The Pitfalls and Importance of Choosing a Genre
By Jayne Lockwood
Thank you to my hosts for allowing me to take over their page for my Euphoria Blog Tour, to celebrate the publishing of my latest novel, Euphoria.
First off, it was never my intention to write a science fiction or fantasy novel. Neither are genres I gravitate towards. I’m more of a psycho-thriller/horror/romance kind of reader. (Not necessarily all at once, but sometimes.) I suppose the book started with a comment I read on social media about tentacles and how it’s a Thing. So I asked myself, why is it a Thing? And the question after that was, could I write about tentacles and make it worth reading?
There are plenty of tentacly stories out there if you know where to look for them. Most of them are frankly pornographic. Great if you’re into it but I’m not and could never pretend to be (even for the money.) However, I began thinking about how to make a character with tentacles viable, and from that, the story of Vardam was born.
Somewhat speedily, things began to fall into place. I was surprised by the way the story seemed to develop and even now I don’t fully understand how, so you’ll get no sage words of authory wisdom. It kind of just, uh, happened. It was an experiment really, not meant for anyone else to see. When you write just for the hell of it, the results can be surprising. After all, rules can be broken, and there is no pressure to confirm to tropes or genres or marketable industry standards. It’s a really freeing experience, as I found out, and can yield surprising results.
The next issue is what to do if you end up with a book that has potential, as I did (according to a friend, so I went with it…) Probably the most important question you will be asked by potential traditional publishers, or by KDP or Ingram for self-publishers, is this.
What’s the genre?
I’ve fallen foul of this over and over again. The response, “uh, sort of romance, suspense, noir type thing,” or in Euphoria’s case, “I think it’s sci-fi,” doesn’t cut it. You need to know your genre in order to approach the right agents and publishers, and also to ensure you reach the right group of readers if you self-publish.
There’s nothing like giving a sweet romance reader heart failure if they’ve just bought a book about tentacle sex and male pregnancy. And it could result in some stinking reviews. Ergo, it isn’t worth the risk.
I don’t like hemming myself in by saying (to myself) “I’m going to write a romance,” because invariably, the lines do get blurred. And sometimes it’s scary to commit your book to a particular genre if you’re really not sure whether it fits. Sometimes it won’t. You have to pick the genre it fits best into and start from there. After all, for self-publishers at least, you can change it further down the line once you start getting feedback.
The most obvious thing to do is ask ARC readers and beta readers because they can know better than you do. It is how Euphoria came to be a Dystopian fantasy, rather than pure science fiction, as I would originally have labelled it. (Confession time: I had to look up the definition of Dystopian.) This is because there aren’t spaceships, or worlds not of our own, apart from references to the planet Var, which has already been destroyed. Instead there are elements of shape-shifting, of mpreg (male pregnancy,) of romance and corporate intrigue. NB: All these things had arisen during the creation of the book. They weren’t a to-do list that I was ticking off during the creation process.
Another naturally occurring theme was Vardam’s nonbinary status. Over the years my writing has evolved to be more inclusive of diverse genders and sexuality, and as a result, a whole new range of creative possibilities has opened up. However, labelling a book as LGBT is in danger of limiting its mainstream appeal. My opinion is that it shouldn’t, and if more authors wrote characters who are than just male/female and straight, then LGBT books would become mainstream by osmosis. I’d like to be part of that process, to normalise differing genders and sexuality so it doesn’t become something to gasp over or for various reasons, avoid.
In the end, choosing a genre is all about research. Because so many books push boundaries and mix genres, a writer has to work quite hard to get it right before publishing or submitting to agents. If an agent doesn’t think your work fits their client base, they will tell you, but by then you could have lost weeks whilst waiting for a response. If your self-published novel is in completely the wrong category, the response will be tetchy reviews or no sales at all. Looking at other books which you think maybe similar to yours does help to steer you in the right direction. I’m still learning which each book I write, and it isn’t an exact science. The essential things to remember are focussed marketing, targeting the right people and needing a big fat dose of luck.
Do you agree with the above or has your experience been different? Let’s hear your best genre-choosing tips and disasters.