Searching for a Genre

I had a book I wanted to write, so I wrote it, following the dictates of the story without regard to the conventions of genre. Now that book — Light Bringer — is close to publication, and I have a problem. How do I sell it?

I received several rejection letters from publishers and editors over the years saying they liked Light Bringer, that the story was unique and well-written but they’d have to pass because they didn’t know how to sell it. My reaction each time was, “What????” I mean, it’s a book — you put it on the shelf in a bookstore and wait for people to buy it, right? Not quite.

Genre is how we classify books, but more than that, it’s about reader expectations. For example, a thriller is a wild ride with a hero and a villain in mortal combat. Readers expect the story to be exciting, the conflict to involve high stakes, the suspense to be cutting. Generally, the story is told from both points of view — the hero and the villain. Light Bringer is suspenseful, does involve high stakes —  the fate of the Earth — and it does have a villain and a hero, but (here is the crux of the matter) which character is the hero, and which is the villain? Besides, as those publishers and editors told me, the book has too many science fiction elements to be sold as a thriller. They also said it doesn’t have enough science fiction elements to be sold as science fiction. Since they didn’t know how to classify the book, they didn’t know how to sell it.

Now that Light Bringer is about to be released by Second Wind Publishing, I need to figure out who will be most interested in reading the book. Readers are quick to penalize writers for failing to live up to genre conventions, and Light Bringer has no clear genre. It’s too contemporary for science fiction, too outrageous for mainstream, too straightforward for a literary novel, too philosophical for action/adventure, too mythic for an historical, too mundane for fantasy, too scientific for magical realism, too western for urban fantasy, too . . . well, you get the point.

In truth, Light Bringer is  more “myth fiction” than science fiction. Instead of basing the story on science (though there is much that is scientific in the book), I based it on myths: ancient myths, modern conspiracy myths, UFO myths, flood myths, historical myths, pyramid myths. The story is the culmination of a lifetime of research, and in following the research wherever it led, I ended up the premise of Light Bringer. Perhaps I discovered some long-hidden truth. Perhaps I created a separate truth. Perhaps I conjured a fantasy.

Whatever it is, Light Bringer deserves a chance. Suzanne Francis, author of The Heart of Hythea called it brilliant. Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer said “Light Bringer is TYPICAL BERTRAM: plots within plots, multiple characters with multiple agendas, fast moving, more than enough mystery and intrigue for everyone, satisfying conclusion. Great book.”

So now comes the hard part — finding readers.

If you’re interested in taking a peek at Light Bringer, you can find the beginning of the story here.

3 Responses to “Searching for a Genre”

  1. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    Genre expectations. Doesn’t that beat all. It isn’t good enough that a writer has a story to tell, it must meet genre criteria. When I began my MS, I gave no thought to genre. I hope mine fits into one, probably mystery. Maybe we need a few new genres. Typical Bertram, new genre. Cool. Blessings, Pat…

  2. Sheila Deeth Says:

    A friend emailed me today asking if I could suggest what genre her novel is as a potential editor had asked her to define it. Suddenly found myself totally stuck for ideas–kind of similar to mine doesn’t work as an answer if I don’t have a genre in mind for mine either.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I really hate the whole concept of genre, but it seems to be a necessary evil. The only trouble is, I can’t write to fit a genre, and neither can a lot of people, apparently.


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