Why Fight Genre Labels? It’s a didactic framework that helps your work find readers

No one likes labels, and genre is the all-encompassing manifestation of them. Not only querying writers, but established writers fight against labelling their work in certain genres. Well, in publishing we need them.

Genres can range from something as broad as commercial fiction to as specific as magical realism. They aren’t trying to pigeon-hole you, especially if you don’t let them. Genre is a didactic framework that helps your work find readers. Genre helps you:

  • Find an agent that reps your type of writing.
  • Do research for competing titles and what’s selling in your market.
  • Write metadata that will improve book discovery.
  • Get your work published with an editor and imprint that sees your vision.
  • Create an author brand within a strong and specific market.
  • Reach your readers when they are looking for books on store shelves or online.

Literary or commercial fiction is a genre in itself, but using the framework of genre to your advantage by being specific (and accurate to your querying material) will help, not hinder your writing. Getting to know your genre and what works is part of having a market awareness as a writer.

Genre Bending

Yes, certain commercial genres have stigmas, but they also have loyal, book-consuming fans. Many genre fiction authors write with a pen name and that helps ‘free’ them for working on other projects, too. Genre and author brands go hand in hand.

There is now lots of cross-over potential for genres like YA novels appealing to adult audiences, as we all know. Books can cross genres, but don’t rely on this to be your marketing tool because it is hit or miss and can often only work for established writers.

Have fun with genre! That’s the beauty of it. However, also use it to research and hone your skill in how to write for a market. Even if you fight genre labels, the people you work with through the publishing process embrace them because of the benefits noted above–so get used to engaging in the dialogue. Don’t see genres as limiting, see them as a marketing tool.

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4 thoughts on “Why Fight Genre Labels? It’s a didactic framework that helps your work find readers

  1. The complaint that many writers I know have with genre, myself included, is when we are specifically told not to label our work a certain way. I myself write horror, and have been told on numerous occasions never to label it as such or it will never sell. This they tell me is due to the fact that horror is largely considered dead unless you are already established in the genre. They usually go on to recommend that I call my writing ‘Thriller’ instead, as that is more market friendly. The same has been said about many genres; westerns, chick lit, space opera, and traditional sci fi, among others.

    In querying, what is a writer to do when they have a great story that just so happens to fall in one of the ‘dead’ genres?

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    • Genres that are considered on their way out, ‘won’t sell’ or are waning in popularity speak to trends in the industry. In chick lit, which you used in your example, the genre is now more broadly called women’s fiction. However, there are advocates of the genre that are getting great coverage in the news like Jennifer Close, Courtney Sullivan and Sloane Crosley on the EW.com site. They are speaking up for their genre and the changes in it.

      Publishing is based on trends and market interests that change so what someone thinks won’t sell, someone else might disagree. However, it is a business and editors have their eye out for certain things.

      In terms of horror: movies like Straw Dogs keep horror and dark thrillers on trend so ride the wave. But, if your work isn’t trending right now there is always self-publishing or waiting for hot topics to circle back into fashion.

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  2. I used to be this person who resisted answering straight when someone asked about the genre of my writing. Then I realized that it wasn’t a bad thing – it was actually pretty helpful!

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