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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Does Genre Matter?

Last week I found a blog post on the subject of specific types of genre. I thought it looked so good that I decided to share it with other writers in the online community. My thoughts were right about the blog because it generated a lot of interest. People seemed very keen to discuss the issues surrounding book genre, and I must admit there is a lot more to the topic than I first thought.

I've noted down this post so I can use it in the future should I ever find myself struggling with genre issues again. After spending several months in the writing community, I have noticed a lot of confusion about the certain category authors books fall into. Some swear blind it's a romance while others will argue it is a chick lit.

But this is the beauty of self publishing. Just the other day I was reading a blog about Darcie Chan's major success at becoming a best selling author with her first book. At first she decided to try the traditional route of getting her book published but many agents and publishers turned her down because her manuscript had no specific genre. To become published the traditional way you have to have a clear idea of where your book will sit in the market place. Publishers need to know what genre the book is so they can market accordingly. In the traditional publishing world this makes a lot of sense. After all there really is only room for one specific genre for each book. But in the self publishing world, authors can market the book themselves however they want. If the book has elements of romance, chick lit, mystery and a bit of paranormal activity thrown in, they say so, and if the story sounds good people will buy it anyway. It is a proven theory this works because it's worked for so many authors like Darcie Chan. Amazon's Kindle has a section where you can list each category/sub category if you choose to self publish with them, making it easy for readers to find your book when they do a search.

The issue of not having a specific genre worried me at first with my book, and that was the main criticism of my editor. Of course I could always have re-written my book with a particular genre in mind but I wanted to be brave and see how it would sell through the kindle. And so far I have received several good reviews off people who have never met me, so my book can't be all that bad.

What do you think about genre, is it an issue you struggle with? Do you think mainstream publishers place too much importance on the subject? Or do you think genre should be scrapped altogether?

Anyway, here is the link to the blog on genre:

Darcie Chan:

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.


  1. Hi Laura,
    When my agent signed me for Diary of a Small Fish, she told me flat out, "I'm not sure I can sell this," because it is not a straight up mystery or crime novel. There's a lot of introspection, emotion, a love story that's more up front than the "love interest" sideshow in the genre. And though she sold 12 deals for her other writers during the ensuing year, she couldn't get interest in mine, for that very reason.

    So I made sure that #2 had a dead body on page one and adheres to the "rules" of the mystery/crime genre.

    Yeah, it bothers me that something good enough to get a hot agent's interest couldn't get past acquisitions. And I do think the idea that a publisher's rep wouldn't know how to pitch it, or a bookseller won't know what shelf to put it, on is rather pathetic. It sounds like a phony excuse.

    On the other hand, I've run into a few mystery nazis who are ready to take your head off if you get too mushy.

  2. When I first started typing what would become my first novel I never gave a second thought to genre. I wrote, stopped writing, toted up the words and I had enough to call what I had written a novel so it was a novel. Later once I knew I was capable of writing that many words in a row I realised early on that I was working on novels but never once did I consider what genre my novels were. It was only when I came to market the stuff—having, at that point, completed four novels and having started a fifth—that I needed to be able to boil these thousands upon thousands of words into blurbs and then reduce them further into a handful of tags. And that was hard. It was the writer Kay Sexton who summarised that first book better than anyone else:

    In all, this is one of those novels that bookshops must hate: not 'hard' enough to be spec fic, not 'weird' enough to be fantasy, too realistic for the humour section and yet too humorous to shelve easily with the lit fic. And that, I suspect is going to prove to be its charm; for those who do read it, it's a singular take on the world, and it will either resonate with you or leave you cold.

    Seriously, how do you market a book like that? Essentially I’m a literary novelist and by that I mean I care about the language I use. It’s not enough for me to tell a story; stories don’t particularly interest me. I am a great believer that content dictates form. This is why I have never written a sonnet or a sestina. This also means I’m never likely going to achieve commercial success and it’s not simply a matter of hanging onto my artistic integrity, I’m incapable of working any other way.

    I think the world has gone made with a labelling gun, that’s what I think. In the past people sat down and wrote books that mattered to them and hoped they would interest other people. Nowadays people say what they want to read and writers write what they think people will read hence the proliferation of books about werewolves, vampires and now the fey. I despair when I see what people are writing. Genre is here to stay though. The marketers will ensure that’s the case. I wish it were not so. I wish I’d been born fifty years ago but if wishes were horses our dreams would trample us underfoot.

  3. I agree with Jim completely. I found relief in independent publishing because I could not seem to find a place for my eclectic work in any other form.

    I still find myself struggling with genre. I like to write mystery, but I always end up throwing in some suspense, or even erotica just mix things up. I would say my first novel was a paranormal erotic suspense crime fantasy - try selling that idea to a publisher. I actually had to add erotic elements in because of the nature of the main character. After writing the whole thing, I simply didn't think it would sell in any other genre but erotica, so I cut some scenes, pared down unneeded minor characters, and bolstered up the sex.

    I've had some regrets about that since, because I feel that trying to bring the work into a specific genre took away from the overall story. I'm working on a sequel without quite as much erotic elements but am still worried about what genre it might fit in.

    As you stated, that's the great thing about independent publishing. I can simply determine a the major genre, and add in descriptions as they apply.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone. It seems like we have similar thought patterns.