In S2 Episode 22 Kel and Pam chat about the issue of genre in fiction – why it matters and what you need to know from a writing and marketing perspective. The issue came up as part of a discussion on Pam’s writing journey as she transitions from writing rural romance into the wider world of contemporary women’s fiction. You can read more about Pam’s story here.
And here are the top them takeaways from our Episode 22 discussion.
- What is genre anyway? The term genre in the literary world refers to categories of writing other than literary fiction. Lit Fic novels tend to be highly thematic, character driven novels, sometimes abstract, in which the writing itself is often the feature rather than the story. They are sometimes light on plot (but not always) and are the books that are nominated for awards like the Mann-Booker and Miles Franklin. They often take the author many years to write and publishers like to have a stable of literary authors who may be eligible to win some of the more prestigious awards. Genre novels are commercial fiction novels that often sell in high numbers and keep the wheels of the publishing houses turning.
- Popular Genres include crime fiction, thrillers (closely related to crime), romance (and its various sub-genres like rural romance, erotica, sweet, romantic suspense and others), science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction and contemporary women’s fiction (stories about women and relationships but not necessarily romance). Readers of each of these genres are generally highly devoted and read widely within the genre or have particular authors they follow.
- Genre fiction is sometimes seen as the poor relation of literary fiction. Sad but true. In some publishing circles there is a hierarchy which has literary fiction up on a pedestal and everything else below it in whatever order the particular critic/reader/publisher considers fit. This attitude values one type of writing over another and fails to recognise that there are millions of readers out there and not everyone wants to read the same thing. Many readers want to escape when they read, they want to turn the page and get completely absorbed in the story. Some readers will ONLY read books within a certain genre while others are eclectic and appreciate different types of writing at different times. If you are a genre writer don’t let the snobbery get to you. Be loud and proud of the genre you write in and remember to support writers you love by reviewing their books and sharing their social media posts.
- Knowing the conventions of the genre you write in is crucial if you want to create a readership. Readers of romance novels for example will always expect a happily ever after ending. Fantasy has certain conventions as do crime and thriller novels. Read widely in the genre you are writing in so you can learn the conventions and then subvert them if you wish.
- Genre is a useful marketing tool. If you look on bookstore shelves you’ll see certain categories of covers – grey-black with orange print is currently popular for thrillers, a woman on a horse with an akubra identifies rural romance, intricately wrought letting and mysterious images often adorn the covers of fantasy novels. Using these familiar images is the publisher’s way of helping the reader identify your book and place it within its genre. It’s a win win for reader and author.
- Your branding as an author will be connected to your genre. Take a look at the websites of a few of your favourite authors. The genre they write in will often be reflected in the look of their website – the colours and images used and the overall feel of their online marketplace. Your brand as an author is the perception readers have of who you are and what you write so it’s wise to take some time to think about this and make sure it comes across clearly.
- Publishers often look for trending genres. Remember The Girl On The Train and Fifty Shades Of Grey? Titles like these that fly off the bookstore shelves often send publishers into a frenzy, searching for the next big similar thing. If you write in a genre that is currently popular go for it and put yourself out there but remember trends come and go. This time next year a different type of book will be on the best seller list and it might take you that long to write yours and start submitting it, by which time your once trending title will be old news. This is why it’s a good idea to write what you truly want to write and then try to find a home for it, once it’s been well and truly revised.
- Switching genres can be tricky. When a publisher signs you for a book they’re pretty much signing you to write in that genre, the reason being this is the genre your readers will get to know and – hopefully – love when they see your name on a cover. The problem with this is that as writers we often have a whole lot of different ideas and sometimes we like to write in different genres. Some authors get around this issue by using a pseudonym – Nora Roberts also writes as J.D. Robb, J. K. Rowling also writes as Robert Galbraith. For us mere mortals one way around it is to self publish in a different genre, either under the same name or another.
- Writing in a variety of genres is possible. Many authors find their genre and stick to it but for others there is that desire to branch out and while it is tricky (see above) it’s not impossible. Apart from the above examples a number of Australian authors write in numerous genres. Rachael Johns writes straight romance, rural romance and women’s fiction (or lifelit) and has all of these represented on her website. Fiona Palmer writes rural romance, YA and women’s fiction. Fiona Mcintosh has written fantasy and now writes historical women’s fiction. Kate Forsyth writes fantasy and historical fiction for both adults and children. And these are just a few examples.
- The bottom line is write what you love. This has already been said but can’t be said enough. If you write from the heart and write what you love, if you work hard and continue to learn and improve your craft, and if your make time time and effort to learn about the ins and outs of the publishing industry you have a good chance of one day being published. It’s not easy but if it’s your passion you need to pursue it because it’s what you love. Connect with other writers, keep writing and enjoy the journey – on one genre or many.
That’s it for the wrap up. We’d love to hear your thoughts on genre writing either in the comments or on our Facebook page.
As regular listeners may know Kel and Pam are both proud advocates for Room To Read and in Season 1 Episode 22 we chatted to RTR Writer Ambassador Susanne Gervay about the 2018 World Change Challenge.
Originally conceived by author Tristan Bancks in 2012, the Challenge aims to raise funds to help build libraries, support girl’s education and aid literacy programs in developing countries.
This year, with so much talk about equality for women, the time is right to focus on Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program which empowers girls through education and helps them navigate life’s tough decisions.
It costs just $365 for Room to Read to support a girl through the Girls’ Education Program for a year.
To achieve the goals of the World Change Challenge we need 50 schools to support 50 girls for a year. This brief RtR blog will help you understand the key milestones achieved since this program launched in Nepal in2001. So far more than 50,000 girls have benefited.
If you have a child at school why not ask your school community to take part in the challenge and help educate 50 girls for a year?
Please share this link with anyone who would like to make a donation to Room to Read: https://give.roomtoread.org/team/155100 and help change the world with the gift of education.
The moment I realised I was just another white writer perpetuating the race problem.
By Kel Butler
I have always considered myself a fairly socially progressive, equal minded individual, sensitive to minority issues across the many spectrums. I know that I am a cavernous pit of ignorance BUT I always held myself with a quiet self satisfied confidence that I was on the right side when it came to representing, respecting and supporting minorities (and their voices) in the right way.
Recently those arrogant beliefs where shattered within me by a mirror reflecting a blindingly disappointing picture…and I am ashamed. I really am because the lessons that mirror held in the form of Winnie Dunn, I should’ve already known and were I truly looking to represent minority voices and diverse stories in the right way, I would’ve seen. But it wasn’t until I interviewed Winnie, Manager of Sweatshop, for the Writes4Women podcast, that I learnt the truth. What I had done, what I had written in my first book, was a part of the overarching problem of race in literature. I was just like every other white writer out there using someone else’s cultural story to their own end.
You see in my first book one of my 2 key characters is meant to be Nepalese living in Australia, having escaped a sex trafficking ring disguised and functioning as a cult, many years before. This idea sprung up from a lot of the reading and research that came from my support of Room to Read. My book is about female empowerment and I wanted to show different forms of patriarchal cages that these women had to break free from. One box involved religion and sexual imprisonment and the other involved domestic and sexual violence.
In doing so I chose to draw from the research and reading I had done instead of my everyday life, to create a character steeped in a religion and culture I know little about. I now understand that I have no real right to do this. Not if I want to be true to my mission of promoting, amplifying and uplifting minority voices in a world overflowing in white, anglo perspective.
In the interview I did with Winnie about the work she, Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Sweatshop founder) and the team are doing, I asked Winnie how she felt I should approach this character in my book. The storyline hadn’t sat right with me for months but I thought the solution was more research, that I didn’t know enough, hadn’t gone deep enough to connect with my subject. But I couldn’t be further from the issue.
The problem, the glaring problem (that I couldn’t see) was that I was writing this story and this perspective at all. When I asked Winnie what she thought she turned the question back on me, asking me to deconstruct why I was using that particular vessel to tell the story, a vessel and story other than my own and did I really need to? Was I not just perpetuating the problem of taking up the space, that a voice from that culture and background, with that story, should be filling? Was it essential to the message to tell the story in that way?
The answers to these questions were simple and quick. Yes, I was perpetuating the problem, no it wasn’t essential. And yes I was worried about being just another white voice representing white voices in a sea of white but now I realise it is ok to be a white voice. It is the colour of the sea we need to change not the colour of the voices.
I can’t change the colour of the sea of literature by writing the experiences of minorities and cultures I am not a part of. I CAN change it by uplifting and supporting and broadcasting from the highest mountains, the authors who are. Thanks to Winnie Dunn I’m starting to really understand that now. My role isn’t to change my whiteness, that’s just like a man trying to pretend he understands a woman’s view of the world, my role is to use the access my white privilege gives me to create a larger, more equal space for the minority writers who are already telling their own stories.
So I am going to rewrite my book and my character and I am happy to do it because now I can write knowing that the path I am following, I have a right to tread. It has liberated my storyline and character into a familiar space that I can write confidently, from my experience of the world and I don’t risk getting it horribly wrong, like so many others have. It has also made me question other storylines and characters in my book and I am going to get some advice on them now, rather than risk making the same mistakes.
In short it has made me ask “why,” to so many of the choices I have made in this first book and I will be asking ‘why” a lot more, in everything I do and write from now on. The biggest lesson this revelation has taught me is not to underestimate my own ignorance and to listen when people who know more than you, tell you that you’ve got it wrong.
You can hear all of this unfold in its entirety on the What’s Cool With Women (WCWW) Minisode with Winnie Dunn released on the Writes4Women podcast this week. Check it out at www.writes4women.com or subscribe in iTunes.
Please check out all of the incredible projects Sweatshop are doing, including the Diverse Women Writer’s Collective, at their website www.sweatshop.ws They will launched their book “Return of the Big Black Thing” at the Sydney Writer’s Festival on the 5th May and can be downloaded via the website along with the first part “The Big Black Thing” Follow Sweatshop on Facebook and Twitter @sweatshopws.
Finally, I must say a huge thank you to Winnie Dunn for her forthright honesty and respectful patience in our conversation. Her openness in bashing this out allowed me to see myself and humble myself without fear of ridicule or rejection and for that I am as grateful as the lessons themselves. This is how the world should work.
Listen to the next Writing episode of the Writes4Women podcast to hear Pam and Kel unpack this issue further and go deeper on the complexities within.