Do Genres Hurt or Help?

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!