We writers spend a lot of time online. Facebook, twitter, forums, groups, message boards, I could go on. We debate. We talk about craft and commas and grammar and agents and publishers and eventually someone will bring up genre and everyone will silently groan because the only conversation that rivals genre is “Plotting vs. Pantsing”. Then someone will say “Why do we need genre? Why can’t we just write fiction? Why are there all these rules to my ART?” and he will adjust his monocle and twirl his cane,… oh wait, no….
And then there’s this other guy who inevitably jumps in and declares that his work is much too lit-rah-rary and even though his book has dragons AND spaceships, NO PUBLISHER WILL PUT HIM IN A BOX, DAGNABBIT.
The thing is, I sort of, kind of, totally get it. It’s constricting to say, well if you’re writing suspense you can’t spend ten pages on the description of a kitchen cabinet and all it’s contents, you just can’t (never do this anyway). It seems silly, all these little arbitrary rules that have no bearing on what we are writing, on the worlds we itch to create.
Here’s the thing, though. These rules don’t exist because of the writing. They exist because of the READING. Ultimately, we want our work to be read, not just written. To be read, it must be sold. To be sold, it must be readable to readers, NOT WRITERS.
We’re creating a product for someone.
I’ll give you a minute. I know this feels uncomfortable.
It’s so commercial! You say.
Yes. I’m sorry.
Genre is your friend, I promise. It’s here to help you. Let me explain.
Genre gives your story a framework. The very thing you loathe can be the thing that saves you (if you let it). Don’t know how to end the book? If it’s a romance, don’t even think about not getting the couple together. Make sure the hero accomplishes most of their goal. Make sure there is justice for the antagonist. In a fantasy, the world must be saved or at least saved for now (sequels sure to follow). You want to break the norms? That’s fine, but be smart and creative. Find a way to break the mold, while still maintaining reader satisfaction. Have the couple break up, but hint at a sequel. Leave the heart pounding for the next book. Make the genre work for you. You will stand out like a sunflower in a wheat field.
Genre gives you a built in audience. Whether we like it or not, readers come with preferences. Many people (non-writers) read only one kind of book. I know this because my grandmother would ONLY read Danielle Steele or Fern Michaels and, as a teenager, I would steal them. This feels foreign to writers, who are told almost daily to “read widely”. If you write high fantasy, you can market your work to “fans of Tolkien” and even George R.R. Martin. Is there anything hotter than GOT right now? You can hashtag your tweets, Instas, Facebook posts and use these popular phenomenons to your advantage.
Genre is less constricting than you think. Most people who lament genre do it because they revere the written word. They love a long winding sentence, bordering on the purple side. They enjoy a wide and colorful vocabulary and don’t want to keep their sentences short and sweet, even though their MC is being chased down a dark alley by a serial killer alien. I’m here to tell you that’s ok. I like a good sentence. I enjoy psychological depth, a clever use of language and some unique vocabulary. I also think I write suspense. The skill is in knowing how, and when, to use it. To use language to bolster a mood, or deepen a character, not to describe a fight scene or a chase sequence.
Genre sells a book. This is the biggest reason to embrace genre. It goes back to that thing you hate. We are creating a product for someone else. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you’ll find commercial “success” (whatever this means to you, but that’s a post for another day). Agents and editors pursue books of a certain genre ALL. THE. TIME. No exceptions. Is literary a genre? I think so (dodges tomatoes). They have a list that has x number of fantasy books, x number of women’s fiction, y number of domestic suspense. Domestic suspense is hot right now, they’ll float it out there: I want a DS pitch, stat. If you’re book is a wishy-washy middle ground, a romantic-urban fantasy-women’s fiction-horror-suspense hybrid, your manuscript will not get pitched. It’s that simple. Your agent (provided you get that far) will send in the sure thing because MONEY.
This is what your agent WANTS to do. Ahem, LET THEM.
So, tell me what you think. Do you agree? Does genre help or hurt the industry?
Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of the women’s fiction novel, Thought I Knew You. Her second novel Binds That Tie was released in March 2014. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life. Her latest book, The Vanishing Year is available for pre-order and will be out September 27.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like. Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.