by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
Genre is often a hot topic of discussion in the writing world, and new writers particularly wonder how much does genre matter?
So that leads to the question of how much (if at all) genre actually matters.
It’s a quick way of defining what kind of reading experience someone can expect from a particular book. Fans of certain genres have definite expectations of what they do and don’t want to see in the kind of story they love.
“That’s so LIMITING!” someone might protest. “That’s like saying you can build whatever style of house you want as long as it’s exactly 1357 square feet and has three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and living room. Where’s the creative freedom?”
“That’s so FREEING!” someone else might exult. “As long as I plant enough clues that readers could solve the mystery, and show the good guys hauling the bad guys off to face justice in the final chapter, I can do anything I want with this story.”
Both points are valid. And a lot of writers’ feelings about genre are based on their reason for writing in the first place.
There’s sure no One Right Answer to that question – although, since genre is only an issue for writers who intend to publish, let’s change the question to “Why are we writing for publication?”
For some of those desires, writing within a specific genre will make life easier. For others, harder. Which makes it important to consider the question...
Genre fiction is, by and large, easier to sell. Romance has been the top-selling genre for decades, with readers loyally buying every single book their favorite authors release. Mystery is the next highest, and science fiction/fantasy does extremely well, too. While any of those categories could easily contain truly innovative themes, they’re still considered genre fiction because, by and large, readers appreciate knowing:
And so on.
That holds true for literary fiction, as well. When readers pick up a book reviewed by The New York Times, they can feel pretty certain that their thinking will be challenged or deepened. If the book simply offers the same kind of traditional satisfaction they expect from a romance or mystery or SFF, they’re going to feel cheated.
And it’s the other way around for genre readers. If the romantic couple doesn’t live happily ever after, or if the murderer kills not only the hostages but the entire police force, THEY’RE going to feel cheated.
It might. If you want quicker, easier sales and likely higher profits, it probably should. But if that’s not part of your aim in writing, there’s no reason you need to fit into any genre -- you can tell any kind of story you feel like telling, and feel satisfied with having expressed yourself in a book that readers who love it will remember fondly for a long time. (And, heck, you never know: you could also wind up on the NYT bestseller list!)
But let’s say that for now, you’re more interested in delivering a story that readers will feel confident about buying because they know what kind of experience they can expect.
Genre highlights can be a powerful tool. So can plot and character, which are the other two elements of your Story Braid. In fact, someone who answers the question below will win free registration to a class on that very topic.
Your Plot Character Genre Braid will be taught via email from September 5-30, going over how to integrate all three elements (plot, character, and genre) for a story that stays strong from beginning to end.
Which leads to our prize-drawing question...
Are they the same? Are they different? Of course they’ve changed since you first started reading children’s books way-back-when, but what’s your latest favorite for reading and/or writing?
Mention either or both -- it’s fine to use conventional labels like “cozy mystery” or “erotic fantasy” and it’s also fine to mention something more specialized. Just think about what you love to (at least sometimes) write and/or read!
Other Offer: if you’d like a Zoom class on “Keeping the Writing Fire Lit,” that’s free for anyone who makes ANY size donation of time or money to ANY charity (not their usual) they feel like God has in mind. It’ll be held next Saturday, August 27, from 12-1pm Eastern Time and you can register here.
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Laurie Schnebly Campbell (BookLaurie.com) always loves creating a class, so when a writer asked about “braiding” she was delighted at the chance to explore an untouched subject. Although she enjoyed braiding her own books, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year,” she enjoys teaching even more. That’s why she now has 52 first-sale novels on her bookshelf from authors inspired by her classes.
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