“Genre schemre, just let me write!”

Wherever I go, I get a lot of complaints from writers about having worry about genre. Le sigh. “I just want to write!” is the common battle cry. Totally hear ya.

However, I find this lament self-limiting because what I invariably find is that cross between historical romance and science fiction doesn’t scratch either itch. It sits in no-man’s land because it doesn’t have enough elements to attract a science fiction audience, and it really isn’t a historical romance because, well, the male protag ends up killing his girlfriend. Hmm. Really. I can’t make this stuff up.

Can I sell it?

Too many writers enter into into their stories without a goal or focus, other than banging out the story. Huzzah. But at some point, writers must expand their horizons because the idea is to be as successful as possible. It may not matter to you what genre you write in, but it most certainly matters to everyone in the publishing business. Book sellers have their stock broken down by genre, and last time I checked, there wasn’t a “Hey, whatever” shelf in the bookstores.

We have to pitch your book to the buyers. If the romance isn’t really romance-y enough, and the SF isn’t really science fiction-y enough, then who’s going to buy the book? It’s a lot of expended effort without an audience.

As I’ve said before, you don’t come to a war armed only with a pea shooter, so why would you come to a writing career without taking into account the very elements that will enhance your success?

Well, she did it, so why can’t I?

The thing about writing is that what works well for one doesn’t necessarily transfer over to another. One author can say, “hey, who cares about genre. Look at me; I wrote my book without a care in the world and made the NY Times bestseller list.” Others see this and adopt the same attitude with vastly different results.

Writing for publication is a business, and it behooves writers to treat it as such. There are two groups who don’t worry about this: hobbyists and the very lucky. Writers can very easily wear two hats – a creative hat and a business hat. The business hat keeps its eye on audience, readership, marketability, promotion. The creative hat does what it does best: it writes.

Don’t look like a noob

Just with our tiny house, I reject 97% of what comes to me. With those odds, does it make sense to have the attitude of “hey, whatever”? I roll my eyes at queries that state their books are genre-benders because this tells me one thing; they don’t know what they’re doing. Do I want to work a noob? Not in this lifetime. Genre-bending is a cop out. If I like the story, I’ll see the possibilities of changing the genre, but choose one and be confident about it. Be a professional.

When is it ok to just go with the creative flow?

I have no problem with the idea of letting someone’s writing take him where it will before worrying about the genre PROVIDED the author knows what he’s doing. This means he understands the business of publication – marketing, audience, readership. He understands that his book has romantic elements and science fiction elements, and he leans more to one side than the other in order to confidently pitch his book to a specific audience.

For example, my novel, Donovan’s Paradigm, is medical fiction. Many who read the book felt it was a romance. Yes, there were romantic overtones with my two protags, which fueled the story, but the thrust of the story leaned toward the medical story.  I felt confident that it may not appeal to a romance audience. To be sure, the mainstay of my readers were medical people and those who like medical fiction. I understood the cross genre possibilities, but I kept to a larger audience in order to sell the book.

The problem I see from my end is that most cross genre writers don’t understand this. What usually happens is that writers work on their stories for a long time only to discover there isn’t a market for their book because they gave equal footing to two or more genres, and they end up appealing to no one. I can’t think of a worse fate.

How does winging it by the seat of your pants create a recipe for success? The idea is to have all the ingredients to enhance your success. I see way too much head-banging from my side of the desk. As a novelist and an editor, the idea of “don’t worry about it, just write” is totally lost on me. Especially for those who have a literary career sitting at the end of their personal rainbow.

4 Responses to “Genre schemre, just let me write!”

  1. BJ Muntain says:

    The idea of “don’t worry about it, just write” is for first drafts only. Otherwise, some writers get so tied up in restrictions they can’t put anything down on paper.

    Revisions make the book saleable. *That’s* when you worry about everything.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AmyOscar: RT @BubbleCow: Great post about writing a book that an agent can sell – http://bit.ly/4n4KA6

  3. Steve says:

    Hi Lynn,

    My perspective is a little different, because in a lot of ways I’m in that “hobbyist” category (I really hope that’s not an epithet 🙂

    I wouldn’t strongly object to commercial “success”, but if I see a chance to grab an audience by giving my work away online (assuming is is someday finished) best believe I’ll jump at it.

    The genre question doesn’t affect my own work as much, because it’s YA which really is a genre that has no gente, or rather that includes all genres. So you could mix genres, label it as “YA”, and nobody might even notice.

    That being said, I know you’re probably tired of hearing “but so-and-so did it”. Still, I can’t help bringing up a couple of works by my own favorite writer, Robert Heinlein. Admittedly, Heinlein’s popularity was such that he is arguably a genre in his own right. Even so, two of his later works, although nominally and even actually science fiction, have really substantial elements that are not very SF at all. To Sail Beyond the Sunset is the (fictional) autobiography of Lazarus Long’s mother, Maureen Johnson Smith. Easily half the book (beginning in the 1800s) is historical fiction, until we reach the point (around 1940) where her timeline diverges from ours.

    And, in Time Enough for Love, the middle section titled “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” is almost pure historical romance. Yes, it has elements of window dressing that set it on a far planet in a distant future. But the basic story is that of a pioneer couple surviving. “The cowards never started, the weaklings died along the way”. It’s a story drawn straight from the pioneer days of the American West, and the SF elements do not change that in any significant way, although they surely introduce an expanded perspective.

    But the typical aspiring writer today is not a Heinlein, I hear you respond. Maybe not (and we are poorer thereby). But why not encourage a writer to aspire to be the best they can? Why not encourage experimentation and creativity? I’m not quite accusing you of seeking to mandate mediocrity. However, writing with one eye always on salability has got to produce a chilling effect.

    Fortunately, we do live in a new age. I’m not one of those who thinks that the Internet has doomed traditional publishing. However, it has provided a multiplicity of alternative outlets. I don’t think any aspiring writer whose work fails of traditional publication has to feel that they have come to nothing. By applying the same creativity to garnering audience via non-traditional channels that they employed to create the work originally, they have a reasonable chance to become known, perhaps even popular.

    Look at the changing field of music for a comparison. I judge the trend there to be maybe 5 years or so advanced beyond publishing. And all you can really say about THAT (the music) market is that there’s not much you can reliably say about that market anymore.

    Best wishes,

  4. But why not encourage a writer to aspire to be the best they can? Why not encourage experimentation and creativity? I’m not quite accusing you of seeking to mandate mediocrity.

    In my position, it would hardly do for me to encourage mediocrity and stifle creativity. There are plenty writers who do experimental stuff, and the sales are fairly dismal. If I’m in the business to sell books, doesn’t it strike you as logical for me to gravitate toward works that I know will sell?

    Authors are free to shake their fists at the sky, but it won’t get them published. The reason for my post was to offer up my thoughts [based on my experience] that will enhance authors’ success.

    If you march to a different drummer, no one is stopping you. I hope you’re successful with your endeavors.

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