. Genre is a funny thing. What seems clear to us may seem completely different to someone else. What is, quite clearly, a romance, the publishers may choose to market as a Western. We may pick up a brand new crime novel in excitement, only to fling it aside in disgust hours later as we discover it is a horror story. We often don’t agree not only with what genre a book is placed into, but with the labelling of the genre itself. For example, science fiction and fantasy is normally lumped together – but would you place Philip K Dick and Tolkien in the same category?
And that’s not even looking at children’s books, which often aren’t shelved by genre, but by age – so the poor teenage fantasy fan has to read through stories of ballet shoes, pirates and teenage angst to find their books.
But genre can be all important – the marketing of a book can often depend on the correct genre being chosen. Some books, such as the Harry Potter series, have been re-issued and re-marketed to appeal to the readers of different genres (from a ‘children’s book’ to an ‘adult science-fiction’ book with more grown-up covers) And of course, there’s the ‘you may also like’ effect – where the readers of a popular book – like the Philip Pullman series – will read other authors they have never heard off but in the same genre, like Garth Nix.
And of course, genre’s have fashions. The shelves groan under the weight of ‘my miserable childhood’ books in white covers with blurry photos – but that fashion is beginning to pass.
I recently read a heart-felt cry on Twitter ‘how can I choose a genre for my book when I don’t what genre it is!’. Well, my advice is – get friends to read the book, without telling them what genre you believe it is. See where they would place it. Divide the book into percentages – for example, I would say Jane Eyre is 50% romance, 25% social commentary on women and 25% gothic mystery, and choose your genre that way. Don’t restrict yourself when trying to get published – you may see your tale as hard-nosed cyber-punk, and send it to the corresponding publishers – but they may read as the greatest love story ever told. Try everyone, and don’t be upset if they see your story differently to the way they do.
Genre can be the best marketing tool your book has – but don’t see it as a hard and fast rule, and don’t let it restrict you.