Becoming My Own Genre

Libraries and bookstores used to be set up with a mystery section, a romance section, a science fiction section, and then all the rest of the novels. That’s what mine are — “one of all the rest”. Though that isn’t a genre. Drats.

When did we become so concerned with genre? When independent publishing houses were bought out by the conglomerates? It makes sense — because of my efforts at trying to promote my still-soon-to-be released novels (“soon” is sometime in January now), I’m becoming aware of how difficult it is to get people to notice a “one of all the rest” novel. Most people seem to stick with a reading a certain type of book, and they have certain expectations. Romance readers expect the romantic couple in a romance novel to have romantic conflicts, romantic interludes, and romantic delays until the final romantic finish. If any of their expectations are not met, they will hate the book even if it is spectacular.

I understand this; it happens to me with movies. If a certain movie is advertised as a comedy (Working Girl, for example) and it isn’t comedic all the way through, I hate it because my expectations have not been met. Later, if I watch that same movie without any preconceived notions, I might like it, seeing it (again, like Working Girl) as a drama with comedic moments. But how many people reread a book they hate?

A friend (James R. from Gather) told me: “Transcend genre, change the rules and the world is your oyster. Lamentably, only a few writers are able to pull that off, but hey, nobody said this writing, promoting, and editing stuff was easy, right?” So I need to build my own audience and then it won’t matter that I have no genre because I will be my own genre. Sounds good.

Now if I can only figure out how to do it.

11 Responses to “Becoming My Own Genre”

  1. L. V. Gaudet Says:

    To be (a genre unto herself), or not to be.

    Was that famous last words? Or first? Or just plain famous?

    I understand the pickle of being categorized, regardless whether you are a round peg jammed in a square hole, or not even a peg at all. Who says a story has to fit into a little definition of genre? What if it fits into more than one, all depending who’s deciding? Maybe there should be a separate shelf for those special stories that are multi-genred and the publishers just can’t decide exactly where to fit them in.

  2. James Rafferty Says:

    Hi Pat,

    The chat last night was useful. It seems like most of the book sales today are genre based, but not all writing fits neatly in. Thanks for including the quote from our discussion. I’ve written a related post on genre in my blog and linked to this one.


  3. joylene Says:

    If you figure it out, Pat, could you let me know? I write primarily suspense/thrillers, but my 3rd book is a political thriller. When it comes to publishing my next book, I’m thinking of bypassing it and submitting book #4 because I’m worried my readers will disappointed that it’s not strictly suspense.

    Whoever said things get really complicated once you’re published wasn’t kidding.

  4. Suzanne Francis Says:

    I belong to a “slash” genre, Romance/Fantasy. That works for me. I combine the best elements of both, and hopefully find an audience…

  5. John Marion Francis Says:

    Hi Pat,
    Good post. Your last sentence:
    “So I need to build my own audience and then it won’t matter that I have no genre because I will be my own genre. Sounds good.”
    Is exactly what I have been doing for the past year and this works for me. I have a hand full of websites that I maintain and contribute to where my readers are waiting for more stories and respond with emails of “what’s going to happen next, Wow, that had a good twist, I love this love story…”
    I think you’ll be on the right track if you Build Your Own Audience (BYOA).

  6. Pat Bertram Says:

    L.V.: I’m not sure who is shoving us into genres: the publishers because it’s easier to sell genre? readers because it’s easier to find books of interest midst the millions on the market? Either way, we have to find a way to transcend genre.

    James: Thank you for telling me about the link (and thank you for the wonderful article); this way I can return the favor and link back to you.

    Joylene: That’s why it’s important to become your own genre, so that people are thrilled to read another book by you, whatever it may be.

    Suzanne: I envy you your genre, since I know it’s one you love, but I also know that even with a genre, it’s hard to find readers. Here’s wishing you all the best now that you are a “real” author. 🙂

    John: You are so right to build your audience first. I see thousands upon thousands of debut authors who haven’t the first idea of what to do now that they are in print. Me? I have the first idea — just not the second or third or fourth.

  7. Warren Adler Says:

    In this age of declining reading habits, “genre” writing has gained greater respectability and now dominates best seller lists. It is increasingly difficult for a novelist who eschews genre writing and pursues a more generalist and mainstream approach.

  8. Ritu Says:

    This is so true, one goes for a Romance or a Spy thriller or a Murder mystery. Its a pity one gets type-cast from the first day.

  9. Jo-Anne Says:

    Hi Pat, and merry Christmas;

    I have been following your posts and was wondering if you’d consider linking my blog with yours (and I’d do the same with yours)? We seem to be on the same ‘wave-length’ and together, our information would enhance our readers’ needs.
    Jo-Anne Vandermeulen
    “Conquer All Obstacles”
    Prolific Writer of Romantic Fiction

  10. Genre: Finding a Home « K.S. Clay - Writer of supernatural suspense Says:

    […] Finding a Home My thoughts today were originally inspired by this post on Bertram’s blog earlier this month in which she lamented the difficulty in finding homes for novels that […]

  11. Scotti Cohn Says:

    Bookstores (and therefore publisher?) like categories — presumably because they believe that’s what their customers want. I have written two nonfiction books that are “about” children but not written primarily “for” children. The word “children” is in the title of both. What I’ve heard from my editor is that bookstores are having trouble figuring out where to put the books — in the children’s section? (No.) in the history section (Civil War or Revolutionary War)? (Yes.) It doesn’t seem that difficult to me. But apparently others are confused…

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