“Balancing the Fine Line of Your Genre”

Books 2008

by Mercy Pilkington

A really, really great thing has happened, mostly thanks to the ease and lack of risk involved in digital publishing: the genres are blending and blurring into whole new, never-before-seen categories within their rigid guidelines.

Once upon a time, genres not only had strict conventions for storyline, subject matter, there were even acceptable limits for word count. This was back when any book that was lucky enough to get published had to first run the gauntlet of agents, acquisitions editors, content editors, editorial boards, even the advertising and PR guys within the publishing house. Basically, if it was too risky in terms of content, it was too risky to invest in publishing.

Thanks to the boom in self-publishing and digital publishing, authors and publishers are somewhat more free to experiment, to take risks, and to encourage whole new readerships with unconventional books. The age-old romance novel with its tidy resolution has given way to the cliffhanger ending trilogies. The young adult novel, that once used to be no more inappropriate than Meg getting her period in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, has now given birth to a whole new genre called New Adult, which finally addresses some of the very real mature topics that affect YA readers. Science Fiction has finally been broken down into a wide array of categories; now, you don’t find books about space aliens attacking Moon colonists plopped on the bookstore shelf right next to a book that is mostly written in Elvish.

But as an author, how do you categorize your work on a retailer’s sales page if it’s a little bit of everything? What do you do if it’s a New Adult Paranormal Romance Middle Earth Fantasy Mystery?

Since you only get so many keywords to work with, decide which of those categories is the absolute best fit for your book. If there are trace elements of mystery to your book, you still might not want to list it next to the latest cloak-and-dagger spy book. If the only thing about it that would make it New Adult is the fact that two of the trolls get caught with their pants down behind some sort of glowing tree, you probably don’t have to worry about listing it as New Adult.

Your categories and keywords when you go to list your book must be aimed at your broadest target audience. At the same time, if you are querying your novel to agents or publishers, the same rule is still in effect: target your agent search to the most appropriate agent for your work based on its most prevalent genre.

The most important thing you can do is make sure that your book actually NEEDS to be in all of those genres at once. If your book could be listed in fifteen different genres on the bookstore shelves, it MIGHT (oh stop it, I said MIGHT) be a little muddled, rambling and confusing. While the publishing industry may have thrown open the doors to new types of books, the readers still have some level of expectation from what they want to read in their favorite genres.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Mercy Pilkington is the CEO of Author Options, a full-service solutions provider for authors and publishers. Her sense of humor leans a bit to the sarcastic side, hence her overuse of the word crap. She is looking for romance titles that do not involved chiseled men with giant penises, and no more vampires unless there is something stunningly different about them that doesn’t involve sparkling.

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