Genres (and why we write them)

Recently, I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel on genres and the expectations that are placed on novels based on how they’re categorized. The recording of the panel will be available during Virtual FantasyCon 2016, but it certainly got me thinking about writing, and writing’s evil twin–marketing. Part of the reason books are categorized into genres, after all, is to help readers find books they’d like to read.

Since there are so many authors writing so many genres, I thought I would open up this blog to other writers over the summer to talk about what drew them to their genres, and what challenges they have found came about because of the genres they chose. So for every Sunday through the rest of the summer, there will be guest blogs from everyone from high fantasy to cozy mystery writers talking about their experiences in the “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series. To start off, though, you all get to hear mine.

When I started out writing, I never much thought about how my stories would be marketed. There is an old piece of writing advice that says, “Write the stories you’d like to read.” Even before someone had shared that with me, writing things I wanted to read was entirely my approach. These days,  I still write what I want to read, but that can definitely make marketing a little more difficult–especially because readers of different genres have very different expectations. The Copper Rebellion

As a whole, I’ve always been a very character-driven author. How characters play off of each other has always been what I find most interesting. I imagine that is why I started off as a romance author. Since romances are entirely focused on the couple falling in/being in love, the plot is character-driven by necessity. Of course, romances also tend to follow a very specific formula. Namely 1) Love interests are introduced; 2) there is some problem that keeps them apart; 3) Love interests end up together. There are hundreds of good ways to use that formula (as a romance reader as well, I’ve seen many unique plot twists and turns that still end up following the same general formula) but since I’ve always been the type to let my characters lead where they wish, fitting into that formula to be a “true” Romance writer was never my strong suit. Some people have loved that, some people hate it, and it definitely can make marketing a little hairy at time–since straying away from what readers expect from their Romance novels can be dangerous–but they were always the books wanted to read, and that meant straying to the edges of the genre.

Raining EmbersNow that I’ve moved into the historical fantasy genre, I’ve found that being at edges of genres is apparently my modus operandi. While I certainly have the fantasy part down in my novels–people finding out they’re reincarnated gods really can’t be anything but fantasy–writing what I want to read still means character-driven plots, and that isn’t quite as expected in fantasy novels as it is in romance. One of the oddest things I’ve found of straying into character-driven fantasy so far is actually that a ton of people who state they “don’t generally like fantasy” love the book. Much like the romance readers who don’t like my straying away from the romance formula, however, many pure fantasy readers end up on the other side of things, unsure if they feel like they got what they thought they were going to.

Treading along the edges of genres can definitely make life difficult. More than once while reading meaner reviews, I’ve debated if it would be worth it to write something that would fit inside genre expectations. I entirely understand why people like the genres they do and don’t begrudge anyone who feels let down when a book they’re excited about doesn’t hit the things they love about the genres they read–I certainly know I don’t love every book I pick up. Being able to hit expectations more solidly would definitely make the marketing side of things less of a headache. But then I’d no longer be writing what I’d want to read, and being able to do that is part of what makes writing so much fun. So for now I’m left skirting along the edges of my genres, finding readers who want to read the same things I do, because they’re obviously out there, even if genre-bending makes targeted marketing a little more difficult than it otherwise could be.

One thought on “Genres (and why we write them)

  1. historewriter says:

    *sigh* Folks asking what genre I write in paralyzes me about as much as “What is your book about?” “Well, it. . .” –then the answer generally deteriorates from there and there’s no short answer and of course people lose interest.
    TECHNICALLY I’ve landed in sci-fi, though my current story has a fantasy (modernized medieval agrarian feel) setting. Only there is no magic, no supernatural–and the only sci-fi suspension of belief is that it’s an alternate-earth setting. Apart from that it’s a character-driven sort-of lit fic/sort of New Adult. Type. Thing. (Thank you, Jessica, for introducing me to the “new adult” concept.)
    But if you’re still writing your story, all you can do is go full-speed ahead; make it honest, give it some organic coherence, share some of your insight with the world. THEN deal with marketing.
    Because in my experience, you can always spot a writer hacking away to fit a niche a mile off–and their stories just aren’t as vibrant.

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