One of the reasons Chick-fil-a is successful is because they stick to their “genre” – chicken, or as the cows say, chikin. Many in the writing world believe authors must do the same – discover their genre and stick to it. Is that true? Or can an author travel between genres?
What is Genre?
Genre is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture based on some set of stylistic criteria. We have Aristotle and Plato to thank for these categories and originally there were just three: poetry, drama, and prose. Um, there’s more than three now. The Wikipedia list had twenty-nine families of fiction, with 109 individual species. There are nine non-fiction families and fourteen species beneath them. How are these for specific, “Creative Nonfiction,” “Weird Fiction,” and “Novel of Ideas.” One of my commenters is working on a novel with Lucifer as a main character, he’ll be glad to know “Luciferian Literature” is a genre. But these were my favorite, “Femslash” and “Postcyberpunk.” Who doesn’t have a favorite Postcyberpunk author?
Genre is simply a way of organizing books. Books are organized so the reader can find them. Publishers want readers to find their books, so genre has become primarily about marketing. Author, Caroline Leavitt is convinced, “that genre is strictly a marketing tool.” [source]
Genre is a way to classify your book so your audience can find it.
The genre of my first book, Grateful, is Autobiography, Memoir, Sports Nonfiction,
Postcyberpunk. Does that mean all the rest of my writing has to be just like it? am I forced to tell the world about my life as an eight-year-old swimmer?
Can I Switch Genres?
Nathan Bransford said, “Genre hopping can be done, and done well. And here’s the best method: first you become hugely successful.”
There are a few authors out there who are their own genre – King, Grisham, and Crichton come to mind. As a Crichton fan, I can attest. I don’t care what the books about, I care that he wrote it – he became hugely successful.
Notice the blend between what we write and who will read it. Genre is about marketing. Writing’s about you, your creativity, and the story you have to tell. Don’t confuse the two. In his blog, Five Ways To Stay Motivated, Bransford said, It may be tempting to try and chase the flavor of the moment (genre) or what the industry says is selling or the novel you think you should write, but that doesn’t work. You need to love your novel unconditionally if you’re going to finish.
Can you switch genres? Yes. Will it translate into becoming a vocational writer? Maybe. The key is establishing your audience and staying connected to them.
Knowing the genre of Grateful, I was a bit concerned with a disconnect when a program told me the genre of my novel idea would be Christian-Suspense-Satire (I’m not sure it’s any of those things, by the way). So, what’s my genre? What’s your genre?
Defining Your Genre
Bransford wrote about genre distinctions and said, Here’s a rough and quick rule of thumb when you’re confused: go by the sections in a bookstore. Where would your book be stocked in the bookstore?
He’s talking about the end product – when your book is complete, where will it go in a bookstore? I think we need not worry about genre until our work is complete.
My writing is heavily influenced by the rhythm of Max Lucado, the edge of Crichton, the depth of Charles Martin, the topical importance of Francine Rivers, and the genre diversity of Randy Alcorn. It’s also influenced by my experiences: college football player, church worker, father, husband, writer, and being in a family where Nobody’s Normal. All those factors influence what I write, while those authors influence how I write. The latter being style, the former genre.
I’d love for writing to provide for my family, but I also have to write what I love. This is the scary reality of writing – will anybody like me? Will anyone care about what I have to say? Am I any good?
I know the genre of my first book. I’ve got a good idea about number two (another non-fiction work). When I write the novel, I know it won’t be in the same genre as my first two books just because it’s fiction. If I want someone to read it, they have to know it exists. For them to know it exists, I need to let them know.
Ultimately, you are your genre. Maybe it will be in the Science Fiction section, but once the spine is broken, you are the genre. You are what is being accepted or rejected, and that will determine if the reader wants another one. When he goes to the store he won’t be looking for another Science Fiction book, he’ll be looking for yours.
Keep discovering writing.