Will I Be Safe If I Label My Novel As A Psychological Thriller, And If Not, Which Genre Does It Belong In?

by S.E.Swea
(Asia)

Hello, Glen. I'd love to get your opinion on the question that's been picking at me for some time now. The novel that I'm writing is what I would call a psychological thriller, but I don't know if what I'm writing fits what would be called a psych thriller at all.


I have done some research and there are few similar books out there utlising the character of an imaginary friend, and most of them children's books. The one I'm writing now is aimed for a more mature age group, so I can't get any feedback from the research I've done either. How can I be sure that I'm not completely screwing up in terms of the genre?

This novel is one I've just started working on after neglecting it because of the plague we call writer's block - having left it for another plot bunny that bounced into my head at the time - but coming back, I see that it's not that bad of an idea, just wanting of a polish.

I have a problem with knowing which genre and sub-genre every novel idea of mine fits into. Here's what it is; an asexual man who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia being revisited by a friend that doesn't exist from his childhood. This friend has popped into his life from time to time, never aging and never changing his appearance. To my protagonist who lives in slightly old-time London, this man is his closest and only friend, even if it's all in his head.

My protagonist finds out that this man is much more than a simple imaginary friend towards him, and has an actual impact on this world, but darker than he had originally thought. People start disappearing and my protagonist gets mixed up in kidnappings, but he still persists on
his quest to find out who his imaginary friend really is.

I feel like this novel speaks more about my protagonist's thoughts and his psychological development than it does the advancement of the plot, and that worries me as so far it's been labelled as a psych thriller. Thrillers to me mean fast-paced, seat-gripping books that with every page brings to light a different type of suspense and danger, and in the end an eventual 'ohh' of the curtains finally being drawn away.
I know this is a near impossible request, but could you possibly help me figure out where the heck does my novel belong in terms of genre and sub-genre?

Answer: I don't see any problem labeling this story as a psychological thriller, if you need a label. Psych thrillers usually emphasize the mental disturbance (not necessarily insanity, but anxiety or confusion) of the main character over the external plot.

Bear in mind that the genre label is primarily a marketing tool to attract readers who are looking for a story similar to another one they liked. It is something publishers assign so that bookstores will know what shelf to put a book on.

In reality, the boundaries between subgenres are not well fixed and there is a lot of overlap or grey area. Often a given book could be put into several different categories (e.g. psych thriller, horror, suspense). So if a particular subgenre is hot, there's a tendency for more books to be identified as part of that genre versus another that is less popular.

If you are writing a query letter, you can often leave out any genre label. Your summary of the story should give the agent or editor enough information for them to decide what genre they could assign to it. Figuring out marketability is part of their job.

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