Resisting the Genre ‘label’
(Excerpt from Complete Boot Camp for Fiction Writers)
Genre–differentiating, categorizing, labeling. Pigeon-holing?
To not understand what genre your book fits into is to shoot yourself in the foot, honestly. Many writers have balked at being slotted into a genre category, insisting they’re different, they’re rebels, free-spirits, and shouldn’t be confining by some arbitrary stamp. They will stay up late debating the issue. “Don’t Fence Me In” should be their theme song …
Yeah–well, get over it. This is how the buying public identify the works of writers and how they identify their next purchase at their neighborhood bookstore or favorite on-line eBook selling platform.
By categorizing items within any group, we are creating one of the important tool we use to make many choices in our lives. We all have preferences, things in our lives that make our blood quicken with anticipation and other things that make our shoulders slump in resignation. Wouldn’t you like to know the reader who just bought your book is exciting about reading it?
I have a neighbor who prepares for Comic-Con all year long. If my sister spies a yarn store, we all know we’d better find a coffee shop, because she’ll be in there for two hours. My husband’s candy store is Princess Auto–he practically drools as he travels up and down the aisles. I’d rather take a sharp stick in the eye than watch sports on TV, but would willingly take a sleeping bag with me to an all-night A and E presentation of Pride and Prejudice (the good one-with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) at the library. My son loves working out in the gym every day, sugar and junk food don’t enter his body; his sister races out to the chicken house to see if the new chicks have been hatched yet (trust me, no chicken at her house will ever see a stew pot …) He favors the health food store, she the local farm supply.
Apply their interests to book buying. Would my health-conscious, body-building son buy the same books as my soft-hearted chick-cuddling daughter? Nope. Would my knitting, spinning sister want to settle down with an audible version of the book my puttering mechanic husband just purchased? Absolutely not!
Life is short, there are thousands of things plucking and pulling to get our attention. We need to cut through the deluge, quickly locate our niche of interest and get on with it. Readers have books they love, writers and genres they can’t get enough of, and those that they shy away from and that’s okay.
Classification by genre helps readers narrow their focus, allowing them to find what makes their little heart ping in delight, whether it’s the latest zombie apocalyptic story or sweet romance. There are millions of books out there today, so help them out. Tell them what kind of book you have written, and they’ll either say “Hey, I love Sci Fi and Time Travel, what’s yours about?” or “Oh, True Crime–not my style. Too gory for my taste, plus I hate that someone is making money off of someone’s death. I like cozies.”
You want your book sold to readers who will read it and recommend it to their friends, right? You want the book store and the on-line platform to direct readers who like your type of books to your book, right? How can they, if they have no idea what your book is about and where to place it for the reading and buying public? They can’t.
And this is why we categorize books. There is no conspiracy to squash creativity, or silence a rebel writer or keep the little guy under anyone’s thumb. It’s merely a tool to help focus the buyer on a product they are most likely to enjoy. Embrace categorization and labeling; they help sell your book to a reader who will love it and possibly say nice things about it in the form of a review and to their friends, and maybe come back for more of your work. This is how you build a career.
You want to write in different areas? No one is stopping you. Go for it. Enjoy it. Then tell the reading public under which category each of your books falls. Write under different names to differentiate in which genre you are currently writing. Perhaps your mysteries will be published as having been written by Marion Wolfe, your romances under Solange St Claire and your sci fi book under J. A. Hann.
There’s a good reason to use names such as these beyond supporting genre branding. I’ll cover other reasons for writing under a pseudonym in the publish chapter.
PS: I believe many writers are so resistant to having their writing categorized because they don’t know themselves what it is they are writing. Often these ‘rebels’ can’t come up with an elevator pitch for their book either. They just don’t have a good understanding of their work yet. It’ll come–with time.
Okay, so we have the issue of ‘restrictive’ labeling dispatched.
Read what you love, then write in that genre. Easy peasy.