Do Genres Hurt or Help?

Sunday May 22, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Editorial

Genre derives from the French around 1770 referring to independent style.  It is useful when looking for similar types of literary work, but it can be very limiting.  In Science Fiction alone there are 10 sub-genres listed in Wikipedia plus one for other, which covers a lot of ground left untouched.  Then there’s mixing genres, like fantasy and science fiction or romance and horror, referred to as paranormal romance.  Romance is very popular in most genres it seems and there is even a new sub-genre for science fiction called Science Fiction Romance.

I understand the desire to be able to pigeon-hole a story into a neat little genre so the retailers know how to market the novel.  I also understand that people tend to read in one or two genres and tend not to drift too much from their favorites, and being able to label something as a specific genre helps the reader knows where to look.

Genre can be a good thing for an author if they fit neatly into one; their readers know right where to find them.  But it can be an albatross as well, if a writer wants to write in a different genre.  I’ve heard stories of writers being shunned because they wrote a book in another genre.  Personally I think that just plain sucks.  Writers should be able to write whatever they want.  I know several that write comfortably in more than one and I think it helps keep the creative juices flowing.

What if your story doesn’t fit neatly into a well-defined genre?  The current work-in-progress crosses several genres and I’m not sure how I am going to market it.  Even coming up with a good tag line for it is difficult.  It’s parts Space Opera, Military SF, and Paranormal Romance.  I’m not even sure which one would garner the most traffic.  No matter which way I go I’m bound to turn off someone.  Some people don’t like vampires or romance or science fiction.  I guess I am looking for people just like me, but I haven’t met very many that share the same likes and dislikes exactly like mine.  I don’t want to be stuck writing the same stuff over and over either.  I like fantasy.  I like adventure stories.  I like historical fiction.  Maybe I want to write in all of those areas.  I guess that is another check in the plus column for self-publishing.  But, I’m still undecided on that front.

What do you think?

Clear Ether!

8 Responses

  1. I write a specific genre and it fits me perfectly! But I read many different genres. I don't want to write other genres at this point, but maybe in ten years I'll feel differently?

  2. I think genres help the reader understand what type of book they are getting. And yeah, combining two totally different types of genres may turn off more readers than attract. I think you would have that problem whether you were \”traditionally\” published, or went the self-published route. Do you remember what you were like when you were just a reader? I do. I was very limited. Now that I write, I have spread out into other genres and I'm enjoying them. I'm not so sure I would have ventured that far if I had never written a book.

  3. You know, what you said made me think of something very, very annoying. I mean annoying out there in the world not that you're annoying, lol. So I have to say I'm the same. I have my own style. When I started writing, moreover, I wrote in ALL genres. I pushed myself to branch out and it seemed to agree with me. I do have preference for fantasy, but whatever I write always has elements of: scifi, paranormal, romance, and or horror. Right now I am working on a book that… I don't know all of the subgenres, maybe I should, but it has elements of scifi and paranormal, not to mention romance, but I guess this is basic for most books anyway.. So.. I guess if I have to market it, I'd choose scifi because the hook is TYPICAL scifi, far far into the future. Anyway, the annoying part is not only do we have to fit in those categories and publishers may dislike our writing style, but also that once you publich, you are supposed to publish what? In the same genre, right. This sucks. I'd like to write scifi, fantasy, children's, paranormal and horror. I might end up writing in one or two, but I'd like to have the option at least to do that. I like variety. I'd hate it if someone would tell me: ok, now write the next fantasy book or something. I will most certainly not! Anyway, sorry to ramble on and on, you just hit a sore point I guess, lol. Or maybe it's just in my head. maybe you could publish in different genres though I am not sure if I can think of an example… Thanks for this! 🙂

  4. Thanks everyone for the replies! We are busy dealing with my daughter's graduation and open house reception. Lyn, I have seen some people recommend using pen names for different genre and I suppose that could work but it seems silly. =)

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