readers when you’re beginning your project, not after it’s done.

What if you could be helping to create interest in your book while you’re still writing it? That can pay big dividends when you’re ready to launch your book.

What if you could make a small change to your approach to writing that may greatly enhance your readership? If you knew this, would you consider it?

You can merge your marketing with your writing in small ways, without really imposing a business sense on the art of writing. In coming posts on the subject of fiction writing, I’ll reveal ways to do this.


Writers can have a variety of goals when they proceed to write a book:

  • Write leisurely as a hobby.
  • Write to earn good money.
  • Write to hone the craft of writing.
  • Write to experiment with a new form of writing.
  • Write to please a specific audience.
  • Write to prove themselves.
  • Write to get published.
  • Write to become famous.
  • Write to land a movie deal.

Chances are that you have more than one goal from this list. If so, you’ll have to decide how they weigh in importance to you.

(You may also have a goal that isn’t on my list.)

What you should write about obviously depends, in part, on your goals.


You may recall that in a previous post I announced that I would be writing a work of fiction. (Although I’ve written and published several nonfiction books, this will be my first novel.)

Not only that, but I will periodically blog about the decisions that I make as I come across them.

I’m presently deciding what to write about, so today I will use my current project as an example.

Writing is both an art and a craft, and that’s the way I view it when I sit down to write. But as I hope to show you, it’s possible to also consider marketing to some extent early on in the writing process, without sacrificing the artistic feeling for business. And these little considerations along the way can really help you share your passion with readers effectively down the road.

Choosing the Genre

I read many sci-fi and fantasy books. I’m familiar with these genres as a reader.

Both have significant target audiences, and a healthy percentage of that has shown willingness to support indie authors and even new authors. (I’m far from a new author, but I am new to publishing fiction.)

I plan to write a series, and this appears to be quite doable in these genres.

My background in physics lends itself more naturally to science fiction.

I also have specific plans for how to tie my research on the subject into marketing.

So my first fictional work will be a science fiction novel. Which will turn into a series.

(Each volume will be a full-length book with a complete story.)

Choosing the Topic

I want the story to plausibly obey the known laws of physics. As a physicist, I’m not willing to sacrifice this point.

After much thought, I’ve decided that the best way to do this is for the story to be set here on earth.

One of my goals is for the reader to feel like the story could really happen. Tomorrow. I want it to seem so real it’s compelling. You could be part of this story.

I have a very specific topic in mind, but I don’t want to reveal too much at this point.

As you write your story, you want to start creating interest in your book, but you don’t want to give too much away. It’s a tough balancing act.

For now, I will just say that the book will be set in the present day, and it will involve aliens to some extent.

Strengths & Weaknesses

I count my background in physics as relevant to science fiction, so I feel that can be a marketing strength.

So is my familiarity with both the genre and the content that I have in mind. I also have specific research plans.

Two of the story’s strengths will include curiosity and suspense. The topic will feature things many of us would love to know more about, so curiosity will be a natural ingredient. My intention is for the plot to eventually reveal something really big. Like, “That’s huge!” and “I can’t believe it!” So there will also be suspense.

One of my writing challenges will be that I’ve become accustomed to writing nonfiction for some time, while fiction is a somewhat different craft. For one, fiction includes a much wider variety of adjectives and verbs, and strong emotional elements that often don’t appear in nonfiction writing. I’m quite familiar with reading fiction, and I’ve studied the craft of writing fiction—and I have written shorter pieces of fiction in the past. These things should help, but when I start the writing, these are some of the challenges that I’ll face.

Target Audience

I find that it’s helpful to know who my audience is when I’m writing the book. And of course this will be helpful for the marketing, too. And the marketing should begin when you start writing the book, not after it’s published.

One of my target audiences is the slice of sci-fi readers interested in a present-day story that takes place on earth, which involves aliens.

But I also have a significant secondary audience: UFO enthusiasts and people who are curious about the possible existence of other forms of intelligent life in our universe. There are millions of people in this secondary group, as shown in the popular t.v. series Ancient Aliens which first appeared on the History channel.

Marketing Potential

This is a story that I will really enjoy writing, which is important.

But one thing that increases my motivation to write this story is the potential to share it with others.

One step involves researching the subgenre to check that there is a target audience for your story. Doing this also helps you learn the expectations of your target audience so you can better meet their needs.

Another step is seeing how your background or experience may be relevant when it comes to marketing.

And research. Research for your fiction book can serve as a valuable marketing tool. I’ve already identified material that I will read, watch, and study that will help me perfect the content. More than that, this research will also be helpful when it comes to marketing. One of my coming posts will show you specific ways that you can do research for your novel and use it as an effective marketing tool.

Also, I will write an entire series. (Each volume will be a self-contained, full-length novel.) In genres where series can work well, series carry some marketing benefits. There are a few disadvantages, too, and some challenges, but if you can pull off the series well, the pros can outweigh the cons.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more

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20 comments on “What Should You Write about? (Topic & Genre)

  1. I’m actually on the ‘is there an audience’ question for a project I might start in the summer. Just something to put out between Windemere books or whenever I feel like it. The genre would be Pulp Fiction adventure like Conan and Tarzan, but I’ve no idea if such tales have an audience. Also how to do the cover art, but that’s besides the point. I do wonder if there’s something to be said for an author who goes with something that might have a small audience and take the chance. You never know what you’ll find.

    • There may be an audience for this. Certainly, if a new movie came out like Conan or Tarzan, there would be an audience for that. The big question is how to reach this audience. I checked Conan the Barbarian on Amazon and found it listed in Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery (as well as Fantasy > Historical). Without the sword and historical elements, it might have been action and adventure. The pulp fiction aspect puts a twist on this, though. But if fans of Conan & Tarzan may appreciate your book, trying to figure out how to reach those readers would be the place to start. It sounds interesting. You may be able to draw your current readership over, not only if the sword part would apply, but also since Timoran is a great character and might help lure interest. Good luck.🙂

      • The historical one is odd. I was thinking Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and Actin/Adventure. My idea has the sword and magic, but no historical elements. I didn’t mention Timoran though. This will be Windemere, but the big guy’s kind of busy. 😉

        I think a cover would be a key ingredient, so I have to figure out a way to do that. Since this is going alongside Legends of Windemere, I don’t think I can bog down Jason.

      • I’m hoping it helps both series. The character is going to be someone that gets hired for jobs, but it can range from assassinations to finding a kid’s lost cat. As long as his rules are followed and he gets paid, he’ll take the job.

  2. I cut my teeth on science fiction. Isaac Asimov. Ursula K. Le Guin. A neighbor, Michael Bishop, who has won several Nebula awards, multiple other awards, and was nominated for a Hugo, had a huge library in his home. We didn’t have a library in our county…so his house was my reading haven when visiting my grandma. Having studied many religions, and finding so many alien-like legends in the most ancient (particularly Hindu), I am fascinated by the ancient alien theories. I know I’ll read your book.🙂

    • Every child needs a great reading haven.🙂 The ancient alien theories have many fascinating elements. I especially appreciate the engineering and technology aspects, but the religious aspect is indeed fascinating, too. Every author should be blessed with readers expressing interest in the beginning; it’s a great feeling and a wonderful motivator, too. Thank you for expressing your interest.🙂

  3. But, but, but – whose STORY do you want to tell? All the genres in the world, and all the trappings of that genre, matter not at all unless there’s a story you want to tell.

    The husband and I just gave Deadwood several hours of our time – and decided we won’t watch any more of it. Good actors (more or less), reasonable production values (though I question the decision to use modern swearing, and use it constantly), but we couldn’t find a single character whose future we had the least bit of interest in because of anything.

    That’s my take on it – no interesting character (at least one, but several would be nice), no watching. And interesting includes what the story is about and why I should spend my valuable time reading it.

    Good luck with the SF – but don’t forget the people for your readers to identify with.

  4. Honestly, I have never had this problem. My biggest problem is not what to write about, but finding the time to write it. I also believe that you really can’t set any goals in advance. Write whats in your heart and the audience will follow – that’s the way I have always done it. Good luck with your book. I will definitely give it a read.

    • In life, the heart can want to pull in many directions all at once or change it’s mind or get distracted, and the mind must work together with the heart. In writing, I find that my heart wants to write very many different kinds of books and even articles for my blog, and again my mind must help with decisions and organization.

      In the end, I agree that one must write from the heart.🙂

  5. I seldom “decide” what I will write. The nature of my idea tells me what it can become. However, writers do decide they want to write something particular, if they see opportunity. For example, one might decide to write Steampunk because of the current interest.

    I’d suggest, in that case, the first step should be to visit your library and check out several books or magazines that include what you want to write. You can get a sense for what’s expected in terms of language, plot, outcomes (happy ending vs. sad ending), identify a few writers you want to follow on social media, see what’s already been done so you’ll know if your ideas are as fresh as you think they are.

    Gosh, I sound like a college professor!

    • I agree that it’s very much worth doing the research for the subgenre before writing.🙂 I do this before writing nonfiction, and will do the same (already have a big jump on this) with fiction. It helps in even more ways, such as formatting and cover design.

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