Identifying the category of literature your book most closely aligns itself with means better chances of marketing success. I’ve seen too many authors confidently state they’ve written a great story that will appeal to many readers. Reality dictates consumers are indeed a fickle breed, so it is obviously in the author’s best interest to write with a target audience and the importance of genre in mind.
It’s common for new authors to be at once repelled and fascinated by the category under which their work in progress may or may not fall. On the one hand, your story might contain paranormal elements. Yet, you hesitate to categorize it as such. The plot could maintain a sense of mystery, but not necessarily read like a whodunit story. Perhaps various twists and turns align it with the thriller and horror genres as well.
Then one day, eureka! By reading a wide variety of genres, it becomes easier to pinpoint what each entails. While reading Denise Baer’s Net Switch, it dawned on me that I am attempting to write psychological suspense for my work in progress. Looking back on the literary short stories I penned in college, my best ones experimented with mentally unstable characters struggling to come to terms with events that have left them with a fractured notion of reality.
Which begs the question, do I know my competition? Not so much. I’m dutifully adding titles by psychological suspense and thriller authors to my TBR list. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I still feel angst over a desire to create a story capable of being hailed as contemporary fiction or literary fiction. My goal is to attract as many readers as possible and I will continue doing my genre homework.
I suppose at the end of the day and as I near the end of this post, it’s suffice to say my analytical nature often gets the best of me. My desire to write is often eclipsed by that nagging voice that tells me I can’t compete, that my words will never be enough. I’m tired of listening to that voice. I can either continue to feel overwhelmed or just get on with it. I choose the latter.
How does the notion of genre figure into the choices you make as a reader and writer? Does genre really matter?
Image Credits: The Audience by Peter Griffin and Track Running Lanes by Peter Griffin
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2012.
I agree with you. Get on with it. Do your homework, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.
Yet another great post Jeri–your blog continues to grow as a solid blog to read for those who wish to write books. As for me, when it comes to reading, I must say that genre matters. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read a book outside of my usual genres, but my favorite genres are the ones I turn to when I’m searching for a new read. For instance, I would not want to read a horror story or anything too akin to that because I scare easily and have nightmares. 🙂 However, I would read a book that has some of those elements in it if there is a good reputation with it–as far as, it has been recommended to me. Also, like with your book, when you called it psychological suspense–I am intrigued with psychological suspense very much so. If it has some horror in it, I would be ok if the story line is strong (which I suspect yours will be).
Now, I’m working on a short non-fiction book right now, and when you opened about knowing your target audience, I could say I need to do some thinking on this. I have a general idea of who my audience is, but I have not specified it to myself (hoping that make sense). This I need to do. 🙂
I really am hoping I have found my fiction niche by pursuing psychological suspense. That being said, there will be a couple of horrific moments sprinkled throughout Lost Girl Road. Time will tell. Let me know if you need help with audience analysis. I’ve taken lots of classes in that area and have incorporated it into my approach to teaching writing. Readers’ expectations definitely matter, but you still want to stay true to your own writing vision as well.
Declaring a genre for your novel presents some dilemmas, no question about it. In my debut novel, which I label a thriller, my reviews clearly show that readers seeking the thriller genre don’t countenance a less than whip cracking sendoff from word one. Reviewers who normally wouldn’t be reading a thriller but are reading mine, have no problem with a story that takes a little time to get under way. I’ll be more mindful of the expectations of thriller aficionados in my next book. If it’s labeled a thriller, it better “walk” like a thriller from the git go.
Yeah, I definitely enjoyed the simmer you allowed to build-up at the beginning of A Bridge to Treachery. Plus, reading it got me out of my usual genre stand-bys and I think all writers need to read deeply. Little by little, I’m branching out 🙂
I read somewhere that the secret of succesful contemporary authors is that they identify a category first and then proceed to write the book for it. This category should not be saturated and ideally should be underserved. What most writers (like me) do is write the book and then choose the category. This is why (the argument goes) many writers end up with books that they can’t quite place clearly into a good category, which makes their performance suffer. I don’t know if this is true, but I wonder if indeed when we write our books most of us are putting the cart in front of the oxen.
I agree. I’m 80% positive that Lost Girl Road can be marketed as psychological suspense, but I’m 100% positive that my second book will fit that niche. In the meantime, I’m hoping to produce a collection of five short stories in between novels. I hesitate to classify them as literary short stories. In any case, I’m sure I’ll be looking into it in the months ahead, making mistakes, learning as I go, and NEVER giving up.
I think you would call it analysis paralysis. I suffer from the same affliction and have come to the same conclusion… just get with it. Perfection is rarely achieved but success only happens if you take the necessary steps forward. Go for it my friend. 🙂
Great post as usual, Jeri. As a writer and reader, I think genre is important to know, but to some, they want to write for the masses. I write what I write for me. If authors wrote books primarily for the masses, I believe talented writers’ writing would decline. First and foremost, I feel you need to write with passion…and if you write in the popular genres, paranormal, fantasy, horror, then you have a greater chance of connecting with the masses.
Like you, I’m struggling with my WIP genre, too. I keep wondering what category it would fall into. There’s romance, but it’s not what many would consider part of the Romance genre (even though I’ve never read a Romance book). Then I think it might be chick-lit, but it’s not all fun and sassy (that’s what I think chick-lit books are about even though I’ve never read one). It has romance, crime, BDSM and a virtual world. I’m hoping by the end of the book, I’ll miraculously know the genre.
As a reader, there are some genres I won’t read, such as sci-fi, fantasy and horror. As popular as he is, I’ve never read a Stephen King book. It’s just not for me.
As a writer, I’ve found that several people didn’t like the darkness of my psychological thriller even though I promoted it that way. I purposely put dark, psychological suspense thriller because there is a difference. When I wrote it, I felt my audience would be mostly men–that it would appeal to them more so than women…and I was right. I think (not positive) that women don’t like that deep emotional darkness. Have I become rich off my book? No, but that wasn’t my expectation.
You’re a great writer, so get on with it and don’t let genre hold you up.
P.S. I’m glad my book shed some light on genre.
A couple of Stephen King novels that come to mind that are not horror would be “Stand By Me”, a wonderful male coming of age novel that one screenwriting maven used as a model in his two day seminar I attended years ago. A second would be “Delores Claiborne”, a disturbing story about spousal abuse with wonderful characters. Being branded as he is has helped Stephen King become an icon but has also kept readers from approaching books of his that certainly stretch across genre boundaries.
Thanks Larry. I saw both of those movies but I had no idea Stephen King wrote them. I really should pick up one of his books to read that doesn’t necessarily fall into the horror category. I appreciate the information. Have a great day!
My favorite movie The Shawshank Redemption is also based on a King novella. Another would be The Green Mile. I’m torn over King. I loved many of his works, but then others, like the Dark Tower books were really hard to get into. I’d say The Shining is probably my favorite of his. He makes a powerful statement about alcoholism in that one.
Denise, I’m with you on a lack of reading romances. I just never got the appeal, although I certainly wish I could whip out a series under that genre. I read somewhere that women over 35 writing romance are the top-sellers on Kindle. Every time I get frustrated, my husband always reminds me that I must have passion for writing or why else would I be doing it all day every day? And yes, your book along with others I’ve read in the past does make me think I am more an author who can write psychological conflicts. It’ll just be a relief to get the first book under my belt.
The “category trap” makes me crazy. A good book is likely to fall into many genres. My own work keeps stumping me on that question. In the end, I just consider what I write to be in several categories and your work will likely be that way too.
I find that reading multiple genre categories is good for me as a writer and fun for me as a reader. I love psychological suspense, classic mysteries, paranormal comedies, urban fantasy…. etc.
Let’s all step out of our boxes and read across genres!
I was never drawn very strongly to fantasy until I taught high school students. Then I gradually started to see the appeal and have since found a few authors I rather enjoy. Now that I’m trying to read and review a book a week, I find myself being much more open to reading various genres, so long as the writing shows craftmanship. I rather like it when a book review request comes in and my initial reaction is, “No way.” Then I skim the sample and start looking at the author’s social sites. More often than not, I will be won over by some quirky or downright honest aspect that comes across in their blog. Then when it comes to reviewing the book I start to think, “Well maybe.”
Hi Jeri – a little off subject here, but I really like the aspect of your blog that pulls commenters and readers of commenters towards related posts and recent posts. It’s a brilliant way to hold the attention of readers who come your way.
Thanks. That great to hear 😉 And to think, it only took a year to get things to this point…
Selecting a genre classification is a problem for many authors, I’ve noticed, plus there’s so many of them to become easily confused by, some popping up that we’ve never heard of even, but our works fitting into many, but… at the same… not quite. Some even use the main genre with something like ‘low fantasy’ attached. All very confusing. I write across genres oftentimes in the same piece, and I tend to try and choose the main classification and hope the rest is clear by the synopsis. But you might want to check out the terms ‘weird fiction’, and ‘new weird fiction’ – almost like the old ‘pulp fiction’ genre for your anthology. I mention this because I had the same dilemma with one of mine that seems to be arising for yours. I didn’t know if I should say it was literary, contemporary, sci-fi… what. ‘New weird fiction’ seems to suits it to a tee and encompasses a mish-mash of various things. Hope it helps.
I did come across the term “Weird Fiction” when I put the first chapter of my WIP into a website text analyzer and it indicated that I write like H.P. Lovecraft. I don’t think I currently veer enough in that direction to adopt that as my genre flag, but it’s definitely worth exploring. A couple of writers I’ve met recently also describe their writing as hybrid of two or three genres. I suppose my anxiety stems from the need to find comfort with one genre before touting that I’m blending genres. Thanks for the feedback 🙂
The concept of genre is important to me as a reader to guide me on what I do not want to read, rather than what I want to read. Books falling in the category of horror (a la Edgar Allan Poe or Stephan King) are strict no-nos as are erotica and hard core romance. I do trawl book reviews, before deciding to purchase a book – or not! I like your classification of your book as psychological suspense.
I am aiming for psychological suspense because I’ve always felt there is more power in what is left unsaid in a piece of writing versus what can be rendered using explicit details. However, I love writers who can capture terror and horror. I guess romance is the one genre I feel little motivation to read. Both King and Poe have written some great works, and I would never pass up the chance to read the master because of their genre label.
I think I read my first Edgar Alan Poe and Stephan King at a very young age, thanks largely to a considerable age gap between my cousin and myself – these were her books. I had nightmares that lasted several weeks and I stayed away from these authors ever since. 😎
The same thing happened to me when I saw the movie Jaws as a little girl. I couldn’t sleep and stayed up all night thinkingthe shark was going to get me 😉
I can’t believe I missed this post Jeri – it’s one of my favorite topics as you may have guessed. I also struggle with genre. Perhaps with experience one becomes more attuned to what one is writing , but the fact we are all trying to create something original muddies the waters I think. That & the fact that many writers set out with the view to write literary fiction, but the work just doesn’t quite make that cut. My first novel was like that. Once I realized that it was commercial fiction and not literary , I relaxed. Good post as always.
A.K., I’m definitely somewhere between literary fiction and commercial fiction with my current draft. I guess time will tell which way it leans when I finally start revising the entire book.