How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Genre?

Question book

Question book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



How do you solve a problem like a genre
How catch a novel’s essence, state it true?
How do you find the words to tag the genre
A comedy, a dark romance, what’s new?

Many a thing you’d like to tell the reader
So they don’t think your category’s absurd
But how do you here portray
The theme that you’ve tried to say
How are you sure your essence here is heard?

Oh how do you solve a problem like a genre
How do you pitch a novel with one word?

(sung to the tune of the chorus of The Nun’s Song, Sound of Music).

So this issue has been vexing me of late. Vexation can be good, it can inspire a bit of frivolous fun like the lyrical satire above. But humor often masks a deeper issue, a darker truth.

I’m just at that point of my novel publishing journey where genre and proper marketing and whether I’ve done it right so far – with The Seed – or will do it properly or better with Curiosity – is the question of the day.

As I blogged on recently, I’ve made the mountain a more difficult climb for myself in choosing to publish a second novel in a completely different category to my first. Curiosity is light in tone and writing style, it is satire, it is sarcastic, it is not ‘deep’ in any real sense – it is a bit of fun, albeit darkish toned fun.  So it may read, in some ways, like it was written by a completely different author – it wasn’t of course, the work is all mine, I probably have multiple writer personalities, LOL!!  My editor says she really loved the diversity of my writing styles (having edited both books for me), which is a wonderful compliment, but it also means I have to work with that as a marketing challenge.   🙂

But even the first is proving elusive in some marketing aspects. The truth of The Seed is it is dark, ambiguous, heavy, introspective – it has lengthy passages of internal reverie, it has a very character rather than action driven plot. And just putting it in the only category that seemed close – romance – is probably misleading to many possible purchasers.  There is a romance in there, it is about love, but it is not light and it is not essentially happy, nor even necessarily redemptive.

So far from reviews and feedback some readers love the dark, detailed introspection and others were surprised by it. All very valid reactions and very helpful and I’m grateful for all, but they illustrate the modern marketing dilemma – particularly for the indie writer. Without a publishing firm’s marketing machine behind you, and with the plethora of books in the ebook market etc – how can you try to ensure buyers really know what they are buying?

I’m not obsessed with having a best seller – of course I wouldn’t mind if my novels sold well (I’d love it in fact!), but what I really want is that they sell to those who are likely to like them. Then if they don’t like my writing style that’s fine, that happens, I don’t like every book in genres I typically do like either – but at least I would feel they responded to style rather than to a surprise at the type of book itself.

With The Seed at the moment I’m feeling I need to blog more about what makes it different to a popular, mainstream romance novel. I will be launching an author website soon to blog about my novels more specifically (which I’ll link to this blog for anyone interested in reading both), so I will use that platform, but whatever you do in this regard you are hostage to what people read and when. Plus I also don’t want to over-write about it either – surely there’s a balance where too much book promotion is just…too much?

Have others faced this issue, and if so, how have you dealt with it? As ever, any ideas will be gratefully received.

I suspect in some ways my second novel may be easier, presuming it is possible to categorise Curiosity as black/dark comedy so that the satire essence is understood. But who knows, it may be similarly vague in that genre category, so we shall see….


Helen V

About Helen

I'm drawn to blogging as a way to share ideas and consider what makes us who we are. Whether it's in our working life or our creativity, expression is a means to connect.
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29 Responses to How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Genre?

  1. Jennwith2ns says:

    i feel your pain . . . or whatever it is . . . 😉

  2. Elaine says:

    I love that little ditty you wrote. you realize I will be now humming the tune to it all night long?? lol I love your idea of an author’s blog. Another way for your fans and potential fans to learn about your writing, Between here, GoodReads and Facebook, i follow a few authors that I only found out about most through those sites. Only one author that I follow on FB did I read before I started following his FB page. I enjoy following them because I am much more likely to find out when new books are coming out and, of course, learning more about their experiences and where their ideas come from. Looking forward to following yours Helen!

    • Thanks so much Elaine – hopefully if people read a bit about the books before thinking of buying they will make the most informed choices. I really don’t want to mis-lead anyone about my writing but the whole genre thing is so limiting!! Oh, and sorry for putting the song in your head, if its any consolation it’s stuck in my head now too!! 🙂

      • Elaine says:

        LOL good thing we both like the song! 😀 I agree that the genre thing can be very misleading at times. Many of the books I have read could really be listed in multiple genres.

      • It’s true of many I read too… which is fine if the reader has eclectic tastes I suppose, but I don’t want to disappoint someone just because they thought they were buying something else. Oh well, I suppose I just have to resign myself to the things in life I can’t control…. 🙂

      • Elaine says:

        Yes I guess we all need to resign ourselves to some things, like it or not, but we can certainly voice our opinions–maybe someday someone will see the logic in it. lol Yes I am a dreamer!

      • Dream on! I like the way you dream!! 🙂

  3. Mary Martin would be proud. Well done and messaged. 🙂

  4. I’ve kept a reading journal for more than 50 years – long time ago I tried to set up a simple database, but the quandaries over the endless possible “genres” made me give it up

  5. sknicholls says:

    I love your poem! Your Maria is not necessarily different from my Maria. At least you know that it is a romance and a comedy. I don’t fit the romance genre (it starts off about something else entirely and the brief summer romance, while pertinent, is not the voice of the story). It is not a crime novel (although there is much crime in it), It can’t really be categorized as historical fiction (1) some of the story takes place after my birth, and 2) while fictionalized, it is based on a true story). It is not an autobiography, biography, or memoir (even tho much of it is based on personal experience and the readings of another’s diaries). So where do I plug in? Amazon has seen fit to place it in a subgenre of historical fiction called the “faction novel”, which has less competition but is not a widely sought after genre category. I am perplexed. I just want to know how to sell books. Now I have discovered that I must first sell/market a subcategory of a genre that is unknown to many. In the meanwhile. I will sing, Do Re Mi and try to be happy with what I have accomplished so far. I am wishing you the best of things with The Seed, and already have it on my To Read list. I love your meaningful and introspective poetry and am looking forward to your meaningful and introspective romance. sorry for having taken up so much space in your comments. I can get a bit tangential about this subject.

    • Thanks so much for such a thoughtful response – we do share the same problem, albeit from slightly different angles, it seems. You know I am eagerly awaiting the publishing of your POD copy – any news on that yet, I know it’s proving very frustrating for you – so the genre thing isn’t an issue for me as a reader, it’s more about marketing as you so eloquently describe from your perspective here. I wish there were simpler ways of doing it!! I wish you all the best, too, with your publishing journey and will be a fan following your progress! 🙂

      • sknicholls says:

        I posted a hellaciously long essay today about my publishing journey with the paperback. Others have made it seem to simple. Mine has not been a simple experience but would not be bad if I weren’t so pressed for time. i do wish i had done the eversion and paperback at the same time and with the same company. That would have simplified things. Hindsight!

      • Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say!! I hope it sorts out soon for you!! 🙂

  6. timbush222 says:

    Maybe sign up for google adwords. They gave me a 100$ gift card every now and again. You are much further ahead than I am. I still have to finish a book. Do you have one of your poetry?

    Maybe you can ask your editor for advice on genre. They say that a good book is a good book and if people like it, it will sell.. I suggest signing up for goodreads. I know that amazon has acquired it and I guess that will add to the marketing of authors via the social aspect.

    Good luck with it. I hope you do well. Social networking is what everyone keeps on talking about.

  7. Genre that is something I am never able to figure out either. I have no idea what type of people like my work, where it fits. I love your diversity even in your poems I admire it and to me it proves how immensely talented and creative you are =)

  8. philipparees says:

    I share almost all of your difficulties and then some! I shall soon be hosted by the Ape and you will see what I mean. Thank you for your trawl through and following of my blog, So good to meet a fellow poet and fellow doubter ( through these days the sisters suggest doubting leads to self-destruct) The pigeonholes of genre are the boxes that tend to exclude most things that are interesting. I feel that independent publishers (and I am certainly force majeur one of them) strike out on the book,, its writing, design and originality and then feel the need to conform to the marketing structures of genre pigeonholing.and received opinion because, unlike the writing, we have no knowledge of this unfamiliar field and know no alternative. When I was talking to an appreciative reader of Involution about the ‘know your market’ injunction she said your market will not know who they are or that this book is what they were looking for either…not until they start to read it. So one is left with giving books away to find them…and so far I have given away about 100 and sold 30! We are all walking a tightrope between the traditional and failing, and the not yet established alternatives…all we can do is hold hands and jump.

    • Very true I think…it’s probably also the case with my novel that some may not think they’d like it, then would if they read it, as well as those in the other camp who may expect something else because of the genre limitations. I will be watching Chris’ blog for your post!! 🙂 🙂

  9. Sahm King says:

    First, I LOVE the Sound of Music, and your introduction is AWESOME.

    Next, I’ve faced this problem only Self publishing a book. I don’t think I’ve solved it at all (not that I care to). I did try, at one point, ensuring that, even if my genre wasn’t necessarily… correct, I explained what the book was about in the summary (wherever I’m selling it online, anyway). So, even though my work is labeled “erotica”, I’ve also been able to stress that it’s not exactly that. When had a book blog up for it, that was a major help. Goodreads, I think, is a good service to use to get around this particular issue.

    My book is a failure, though… That’s by design.

  10. I wish I could help but I am very much in the dark about genre as well. Sorry. Liked the post though.

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