Saturday, May 21, 2011

Readers, Writers, and The Curse of Genre

In my 25 years of writing fiction, the most frustrating thing I've experienced with publishers and literary agents is what I call The Curse of Genre. If your book does not cleanly fit into one of the predefined categories--mystery, young adult, romance, etc.--booksellers supposedly won't know what to do with it and publishers summarily reject you.

Well, my books never fit into one of those neat little categories. I'm simply not that kind of writer.

Take Wild Child, for example. Is it young adult? Is it fantasy? Is it romance? Is it sci-fi?

The answer is, it's a little of all of these genres. When I originally wrote the book, I wasn't thinking about any of this. I just crafted the best story I could possibly write, hoping to engage and entertain readers on every page, and to keep them nailed to the book all the way to the end. The genre terms "young adult," "fantasy," "romance," never entered my mind! (It was the publishers, by the way, who Wild Child as "young adult," because the main characters are 18 & 19 years old. Wrongly, I think, because adults like this book just as much as young adults or kids.)

These genre delineations are artificial, created by the distribution and sales networks out of a need to organize what they are selling into groups. I know that many readers drive this categorization, but there are plenty of others who want more variety and uniqueness in the books they have to choose from. The worst thing is that writers begin to adapt to the genre narrowness, which limits their creative expression and tends to result in cookie-cutter books that fit nicely into certain categories but are lacking in originality.

The good news is that the advent of self-publishing and the ebook revolution are a perfect antidote for The Curse of Genre. In short, writers don't have to put up with it anymore. I no longer have to listen to that tired old line that publishers have been feeding me for the past 25 years: "Loved your book, Mike, but have no idea how to sell it." And readers can look forward access to books that are much more varied and original.

My advice to writers who are publishing ebooks is to choose the genre that seems like the best description of your story and if that doesn't work, change it.  This is relatively easy to do and on Amazon and most ebook sites and only takes a matter of a day or two before the book appears under a new genre category.  Also, most retailers allow two genre selections for each book, which also gives you flexibility.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a challenge indeed. And though we are told to write to genre - that seems so limiting. Good advice.