I thought I’d briefly touch on genre today. It can be a tricky issue for any writer – there can be a great tendency, especially in ‘traditional publishing’ to want to be able to neatly pigeon-hole a novel and a writer into a tidy little box. On some level you can understand this, if they are investing in a novel then they want to know they can sell it – which means in their eyes there needs to be a clear way for them to market it and a specific audience to market it towards. I’ve heard stories from other writers of them submitting to publishers who apparently loved their work but who still wouldn’t take them on due to marketing concerns, things ranging from they had reached their quota of that ‘style’ of novel, to it was too cross-genre, to even ‘we don’t think the market can take another Scottish crime writer at the moment’! I’d imagine things like that could be more frustrating than actually being told a publisher just didn’t like your novel.
It can lead to dilemmas for writers – should they try and conform in the hopes of having a better chance of being published, or just write what they want anyway and hope they can find a home for it at the end. It can be a tricky one – the standard advice is often ‘just write what you feel and worry about the rest later’ but I think that if you’re wanting to write for a career rather than just for your own pleasure (and there’s nothing wrong with either!) then it’s wise to at least think about these issues before you find yourself with a epic 120k word western/vampire/space opera that may be the best thing ever written but no publisher will dare to even look at.
That said though, pushing the boundaries to some extent is not always a bad thing. I write paranormal romance mainly, and there was a time when that wouldn’t have been touched with a bargepole by traditional publishers, and now it’s probably one of their best-sellers. The same with urban fantasy, with steampunk, with young adult. They have become mainstream because people wrote what they loved, even though it didn’t fit the current mould and eventually someone took a chance on it. One of the good things about the changes in publishing means the rise in cross-genre novels, self-publishing provides a new option for those who may have excellent quality books but who may not fit the ‘marketable’ mould for traditional publishing. Even the rise in small e-publishers and ‘digital first’ imprints means that with reduced costs and less risk on their side they are more willing to take a chance on something a little different. Surely that can only be a good thing?
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