You have an idea for a book—a great idea!
You sit down and begin writing and the words just flow. Your characters jump off the page. The plot is crystal clear in your mind. The storyline races to a finish.
You love this book! It includes so many elements of what great fiction is.
Now, time to market. Off to those agents who will surely scoop it up, offers to represent arising in droves.
Only . . . they don’t. Rejections come in instead. Perhaps you even receive personal responses from agents, praising this or that part of it, but in the end, saying, “Not for us,” in some form or fashion.
And while writers contact me daily with this issue, and the reason can be any number of things, I can often boil it down to one question:
“In what genre are you writing?”
So much of the time, the answers are hodgepodge:
“Well, it’s a story of these people who . . .”
“It includes elements of mystery and romance and . . .”
“It’s fast-paced but not really an Action/Adventure . . .”
“It’s set in the Old West but it’s really about . . .”
Or, the most dreaded: “It’s a combination of a Thriller set in Historical England with Romance as its central theme, so the audience includes all of those readers and will be huge!”
I could go on. But the point is, so often the writer can’t identify the genre.
And while it may seem that a novel might have a bigger audience if it includes Romance and Mystery and Suspense, if it doesn’t actually “fit” into a certain niche, it’s dead in the water—whether you’re shooting for Traditional publishing or intend to self-publish in the first place.
But why? Why can’t your book be an amalgam of many different genres, or categories, or even sub-categories, or even a genre you make up comprised of the established ones, and still sell well?
It’s your book, dammit, so why can’t you just write what you want to?
Well, you can—if you don’t care who reads it. And although we all write to some extent for ourselves, we also create for people to actually experience our words. In short, to read them.
What’s always been true within the industry is that books are sold through very rigid sales’ lines. I.e., different publishing houses have various imprints for all of the genres they publish, and a book has to fit within the individual genre lists in order to be placed on the very strict conveyer belt of distribution channels, from which book stores then buy.
Otherwise, book stores don’t order the book.
And while from the outside this may seem vague, or even contrived, a very clear reason does exist for novel genres.
In short, that’s where the readers live.
And publishers know this. They know who their readers are—who reads Cozy Mysteries as opposed to Suspense Thrillers. Those genres are planets apart (as are the guidelines and specs for writing them), and publishers don’t waste their time trying to sell cantaloupes to fish. They make sure the cantaloupes go to the primates and the fish meal into the bass tank.
Selling books is somewhat of a mystery—even to the oldest of Traditional publishing houses. They cannot tell you what the new trends will be. They are truly terrible at predicting.
But publishers are razor sharp at decimenating who is reading (buying) what. And they focus on successfully selling to the different audiences.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an eye-opening experiment you can do on your friends and family and strangers in the airport:
Strike up a conversation with any of the above about what they like to read. Almost always, the answer will be vague—kinda like those mentioned previously about writers identifying their genres.
“Oh, I love fiction!” someone might reply. “I read a lot of different authors.”
Then dig a little deeper and you find that not only does she read Mysteries (pretty much exclusively), but she’ll tell you what kind of Mysteries, and which specific authors. In nothing flat, you can see exactly which sub-category of Mystery this person reads. And, pretty much everything she raves about will fall into that list.
The things she doesn’t like will teeter off the edges.
The point being, the reason publishers’ lists are so rigid, so specific, is that they know this.
And while often new writers intend to self-publish for exactly this reason (“I don’t want some publisher telling me what I can write!”), the results for putting out a genre-less or cross-genre book will be the same as when querying those agents.
You’ll have no sales’ channels through which to sell your book. Which translates to: No one will read it.
So can you invent your own novel genres? Why yes, of course you can. Just know that in doing so, you’ve banished your book to no-man’s land—where nobody reads it.
Can you reinvent the wheel? Anything’s possible. But I’ve been in this business nearly 30 years, and I haven’t seen it happen yet 🙂
New writers often use the example of Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing phenom of this century, saying, “She self-published what she wanted to and now look at her success!”
Yes, the success part is surely true. But Hocking published Adult Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. And these are, well, established genres . . .
So, give yourself (and your book!) the best shot possible. Writing to the different genres is really not so difficult (nor does it hamper creativity), and the specs are widely available.
Go write that page-turner, as well as one that will sell!