I love getting reviews. I hoard them close and stroke them and whisper, "My precious." But the other day I got one that made me bang my head against a wall. They gave my Blazing Blunderbuss 2 stars because it had too much steampunk and fantasy. Blazing Blunderbuss IS a STEAMPUNK and FANTASY. The whole point is to have steampunk and fantasy. This is what we call a genre mismatch and this is the topic of this post. How to avoid it both as a reader and as an author.
As a reader there are some things I look for that are unwritten rules in any genre. Authors who don't use these unwritten rules get more genre mismatches and this leads to lower reviews, regardless of how good the writing is or the story.
Shirtless - beware sex scenes.
A couple gazing at each other - beware no sex scenes.
Distressed lettering - Dystopian of some sort. Not always sci fi though it could just be a story with a corrupt government.
No people on the cover - Serious topic, a denser read. This is no pulp fiction. There is an exception is older books by penguin. They have a standard cover for their out of print or classics and those covers tell you absolutely nothing about what the book is about.
Atmospheric scene with a strong tendency to one colour or another - Mystery though it could just mean there will be murder or thriller themes but mostly there is a thing that has to be discovered by the reader along the way.
Genre specific images - these are space ships for science fiction, swords for fantasy etc.
Filigree - Female protagonist.
Author name dominates everything - formulaic writing from an author that has been sitting on the best seller list for over a decade.
Silhouette and bright colours - Cozy mystery
The person shot from behind - Journey of self discovery
The title and pretty much nothing else - Literary where it is a snap shot but pretty much nothing happens.
If it uses the formula of introducing one person then another and the problem to be solved - Romance.
Genre specific elements - dragons equals fantasy other planets is science fiction.
No mention of people - Literary and the theme is more important than the characters.
First page or the sneak peek:
Friends setting them up on dates: Romance
Awkward main character: Cozy mystery or mystery romance
The tail end of a mission where the guy over comes overwhelming odds: Spy, thriller. Think James Bond.
Sexy - If the word sexy is mentioned at all in the first few pages this is probably an erotica.
No people - Self discovery literary novel.
There are mistakes authors make all the time but someone reading a book should know what they are reading from the cover, blurb and the first few lines. Don't have a science fiction start with a guy killing someone with a sword. Don't have a fantasy where the guy is looking at photographs. If you are an author and flirting with trying something here that isn't in your genre then I suggest you think on it carefully. I did these all right. I had a airship on the cover and a old fashioned flintlock in the character's hand. I mention that the second main character is a dragon in the blurb and I still had someone mismatched with me.