Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Word On Genre

This blog post started as I was responding to this blog post by KM Weiland entitled: Why Genre Writing Could Kill Your Career.

I suggest you give the post a read before continuing on here, but in case you're pressed for time, I'll sum up the controversy that genres pose to authors and then to readers.

Authors who genre write may be pigeon holed, that is, being known as "that scifi writer" or "that fantasy writer" and not seen as being capable of, or interested in writing in other genres. Publishers often expect a different level of sales for each genre, so if someone like me is published in the science fiction genre (which doesn't sell as much as say, mystery or romance), I'll be paid less than a pure romance genre writer if I decide to write a romance novel because I'm not known in the genre and my last science fiction book may have sold well for its genre, but not well compared to the average romance novel. Thus, many cross genre writers use a different pen name for each genre. (I use L.S. Randolph for horror, for example).

Authors sometimes have great difficulty selling a book outside of their normal genre as well. The perception is that readers won't buy a mystery novel from "that SciFi guy". I've only seen it once, but large publishers and two agents I've spoken to say they see it all the time.

Genres also come with stereotypes that aren't always false. For example, Science Fiction space novels (especially Space Opera), are often considered trashy or cliche paperback books by people who don't read them. That's partially thanks to the old science fiction publishers from the 50's to 80's who would pay writers to churn out books that fit that stereotype perfectly. Readers who purchase the wrong Space Opera novels can end up with over used plots and cardboard characters. The same goes for romance, the noir subgenre of mystery or practically any other genre where a number of publishers have found what they think "delivers on reader's expectations." I cringe at the term. If that's all I was here for, I may as well have stayed in customer service, answering phones for a great big company who didn't much care about doing more than they had to in order to "deliver on customer's expectations." It paid better.

Here's what I had to say about my current place on genre writing:

I have at least a fair understanding of how common cliché's in genre fiction are. The bulk of my work over the last twenty months has been in the science fiction sub-genre of Space Opera.

I see the genre bracketing as a challenge, however, and strive to create an experience for my readers that includes creative takes on what may have been done before, something that hasn't been done before, while giving them POV characters that they can relate to on some level and are on believable, emotional journeys. It's not easy, but it's a pretty enjoyable task when things start going right.

The genre gives me a default audience, which is both a blessing and a curse. I've been at the top of Mobipocket's science fiction listing for nearly a year and that gives my new releases a boost, but crossing genres is still difficult if you're not in the general top 10 category wide. I love SciFi fans, especially my readers, but I get a special charge when someone who doesn't read SciFi enjoys my work.

I have more to say on this topic, so I'll blog about it on my own space and not take up more of yours!

Thanks for bringing this topic up K.M. Weiland... just look what you did... *wink

--- End Comment

To expand on that a little, I have to add that I self publish. Now I self publish by choice, having turned down at least one very real, very bad publisher's offer. I'm not interested in my Spinward Fringe series being boiled down for a broader audience. I'm not interested in writing by formula so everything I do simply "delivers on reader expectations". In case you were wondering, the publisher who made the offer wanted a formula Space Opera, they went as far as to come out and say so. Like I stated above, I want to push. I want to try new ideas, new writing styles, new characters with new voices and I want to surprise my readers with something they don't expect.

That's where genres hurt us, they make it easier for readers to walk on by a whole section of the brick and mortar or online book store when their next great adventure or drama could be somewhere in the middle. They could be missing out, because within every genre there is a gem for everyone.

Reader reviews are the best guide in my opinion. When I'm looking for a new read, especially in a genre I don't normally shop in, I look at the user reviews first. When I see someone say; "I don't normally read this genre, but this book was fantastic," I know the book is worth a closer look.


Thanks for opening that can of worms K.M.Weiland, it was a bit of fun!

[Does making books easier to find make up for the genre stereotypes?]

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