Recently at the HarperCollins Open Day at the NSW Writers’ Centre, Rochelle Fernandez from Voyager asked me what genre my book was in. I made the rookie error of answering that it actually fits into many categories: young adult, urban fantasy, adventure, science fiction and contemporary literature to name a few. Broad appeal is a good thing, right?
Rochelle was quick to point out that yes broad appeal is good, great even, particularly if you can bring readers from one genre into another. However, she did agree with her colleagues Catherine Milne, Chren Byng, Jude McGee and Anna Valdinger (pictured below) that when pitching a book to a publisher it is better if authors can be very clear about which category the book fits into.
So what’s so important about fitting into a specific genre?
We humans love finding patterns and fitting things into categories. If you bought a jar of Vegemite and found blackberry jam inside chances are, even if you like jam, you’re going to be disappointed. Likewise if you’re in the mood for a epic historical romance like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, then Stephen King’s Misery isn’t going to hit the mark.
Also, sales representatives like a quick way of communicating to book store owners where your book fits in. Whether your book is on a physical shelf in a retail store, or a virtual shelf on Amazon it will be sitting in category to help readers find it.
So picking a genre should be easy, right?
For a bit of fun, have a quick look at the long list of genres on Wikipedia.
I’m a fairly broad reader so historical fiction, young adult, speculative fiction, true crime, thriller, horror and romance were all genres I’m very familiar with but blended genres such as weird fiction, slipstream, splatterpunk and mathematical fiction were new to me.
Many of books have elements of other genres, so it’s a matter of finding which one best fits yours. Some publishers seem to like to know what two books your one is like, for instance ‘After Alice meets The Day the Crayons Quit’.
It’s worth having a look inside the cover of books in similar genres to see which publisher they come from. Voyager has a great genre guide on their website which even compares their stable of authors to others you may already be familiar with.
There is always the exception to the rule. At the open day The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was mentioned several times as a success story that defies classification. It’s a brilliant read, so get your hands on a copy if you haven’t already.
As Publishing Manager for Murdock Books Lou Johnson said recently, publishing is the ‘intersection of art and commerce’ and it might be tempting to write in a genre that’s doing well. Cookbooks may be all the rage in Australia at the moment but if that’s not what you do, why put yourself through it? I can only speak for myself but it takes blood, sweat and tears over many years to develop a book – so write what you love. Getting to the last page of my manuscript was my own person Everest and there’s truly nothing like it.