First question after you say, “I’m an author,” is invariably, “Oh, what do you write?” If you are a complete smart Aleck, “Words” is the first thing to come out of your mouth. If not, you are likely to supply a genre.
Despite advanced browsing techniques supported by retailers, there are only 85 official genres recognized by Bowker, the US registrar of ISBN. Does that seem like a lot? Perhaps, you should look at what they are.
Trends are not represented well on the genre list. Off the top of your head you can likely come up with at least three types of books you have read in the last year which really do not fall into one category. Worse, you can probably name at least one which falls badly into a genre.
A prime example grew in the 1980s: DIY. You could be a wise guy and call home repair Self Help Techniques, but your fellow authors would laugh and point. The correct registration genre is Architecture.
Another timeless book is the memoir. Do not give yourself a headache looking for it. It is not there. Although Biography has expanded to include autobiography, writing about yourself until you are famous (or hated) enough for someone else to write about you is still looked at with a squint by librarians at all levels.
Writing children’s books? Best make them make-believe. There is no classification for a children’s book about life. No designation for how to tie your shoes, how to learn to use the potty or how to eat with a fork. What do children need to learn for anyway?
Good luck trying to classify your zombie detective or your vampire spy or your erotic space captain novel. If your book is more complicated than that, hang it up. Two classifications go with each ISBN.
In order, the choices would be Horror/Mystery and Detective, Fantasy/Espionage, and Science Fiction/Erotica. You have to decide which one is the predominant characteristic because many search engines for book stores and libraries only use the first genre.
Is YA your game? The only people who care are the ones who buy it. Young Adult is not a genre. It is an audience. Same goes for chick lit, books for boys and coming of age novels.
And you thought the Dewey Decimal system was whacked. Dewey may have known something about linear numbers and curvy artists.
The short form is authors are creative. Whether their books are about how to overcome toenail biting or a fictional crime novel, authors are not going to line up into neat categories to make an accountant’s or librarian’s life easier. Inevitably, the classification of genre is only to suit the sellers who could care less what books populate their shelves insofar as they have a requisite number of copies to fill certain shelves they designate by genre.
Readers care. Just like the person who wanted to know what you write, your readers are interested in the genre first, your plot next and you a distant… something after second.
To make hay with a genre, cultivating readers in said genre is a must. If you write historical fiction, grabbing a readers group in your era is a quick way to make friends with buyers and reviewers.
Reviewers are a different class of reader. While they are unlikely customers, they will provide an invitation for other potential readers to become buyers the moment a review of your book goes live.
Authors in your genre can give you specific directions on gold mines where they have found veins of readers. Inject yourself accordingly.
Shoo the moths out of your wallet and join a professional organization for your genre. Societies exist for nearly every genre, sub-genre and sub-sub-sub-genre you can possibly concoct. This will open doors for book conventions, signings and other functions to broadcast your title to potential readers.
Visit the blogs of others in your niche. Bloggers, especially those who are not authors, love to entertain authors in their genre. Search for “blogs+(genre)” for an entire palette of choices.
Run an ad in a magazine which caters to your genre. Your book on vintage motorcycles would grab the eyes of potential readers in a motorcycle magazine. After all, you know they can read.
Hopping from subject to subject can be difficult to market because each genre has a following which may just not like your other genres. Genre jumping is the UFC of authorship, definitely not for the faint of heart or those who tire easily. Its main drawback is the opinion of readers.
After years of seeing authors primarily stick to one recipe (Stephen King, Anne Rice, Jackie Collins), seeing an author who wields different swords gives a knee-jerk reaction: If they were any good, they would stick with what works. (Refer back to the section on Creativity.)
The benefit of genre jumping is the freedom to write on more than one subject, in more than one treatment and all without the audience having the power to pigeonhole you more than you initially want to allow.
When done well, jumping is rewarding. When done poorly, genre jumping is a death blow to an otherwise healthy career. Use caution to produce books of equal calibre, regardless of genre.
What is your favorite genre to read and to write? Do you genre jump? (Why/not?) Do you think the registration genres could use an update?
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