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.