Genre fiction, sometimes referred to as ‘category fiction’ or ‘popular fiction’, is a term used to describe books which are written to fit the expectations of certain ‘genres’. The best genre fiction writers know what their audiences are expecting, and serve it up to them in a way that keeps the reader returning for more.
For instance, magical realism fiction genre authors know that their readers want a realistic world that blends with fantasy elements, like talking animals, or flying carpets. Science fiction genre authors understand that their readers are hungry for a vision of the future, replete with captivating scientific concepts.
Remember, if you’re writing romance, you better give your reader a happy ending, or you’re going to get into big trouble with your fans!
Non genre writers, who write works of ‘literary fiction’ under their own name, often write works of genre or population fiction under fun sounding pseudonyms. J.K. Rowling for instance uses ‘Robert Galbraith’, and John Banville writers under ‘Benjamin Black.’
Now that we’ve discussed the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction, the only thing that remains is to take a look at some of the best genre novel writers of all time! These authors can inspire us to new heights: reading their work can also give us an understanding of what works best in different genres when we come to write our own novels. Let’s dive in!
The Best Action / Adventure Authors
Miguel de Cervantes
This Spanish author is most famous for writing Don Quixote, a work of literature has been considered one of the all time greats since it was first published in 1605, and 1615. It’s surprisingly got an almost postmodern dimension, as the second part of the novel references people who have read the first half (self referential). It tells the tale of a man who becomes interested in chivalric books, and gets lost in them to the extent that he decides to become a knight-errant himself, and sets out to save ladies who need saving and tilt at windmills.
Cervantes lived from 1547 to 1614, and was a bit of an adventurer himself! Unfortunately, he spent a large portion of his early life in poverty, which accounts for the fact that most of his early works were lost. In 1570 he fought in a Spanish Navy infantry regiment and suffered a wound at the Battle of Lepanto. He was captured by Barbary pirates (exciting!) and eventually ransomed back to Madrid. He’s regarded by many as the father of Spanish literature, and perhaps even the Spanish language itself.
Most famous for Heart of Darkness which is a darker tale, exploring the horrors of colonialism in Africa in the 19th Century. Not all action and adventure stories are fun, and tongue in cheek, like the novel above. This story features particularly strong characterisation, especially in the form of the character ‘Kurtz’, who is an ivory trader for a dodgy Belgian company. Conrad is considered one of the great writers of the English language, so this one is a must read if you can handle a darker tale!
His masterpiece Moby-Dick is so popular that it is regularly referred to as ‘The Great American Novel’, despite the fact that it was not popular during the author’s lifetime. It features the tale of a man, Captain Ahab, who is obsessed with exacting revenge on a white whale who injured him on a previous whaling expedition. It’s a tale of obsession and redemption and whale anatomy. One to read especially if you like anatomical detail!
Homer famously wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad. These tales written around 800 BC are foundational to Ancient Greek Literature, and global literature too. Homer’s identity is shrouded in mystery, primarily because he was writing so long in the past that very few documents from this period have actually survived. Homer may indeed have been a collection of people, or two different poets. He has been regarded by many of the most famous writers as the greatest writer of all time!
Including works like The Odyssey here is a bit of a curve ball because it’s actually an epic poem, but fits the action / adventure genre nonetheless. It tells the tale of Odysseus, and his ten year return from the Trojan war. Spoiler, all his friends die along the way and he is sorely tempted to give up his journey and indugle in various activities along the way. But he feels he must return to his son Telemachus, and wife Penelope, at all costs.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s most famous work is Eat, Pray, Love which is centred around a woman’s insatiable desire to hunt out some universal truths. This work captured the world’s attention in a way that few stories ever do. The film featuring Julia Roberts is also one to look out for!
The Best Speculative Fiction Authors
Asimov is considered one of the titans of science fiction, and won the Hugo Award for ‘Best All-time Series’ in 1966 for the Foundation Series. Asimov was an American writer, who was born in Russia, a professor of biochemistry at Boston University, and actually wrote over 500 books (an astonishing achievement in itself). In addition to the Foundation Series, you should also take a look at the Robot series (which has been adapted into succesful Hollywood films), and the Galactic Empire Series.
Ken Liu is a Chinese born American writer, who pioneered the silkpunk genre, and has won numerous Hugo Awards along the way. He’s also a prolific and celebrated short story writer, so check out his shorter tales if your short on time yourself.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929 – 2018) was an American author who wrote speculative fiction set in her own Hainish universe, and also wrote the Earthsea fantasy series. She wrote for sixty years, including over twenty novels and a vast number of short stories. Le Guin’s work was richly influenced by multiple philosophical traditions includng anthropology, feminism, Jung, and anthropology. If you’re looking for genre writing that gets the mental juices flowing then Ursula is certainly for you!
Octavia Estelle Butler
Octavia Butler won the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and also the MacArthur Fellowship. Many of Butler’s stories focussed on marginalised perspectives and she is widely credited by critics with opening up speculative fiction to include a greater range of human experience. Her work was heavily influenced by her experiences growing up with her working class mother, and these class concerns further enrich her oeuvre.
A perennial favourite, Orwell’s classics 1984 and Animal Farm feature at the top of critics and fans lists of favourite works of all time. He wrote about alternate realities, in an allegorical fashion that eschewed didacticism. His works warn about dystopian worlds where ideologues rule and love and justice are trampled beneath the relentless boot of hypocrisy. Strong recommend if you don’t mind straying into sadder territories.
The Best New Adult Authors
New adult is an emerging genre category which references the category of young adult fiction. Where YA deals with teenage tropes and themes, new adult tends to focus on moving out of home, college, and early adult concerns such as finding employment.
Mary H.K. Choi
Choi’s novels usually get classed as YA, but they actually take place in the space that falls just outside the reach of that label, into the arena of the twenty something year old trying to gain a foothold in the big wide world. Her writing occasionally deals with difficult issues like eating disorders.
Hoover has sold over 20 million copies, with her books often being self published before being transferred over to a traditional publisher. She has previously held six of the ten New York Times Paper Best Selling Fiction spots at the same time. Wow! She has worked as a social worker, which may have helped to add to depth and reality to her plots which address areas like home-schooling and more difficult areas like domestic violence. She is currently regarded as on the most successful authors in any genre, and appears to be taking the literary world by storm!
Beautiful Disaster is one of Jamie’s most popular novels. She has also had several of her works self published, before moving across to a traditional publisher. She has dominated the best seller lists. In a fascinating move, Jamie returned to self publishing as she realised she would make more money this way. This trend is on the increase in the publishing world, and well worth considering if you have run out of luck with the traditional publishing world.
We hope you’ve found some great suggestions regarding where to begin researching the best genre writers. Remember, any list can only be the smallest scratch on the surface of the vast wealth of genre writing that exists. As you can see from this list, genre doesn’t mean low quality fiction. Most if not all works of great literature fall into one genre or another. Don’t shy away from genre writing!
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