What Kind of Book is This?

 In 1977, Elmore Leonard wrote Touch, a story about a stigmatic healer. Even though he’d already developed a name for himself, he received more than a dozen rejection letters. His publishers finally accepted the book in 1978, but were not very enthusiastic about it and kept postponing publication. In 1982 Leonard took back his rights, and five years later he found another publisher for the work.

In the introduction to the book, Leonard wrote: “If the author isn’t well known, or if the publisher isn’t able to label the book, place it in a recognized genre, he’s got a marketing problem, or so they tell me. It seemed easier in the past to try to sell me as some distinguished though deceased writer’s second coming rather than simply as me. But Touch refused even to be categorized.”

Many of us trying to be published have the same problem: we simply wrote our books as they demanded to be written, and they do not fit into a recognized category. As one editor wrote me when rejecting Light Bringer: “It is a very original concept and the writing is good, but I’m not sure where on the shelves this story would appear. Is it science fiction? Thriller? What?”

I thought I had answered that question when I called it a psychological thriller. It’s not really thrilling since there are no chases, no fights, no violence, but it is psychological in that the story is about a search for identity.

I suppose the alien baby and the bug man make it seem like science fiction, but no science fiction fan would recognize it as such. It takes place is today’s world, and if it weren’t for those two little oddities, the work would be considered a psychological thriller, or a mystery, or perhaps historical fiction if one accepts as true the Sumerian’s belief in a twelfth major heavenly body in our solar system.

Although I do understand that it’s important to know where on a bookstore’s shelves a book would fit, I do not see it as a reason not to publish it. Listed in blog categories is one called “uncategorized.” Why can’t there be a similar noncategory for books?

6 Responses to “What Kind of Book is This?”

  1. nomananisland Says:

    I don’t think it would make much sense — people would find all kinds of unrelated things in an “uncategorized” section, and eventually just think of it as a “junk drawer” — because our minds crave systems.

    It sucks — especially when something is worth reading. Your book could go in either the fantasy or the science fiction section, however. Robert Heinlein wrote a lot of short stories that were similar to yours (real life with a twist) and they were put in one of those two categories, while his novels were all mostly sci-fi, being explicitly about the future.

    Not very helpful that there aren’t broader categories, however — as you’ll see in my book. It’s not quite fantasy, not scientific at all (though eventually it takes place in the future) and has a little mystery, some religion, adventure and real life. If you’re in trouble, I’m in over my head.

  2. Bertram Says:

    A “junk drawer” doesn’t sound all that bad to me. Before paperback sections in grocery stores became a visual bestseller list, they were a hodgepodge of different kinds of books. I used to find novels that were not available elsewhere, including many that defied genre categorization.

  3. nomananisland Says:

    Sometimes there’s that joy of discovery. But I find that, when I visit a bookstore, I skip right past the assorted tables at the front, with their hodgepodge of mixed books. I have no idea what I’m looking AT so I can’t really find what I’m looking FOR. I think the average reader wants categories.

    But some good authors defy categorization. A friend of mine lent me a few by Guy Gavriel Kay, and there’s a blend of fantasy, history, and real-life. Stephen King puts out a plethora of crappy to good horror, but his best stuff is in The Dark Tower, which is a fantasy, adventure, sci-fi blend, or in his novellas like Shawshank Redemption, The Body, and others, and they have nothing to do with horror.

    So it’s possible to make it without an easy category, I guess. It’s just harder to market. The internet actually makes that easier — follow this link, it explains what I mean.


  4. Suzanne Francis Says:

    You could call it speculative fiction. I like that term. Less specific than science fiction, but more general than just “fiction.”

  5. Bertram Says:

    Suzanne, perfect! I’m glad you didn’t consider my title a rhetorical question, because speculative fiction is a great category for Light Bringer.

  6. Bertram Says:

    nomananisland: I suppose even with the internet that categories are necessary. Your comment about assorted tables — that you don’t know what you’re looking AT so you can’t really find what you’re looking for — would pertain to the internet, too.

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