Cross Genre. Genre Wars Part 3

A welcome back to Sheri, certainly no stranger here. Her first guest post on self publishing continues to be a favorite and it is still relevant. Look over to the side for the holy grail. That's Sheri a year later still on top- whoa! I think Sheri has escalated the paranormal, supernatural, horror to a logical spot. As a traditionally published author now going indie, she offers a perspective from a different base of experience and I am glad she is willing to share. part 1 and 2 

Genre Wars Part 3

Guest Post by Sheri McInnis

I’ve enjoyed Gordon A. Wilson’s discussions with other authors about horror over the last year. Lots of writers have shared their thoughts – most recently MJ LaBeff, author of the thriller MIND GAMES and the upcoming the Last Cold Case Series. I’m happy to have been asked to join the fray. The big discussion right now seems to be about the difference between supernatural , paranormal and horror, in what Gordon and MJ are calling ‘the Genre Wars.’ Love that!
But let’s move to a new battlefield, the one Gordon brought up last week with regards to his great supernatural thriller, FIRETOK. He was discussing how Amazon has started switching up their categories and that genre is mostly about marketing. He’s right about that.

But genre is not just important to indie writers: it’s even more vital if you want a book deal someday. Because here’s a term that makes publishers, agents and editors very uncomfortable: “cross-genre.” I learned that the hard way.
When my agent (at the time) was shopping around my first novel, several editors passed on it calling it so ‘too cross-genre.’ (Btw, ‘pass’ had always been a relatively pleasant word to me – you pass a test or a car – until an agent used it about my manuscript: ie. Harper-Collins passed. It was too cross-genre.) What that meant was that my book was difficult to classify. Was it a horror? A comedy? A romance? I’m afraid it was … all three.

That was bad news for me because cross-genre novels are considered much harder to market – making them less appealing to publishers, who would rather a writer be firmly in some identifiable genre camp – horror, thriller, romance, mystery, whatever – because it’s easier for them to market you.

Eventually, my first book did find a home at Simon & Schuster/Atria, but the editing process was quite lengthy and challenging, as we tried to hammer my cross-genre (square) novel, into a business full of round holes. (Or was that vice-versa? Whatever the case, something wasn’t fitting!) I was asked to make DEVIL MAY CARE ‘lighter’ – more like the chick lit novels that were popular at the time. I don’t think I pulled it off! If that book’s not cross-genre, I don’t know what it is!

Anyway, because genre is still very important in the traditional publishing world, if you’re an indie writer who’s interested in a book deal, my advice would be to try to narrow down your genre. Don’t try to be all things to all readers. Try to pick the genre you’re most comfortable with and focus on writing a book that fits into it. Because as a new writer, you’ll probably have a much easier time landing a book deal if you’re solidly in one camp or another.

If you’ve been having trouble that way – hearing the word ‘pass’ too many times or worse, getting no response from agents at all – consider that it might be that your work is too cross-genre. If that’s the case, and you still harbor dreams of becoming traditionally published, maybe you have to rethink your manuscript in terms of clearly defined genres. That might mean a quick polish – or a long edit – but it will probably get you closer to a traditional deal. If you’re confused about what to do, try to identify the type of book that you most like to read. Chances are, you’ll have an easier time customizing your manuscript to fit that particular genre.

Beyond that, try to focus on your ‘intention’ as a writer, as Gordon mentioned in his last post. Thriller and horror books are sometimes hard to distinguish. But as a writer, do you want to thrill readers? Leave them with relatively pleasant feelings of excitement, anticipation, even arousal? Or do you want to horrify readers? Terrify, disgust or disturb them?  If that’s the case, you’re probably in the horror camp. Other common publishing genres – romance, mystery, historical, etc. – are a little easier to classify. Count yourself lucky if you naturally write a specific kind of book like this because traditional publishers will be much more drawn to you.

btw, I’m not trying to criticize big houses for their marketing practices here. I know first-hand how difficult it is to write and market a book – both inside a big publisher and in the indie world. It’s time consuming,  expensive, almost impossible – and even when everything seems to be perfect, there are still no guarantees that a book will succeed. Why one novel sells a million copies and another sells only a handful, is an absolute mystery to all of us – including publishers, agents, editors and writers themselves.

But I think this is why the business has had to develop distinct ‘genres.’ And why Amazon requires you to categorize your self-published book too (though Amazon, as Gordon mentioned, continues to evolve the way their categories work). Clearly defined genres are one way for publishers to attain that seemingly impossible goal: creating a book that will find an audience and turn a profit. Which is what we’re all trying to do! We’re just lucky that, as authors, indie publishing exists and we no longer need the printing presses of big publishers to get our stories out there.

I find it interesting that, as the world of self-publishing expands – which it does every day – more and more indie writers are falling into cross-genre camps. Or aren’t afraid if their books straddle genres. (Supernatural steampunk urban fantasy romance anyone?) Luckily, the indie world now lets us live in peace and write the books we want to write.

And if the popularity of self-published books is any indication, readers are getting tired of traditional genres and don’t mind when authors mix it up a little too. So if you’re a cross-genre writer, don’t fret. Just write the best book you can and work hard to find your audience. And if you still crave a book deal, don’t despair either. Because traditional publishers are now trolling the web for established indie authors to sign. Sooner or later, they’ll be embracing successful cross-genre writers too.

I often wonder if the self-publishing business is flourishing simply because readers are tired of restrictive genres. Because defining genre isn’t just a marketing gimmick or a way to organize bookstores. For better or worse, clear genres are bred right into the bones of the publishing business, starting at the selection of manuscripts, continuing throughout the editing process, the cover design, and long into the marketing campaign. So everyone is affected by publishing genres: not just writers, but readers as well.

The great thing about the new landscape Amazon/KDP helped launch, is that whether you’re a reader, a writer – even a big publisher who can now find a ready-made bestselling author with the click of a mouse – the entire book world is benefiting from the unprecedented freedom of self-publishing. It’s opened up the creative landscape by letting writers – and readers! – choose the books they want, rather than being forced to conform to the distinct marketing genres that have emerged in the traditional world. It’s an entire revolution in the way stories are getting told.

How do you feel about your own writing? Do you think it makes sense to try to adapt a manuscript to a particular genre in the hopes of finding a publisher? Or do you think freedom in storytelling will ultimately win the day? And – eventually – the Genre Wars? And what about as a reader? Do you usually prefer a particular genre, or do you like when books are a little more unique? Let us know and keep the discussion going!

Btw I'm in the process of launching my first indie release , called THE WITCHES OF ASHFORD PLACE (formerly HUNTER’S MOON). It’s sort of  a cross between Twilight and Sex and the City … with a pinch of Game of Thrones. Yeah. It’s cross-genre, all right. It's also nine months late. That's how long the editing process with my beta readers took! If I'd been that late on a deadline in the traditional world, I'd be in breach of my contract and the publisher probably wouldn't release the book at all! So another cheer for the freedom of the self-publishing world.Thanks, Gordon, for letting me join in! Here’s to the continued success of indie writers everywhere - no matter what you like to write or read!

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