*Apologies to Tom for putting this up so late. I can’t even say I wasn’t awake, but for medication reasons I still haven’t had coffee, and I’m prone to just sit and derp without it.*
A Genre by any other name
By Tom Knighton
Tell someone that you’re writing or have written a novel, they’re likely to ask “What genre?” Well, unless you’re dealing with someone like the Books-A-Million employee who responded to a question about novels with, “What? You mean, like, fiction?” They don’t count. Most people know novel equals fiction, and fiction is cut up into genres.
The idea of grouping books into genres is a marketing tool. People who like books about going into space and battling aliens may not be the same people who are interested in a sweet love story about a woman and her probation officer, so they group books together to make it easier for readers to find the kinds of books they want.
However, even this doesn’t always work.
Recently, I got a review on one of my post-apocalyptic stories claiming that I was trying to cash in on the prepper subculture with my story. He made a claim about something in the book being implausible that, well, I’ve done a few times so I know it’s plausible.
So what happened?
Genres are, for good reason, pretty broad. There’s a reason that Alas, Babylon and The Earth Abides are in the same genre with Starship Troopers and 2001: A Space Odyssey. They all deal with fiction where scientific things play a key role.
However, things get dicey when readers get their own opinions of what a genre, or a subgenre, actually should entail. In my own example, I apparently had a reader who figures indie published “post-apocalyptic” to mean “prepper” fiction. As such, he read the story through that lens, and was disappointed. Rather than read about the character throwing the canned goods in the average American household in the pack (which isn’t that much food, really), he may have figured his own well stocked pantry, hence his assumption that walking afterwards was implausible.
Now, before anyone assumes I’m bellyaching about this review, I’m not. It pointed out my own failings in writing the story, namely that I wasn’t more specific as to the quantities involved here. I’ll take that hit and learn from it.
What I’m doing, however, is pointing out how a reader’s assumptions must also factor into how an indie writer markets their work.
If your readers believe that thrillers always have what one author refers to as “manly men doing manly things in manly ways” and you introduce a female protagonist, you’re going to have some difficulties with these readers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. In fact, I have a cousin with a book in the works right now that does just that…and it sounds AWESOME! She’s like the anti-James Bond, but in meaningful ways. Not a whiff of SJW-dom in it when he and I chatted about it.
The difference is, my assumptions for the genre are very different than those belonging to some other people. Theoretically. (No, I don’t know anyone who classifies any genre in such a way.)
As indies, there will be some assumptions to be made regardless of genre. Some readers will seek out typos as proof we didn’t get editors, for one. Those are going to be there for a while, despite the fact that even the Big Five are letting through a lot of typos as well. We just have to deal with it and move on.
But we can be cognizant of their expectations. This is also why it’s important to read within your genre. How else are you going to know that genre’s conventions and clichés if you don’t actually read them?
It would be nice if there were a pile more choices available for subgenres. I’d love it if prepper fiction and post-apocalyptic were separated. We would all appreciate it if “socially conscious” science fiction wasn’t lumped in with the awesome stuff most of us grew up loving.
As a reader, I would really love this, though it wouldn’t do much for the willfully clueless.
There is one writer of certain infamy that some of you may be familiar with. He’s notorious for lashing out at his critics. I won’t mention his name, because it’s believed that uttering his name will summon him from the nine pits of hell. Or Maine. Either/or, really.
Regardless, he wrote a book about his “good girl” protagonist that sort of absorbs an entity she calls HAL. She uses the power she gains from this, which is supposedly limitless, to solve problems all over the world and stuff.
Most here see this description and see it as science fiction. I know I do. A number of other people as well. A few others have argued it could qualify as young adult due to the protagonist being an 18 year old female. A case could be made for it being a kid’s book due to the writing style.
Nope. This author slapped his book down as women’s lit.
Yeah…let that sink in for a bit.
His argument is that because she’s a woman, it’s women’s lit. Of course, he also argues that his book is sooooooo much more different than anything that’s ever been published before that it defies genre or something, but anyways. He’s ignored any advice to the contrary.
What we have is a book that meets the conventions from one genre slapped down into a completely unrelated genre. Even if he’d written one of the greatest books in history (and trust me, he didn’t. Not even close), no one would bother. Would you read a book plopped down in a genre it didn’t belong in if you weren’t into that kind of book?
For the willfully clueless, there’s no amount of expansion that will do any good. This author would have still plopped his science fiction kids’ book in women’s lit no matter what. As a reader, the willfully clueless will always be a problem. They drop whatever they want, wherever they want, and we’re expected to like it.
Luckily, they’re the minority. Most of the time, it’s just a misunderstanding between what two people think a genre entails. If I weren’t such a libertarian, I’d say that there ought to be a law. Of course, then we know things would get screwed up. Nothing gets so messed up as when the government gets involved.