Thursday, August 20, 2015

Know Your Genre, Please

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who are out there submitting projects that are simply not what they say they are. These authors have written stories but really don't have a clue as to what genre they are writing. Now I do understand there are some authors who just change the genre depending on who they are pitching to (which BTW is wrong), but the bigger issue are those who really don't know.

This is really not rocket science here.

Let's talk first about the rationale behind categorizing our genre. No, it is not to "shove you into a niche you don't want to be." This is about marketing and finding the right home for a project. You can think of this as those options you get when you call the bank and want to talk to someone.
"Press 1 for X or 2 for Y." Not every editor or agent looks at every project out there. You want to make sure your manuscript gets into the hands of the editor or agent who actually works with your genre.

This also works for the book buyers. Even in a digital environment, these people need to know which shelf to put your book on. If your story is historical fiction, it will land on one shelf. If it is historical romance, it will end up in the romance section. If it is a historical military fiction, it goes on a third shelf.

But what is really one of the biggest issues is your credibility as an author. When we see someone marketing a story as "women's fiction" but in reality, it is a YA or maybe it is a Fantasy, then we start wondering if this person really has the intelligence to make it in this business. I know that might sound harsh, but really? Do you know what you are writing?

A lot of writers that I hear with this situation, often tell me "But my critique partners told me to market it as ..." or "I was in another pitch session and Editor X thought it might be this genre." This doesn't help with your credibility either. First of all, other people should not be telling you want genre you write. You should know. Secondly, if your critique group is recommending your genre to be something it isn't, I would start to question those people and the help they are providing. And finally, that editor or agent is only making that call based on the premise you pitched. They would really have to read the project to know what genre it really is.

So, here is the way to figure out what you are writing. There are actually two approaches.

The first is to walk into a bookstore (if you can find one) and find which shelf your book would sit on. No, you cannot go straight to the best seller table. I am saying to get out there into the stacks and figure out the shelf. And, by the way, this is not wishful thinking. I do this with guys who are pitching what they think are romance novels. So I hold up a book cover and say, "is this what your book would look like?"

Secondly, you can go to the Book Country Genre map. This is a good starting point because you can fine tune what your genre really is that you are writing. Not only that, it does give you some suggestions as to other authors that write in that genre.

Remember, if you pitch something to me claiming it is one thing and then it is something else, you will probably be seeing a rejection letter shortly. I know you don't want that and I certainly don't want to write one.

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