G is for Genre

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Letter gFirst 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.

Popular

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.

Ticking ClockAnother 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?

Fiction

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.

Creativity

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.

What was the question?

Who cares?

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.

Money

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.

cash-money.jpgShoo 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.

Genre Jumping

Red Dwyer's BooksHopping 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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28 Comments

  1. I feel like YA and chick lit aren’t the only cases of being more of an audience than a genre. Who really cares about Fantasy? The audience for it, plus the people who don’t want to be that audience. Genres aren’t very useful things beyond assisting enthusiasts to try more things they might like. As gates, they’re often shameful.

    from John at The Bathroom Monologues
    John Wiswell recently posted..‘G’ is for ‘Golems.’My Profile

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    • Nice of you to drop by, John. Indeed, they are shameful. I think my favorite novels have all straddled at least three traditional genres. I tend not to search for books by genre beyond fiction. I want to flip open covers… especially of the plain wrapper kind. 😉

      Reply
  2. I definitely think the registrations need an update! I was horrified. How can readers and libraries find the books they want to buy/shelve? I am a genre jumper, with memoir, poetry, and flash fiction under my belt so far.
    Gail Thornton recently posted..EnergizedMy Profile

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    • I have been looking at the list and agonizing over the placement of some of our books. As with anything else, I would hope consumers will steer the community. Based on some practices now, I think it may already be afoot. xxx

      Reply
  3. Reading: It always annoys me that fantasy is kept under science fiction.

    I haven’t written a book yet, so can’t comment on the rest.
    Alexandra Heep recently posted..Power OutageMy Profile

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  4. So I guess there’s no hope for a Wombie genre, then. Most of what I read is NF. I have read a lot of comic strip collections (not comic books). Lately I’ve been mostly reading the Internet. I guess that’s not a genre either.
    Binky recently posted..Life’s ExpectationsMy Profile

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    • I think our discussion tomorrow may have us all wondering why we bother… again.

      Reply
  5. As a reader, I don’t worry about genre. I pick what interests me. Sometimes a title comes highly recommended by a friend, or from a book review. If it grabs my attention, I’m next in line at the used book store.

    On the other hand, yes, genre is becoming rather confusing, in my case most likely because I haven’t paid an particular attention to specifics.

    I’m loving this A – Z challenge. A perfect theme.
    Tess Kann recently posted..Sunday Snippets Blog HopMy Profile

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    • I was never much of a genre follower. I tend to like something or not. When I like, I read more of the same or similar authors. The newness wears off, and I go somewhere else. xxx

      Reply
  6. I must admit I, too am a genre jumper. From Morgidoo’s Christmas Carol (an ageless Christmas classic) to “historical fiction” of The Fires of Waterland” with some adult content was a quantum leap and neither of the classifications feels totally accurate. The classification system in use is a dinosaur and badly needs to be redesigned. There is clearly genre-jumping within individual works.
    raymond alexander kukkee recently posted..A-Z Challenge: G is for GoldMy Profile

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    • My biggest hangup is you may only choose two, and the retailers are not all equipped to search two deep. Meh. Progress.

      Reply
  7. I don’t read by genre either, but by what interests me. So I have read many genres without even considering the genre.

    It’s probably safe to say I couldn’t even pick what genre any book is from, I am that oblivious to it.

    And after saying genre so many times, I am having a difficult time saying it correctly. 🙂
    C. Brown recently posted..Portals Worth TakingMy Profile

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    • LOL! I think most of us read according to recommendation and then based on our comfort level from there. I even ignore the genre signs in the bookstore…much in the same way I ignore them in department stores. xxx

      Reply
  8. I genre jump as a reader, constantly and in huge leaps and bounds. What annoys me most if I am shopping in a a brick and mortar store for books is the placement of said books on the shelf.

    Should the genre be re-thought, expanded? Yes, absolutely it should. This should be done not just for authors and books to better categorized in stores and on-line but for readers as well.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..Overrated, Certainly NotMy Profile

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    • Truly, the retailers are convinced it is the be all end all and everyone who reads so much as the back of a cereal box should understand it and use the system. Online retailers are better about it, but not by much.

      Reply
  9. I’m a Science Fiction freak through and through having read all my local libraries science fiction books by the age of sixteen before descending on the local second hand book stall at the market! 🙂

    For me it was the escape from an unlivable life to places far, far away! 🙂

    I have to admit that the classification system needs updating – everything changes, even genre!

    Love and hugs!

    Prenin.
    Prenin recently posted..Monday – A trip to the Co-Op.My Profile

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    • I agree entirely. Even yours was not so clear cut. Books are always a way to escape to somewhere else.

      Reply
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