Picking a genre for the query?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by GlitterRain7, Jan 4, 2019.

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  1. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    See, I would love that! :) In fact, I regularly visit a bookshop that sets its fiction books up this way. It makes me look at books I wouldn't otherwise pick up. (Ullapool Bookshop.)
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    There are always outliers, but I think most readers would hate it. Cross-genre books are generally hard sells because readers don't buy them. Everything in the industry comes back to readers, in the end!
     
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  3. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    It probably would not work well in a giant 4-story bookstore like Waterson's or Borders. But the smaller bookstores? Yeah. I like it. It also keeps all authors' books together in one place, even if they write in different genres.

    I suppose there are pluses and minuses. But what suffers in the genre-leaning classification system are the books that aren't genre-specific. It doesn't mean they are bad books. It just means they don't fit into a particular genre. Sticking them into the wrong genre (or picking a single genre you CAN stick them into and ignoring the other aspects of the book) means people who don't like that genre, as a rule, won't bother browsing it, and will miss it. The other side of that coin is people who love the genre where the book got stuck might not like the book that much because it contains other elements that 'don't fit.'

    I suppose there is no answer that will satisfy everybody, though. But the question is: does an author give in to the marketing process as it stands at the moment, and write for specific genre distribution? Or do you write the story you want to write, and risk it getting ignored or mis-classified because it doesn't quite fit? (Assuming, in both cases, that the writing is good and that people who actually read these books like them?)

    I tend to resist the one-size-fits-all solution.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019 at 9:21 AM
  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I don't think it matters much what authors want, because it'll all be about what readers want. Neither of us can say for sure because AFAIK there have been no studies on it, but I'm pretty confident readers are happy with the current system. I browse by genre and it works fine for me!
     
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  5. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Fair enough. But you're a genre writer as well, and more power to your arm. But what about those of us who aren't? Like the OP, who doesn't know what category her book fits into? Should we just stop writing these books, or be happy to stuff them into a category where they don't really fit (and will likely be rejected for that reason?)

    I would like to see more tolerance and encouragement for non-genre writers and better distribution for books that 'don't fit.' As I said earlier, quality isn't the issue, really. Good books are good books, regardless of genre.

    Readers may well decide they (also) love non-genre books. However, the present system makes these books difficult for a reader to find or hear about. I'd like to find a better way to group non-genre fiction, without the implication of 'quality'. (Literary equals highbrow or quirky style, trade equals airport fiction and ephemeral best-sellers, etc.) I suspect General is the best we've got just now.

    Anyway, I accept I'm probably a dying (not dyeing) breed! Ach well. I still buy lots of new books, though. I am a 'reader' with money that I'm happy to spend on books. Like around 10-12 per month. (Many on Kindle now, because of lack of storage space. My husband and I just got rid of 22 boxes of books last month, to BetterWorldBooks. Each box contained around 10 kilos. Giant. And yes, we still have lots of books we kept. They're just not stacked quite so high or in front of of one another, or overloading the piano bench...:) How long that happy situation will last is yet to be seen. )
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019 at 9:49 AM
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  6. tapioka

    tapioka Member

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    Hm... I guess I'm approaching this a different way. I usually have some kind of author I like and put my trust in him. Let's say I enjoy McCarthy. I will read anything by him since he has convinced me he's a great storyteller, so I don't really care about the genre. I know he can tell a great story, write beautiful prose and all that regardless of genre (actually, I don't enjoy McCarthy at all, but let's keep using him as my example).

    Once I've had my share of McCarthy, I look up the authors he was influenced by and the ones he influenced. Then I'll probably read something by those authors. And so I branch out and discover new authors and their novels. The positive thing about this approach is that I rarely read something I don't enjoy. But it's also equally rare for me to stumble upon hidden gems, since I don't blindly buy books simple because it sounds like the genre would appeal to me. Maybe once a year I buy something that I've done no previous research on whatsoever, and that's only because someone who works at a local book store recommends those books to me (and she knows exactly what kind of stuff I enjoy).

    So in conclusion, here's another vote for the "I don't need my book stores sorted by genre"-camp ;).
     
  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Most people follow some sort of recommendation process, whether it's from friends or blogs or reviewers. But I'm not convinced that significant numbers do it blindly, without any filtering, and the foremost divide in that filtering is usually genre. For example, readers who enjoy romance novels will follow the romance blogs and look at the reviews in Romantic Times and talk to their friends who enjoy similar books.

    This is an interesting discussion and we can share anecdotes (I find it really interesting how we all source books in different ways) but ultimately, the people whose business it is to sell books - publishers and book retailers - divide by genre. If it didn't work and if it needed to change, they would change it. It does work and isn't going to change, so as authors we have to work with it or accept that we're going to have a tougher time selling our books.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019 at 9:44 AM
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  8. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, you're right, of course. But I find that kind of sad. Conform to a genre or you will probably perish as a writer? ...before you even get published?

    That's why I am a fan of self-publishing. If we can solve the issue of quality control —and a lot of self-published stuff is truly awful—that might be the way we can keep writing what we want to write about, forget about genre—and get it sold as well. If publishers want to only market genre, that's their business. I want to write something else.

    I'm saying this from the perspective of a person who spent a long time (and lots of money) buying the yearly guides to publishers, agents, etc. Only to discover that my book simply didn't fit. Anywhere. I did explore the traditional route. In fact, I didn't anticipate having a problem with trying that route. I discovered, to my dismay, that I've fallen at the first hurdle. My book doesn't fit. Bummer.

    I'm not fixated on self-publishing. It's just that my book doesn't fit anywhere else. And I'm damned if I'm going to ditch it for that reason, or rewrite it so I can market it in some genre.

    Just out of curiosity, I revisited the top shelf of one of my bookcases. Three books jumped out at me as being non-genre.

    James Welch's The Heartsong of Charging Elk—which sounds like a Western, but is actually about a Lakota man who works with Wild Bill's show in Europe, and falls sick while he's in Marseilles, and ends up living the rest of his life there. Not exactly 'historical' fiction either, although it's set in the past, but it's about how an individual adapts to a totally different culture, and realises that once you've lived someplace else for a long time, you really can't return. Most of James Welch's books are about modern-day Native Americans, so this is a bit of a departure from his usual stories. Mind you, he also wrote Fool's Crow, which is a historical fiction book and fits nicely into that genre.

    Then there's Allen Morris Jones's Last Year's River, which is set in Wyoming in the 1920s, but again isn't really 'historical' because it's about non-famous people whose personal story is what drives the book. The setting is where it takes place, that's all. It's got a love story in it, but 'do they get together' isn't the story arc at all. So it's not a Romance either.

    And finally, Hy Brasil, by Margaret Elphinstone (who normally writes historical fiction—all of which I own.) Set in modern day, but on a fictitious island similar to the Canaries, Hy Brasil it is a mystery, love story, a tale of cultural exploration and differences in an isolated setting, and an ultimately personal story about learning to cope with new situations.

    I suppose all of these books COULD be classified as 'literary,' but that's stretching it a bit because they aren't stylistically unique at all. The three authors are all just good storytellers, telling a story that isn't easily genre-ized. I bought them all at the Ullapool Bookshop several years ago, so I have no idea what category they 'fit' into. They survived my book 'cull,' no problem.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019 at 10:26 AM
  9. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I don't really follow the reasoning. Retailers and publishers don't particularly want to market a certain way and they don't refuse to sell certain books out of some kind of spite or narrow mindedness. They market in the way that best sells books, because otherwise they'll go out of business.

    I'm not really sure what the argument is, or why it's turned personal. It's sad if an author's goal is to sell books and they only want to write books which are difficult to market, but that really isn't the fault of book retailers. We aren't entitled to have readers for the books we write.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I hasten to add, my post got personal—although certainly not unpleasant, I hope—because I was pointing out that you actually write genre fiction. Therefore, my reasoning is you have had no difficulty finding a 'fit' for your work and are consequently happy with the present state of affairs.

    Those of us (like me and the OP, apparently) who don't specifically write genre fiction, do have a problem.

    Publisher's choices are not made out of spite or narrow-mindedness—nor did I imply that they were. However, I dare say convenience comes into it. It's convenient for them to be able to shove all their books into a few different categories, and market them to those categories' target audiences. I'm not saying it's wrong for them to do this. I'm just saying it certainly makes it easier for them to sell their books.

    It's like any other commercial enterprise. Sellers will market what they currently think is popular and fashionable and will sell in the largest numbers, with the least amount of cost to them. They can justify these choices by saying it's what the buyer wants.

    It makes commercial sense. I can't argue with that at all.

    However, limiting buyers' choice can also dictate what fashions we follow and what is currently popular—as I just discovered, while trying to buy a new lampshade that wasn't black, grey, brown, beige, wine, mustard or cream. I had to settle for mustard, as being the closest to the bright sunny gold I actually wanted. I, the buyer, didn't 'want' mustard—even though that company's sales figures will indicate that I did. It was just the closest I could get to what I was actually looking for. It's a dull colour, and I don't like it much, but I'll need to wait for the wheel, I guess.

    Who decides what the year's newest fashion in home decor or clothing will be? People on the street? Or people who market clothes and housewares through fashion magazines and stores? This isn't usually buyer preference leading the seller. It's the other way around.

    It's a mistake, I believe, to assume that product availablility always follows people's preferences, providing only what the buyer wants. Fashion is also created—and led—by the way things are marketed. People can't buy what they can't find, or what isn't being made any more, can they? So they have to settle for something else.

    My argument, to put it more succinctly is about the availability of choice. I would like the buyers of books to have the widest possible choice available to them. Narrowing everything down to genre takes away some of that choice, in my opinion. I am not anti-genre, and do read genre books myself. But forcing authors to fit into an established genre, in order to get their books looked at by an agent or publisher? That limits the variety of books on offer, which limits choice at the other end of the process.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019 at 12:38 PM
  11. tapioka

    tapioka Member

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    I feel like you could easily write an entire book about this argument to really drive it home... Want vs Need, economics, large corporations dictating what we Want, small everyday man vs the world... What a thread derail :).
     
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I see your point Jan, I just think your ire is directed at the wrong people. Genres really aren't there because they're convenient to the retailers or publishing industry, but because they help readers find books they want to read. If you want to change it, it's readers you need to talk to... because if you somehow convinced bookshops to put their entire stock in alphabetical order, it'd be readers clamouring for things to go back to the old ways.
     
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  13. Manuforti

    Manuforti New Member

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    I think everyone has internalised marketing thinking to some extent as well. Obviously publishers have always had that concern, as they market your book.

    My house was like a library when I was a kid. I was not censored either regarding what I could read.

    As a child I would comb through cardboard boxes filled with book in a cupboard. It contained all genres. I read Ray Bradbury, discworld, books about Rome and one memorable piece of erotica about a man whose job it was to whip people.

    I agree with the comment about being exposed to things you would not otherwise have been exposed to. I don't think so may people are looking for that these days. They want to know what they are buying. I think it's part of the reason there is so much guff out there.

    On my way to finding this forum I found a book on how to write. It was entirely about creating a product funnel, throwing in a few key trends and marketing it online.

    Literally worthless. Nothing about story
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    My favorite bookstore does things a little differently. They divide up the books by category like fiction, memoir, history... They don't really carry any straight genre (as far as I've noticed), and fiction that does have some genre elements is just in with the fiction. But it really doesn't focus much on genre fiction. However, I have picked up books I might not have come across or found so easily at other bookstores.

    There is a used bookstore near me that only sells genre or popular fiction novels. And that store is divided by the different genres. It's not the store for books do not fit into a specific genre.

    I guess what I'm saying is that at least some smaller bookstores are doing things differently and taking different approaches in terms of what they carry or how they shelve things.

    I know my novel is not genre, but I also don't plan of classifying it at all when I am done and ready to query. Sure, I could probably call it literary fiction, but I don't really see the point in doing that. I rather show how I write and say what my story is about. And I think agents and publishers will be smart enough to figure it out. I have queried places about two different books in the past and never specifically mentioned genre even though one of my books would have fit into a specific category. And, no, I didn't sell those books, but they did generate interest.

    Even if you are writing straight genre, your query letter should say that without the need to spell it out. If it's a fantasy novel you could say something like... In the land of depleting fairies and witches Laura seeks out a potion that will turn any creature who drinks it to dust in order to finally wipe out all the non-humans on the planet. It's a job she was contracted to do before the fairies get her high on sprinkles while the witches work relentlessly to come up with a spell that would preserve their existence. As Laura sees the fairies and witches working together, she wonders what it would take mankind to do the same. Or maybe that was just the sprinkles talking. :)

    See, no mention of genre, but clearly this story is a fantasy story or has those elements in a way that is critical to the story. Just like with writing in general, I see the query as another opportunity to show rather than tell.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019 at 5:38 PM
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  15. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, like I said earlier, I feel like I'm out of step. I guess that's part of the baggage of being an old fart on the verge of being a really old fart. Stuff that matters, that worked 'before' starts to disappear in the rear-view mirror. And I hate to see it go. It's what made me 'me,' I guess. So that's me in the rear view mirror as well. Not a pretty sight, really.
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Apologies. That was my fault.
     
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  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    I guess writing, just like law, medicine, politics, science, etc. has a less romantic reality than the one we envision. Business, ugh.
     
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  18. tapioka

    tapioka Member

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    No apology necessary, I would've liked to continue the discussion. But when I looked at the OP's question and realized how far away we were from that, I thought 'Hmmm... maybe not now...' ;)
     
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