People often ask: “What genre do you write in?”
Anymore I will respond: “Whichever the publisher puts me in.”
Discussions of the pros and cons of genre labels have been going on for some time. Not long after I first started writing for horror markets, the big debate was whether horror writers were better served by being stocked on specific horror shelves at Borders or by being mixed into the general fiction or literary section at Barnes & Noble. Some writers preferred the former because it was an easy way for their audience to find them, while others jumped at the opportunity for the latter as an escape from the “horror ghetto” and into—to paraphrase the attitude—legitimate territory.
I understand the arguments on both sides. There is no question there are fans who seek out the hardcore horror and would go straight to the horror section to browse the shelves. However, there are books that cross genre boundaries and could just as easily be labeled horror as literature or general fiction (The Road is a popular example). I imagine similar arguments are made in crime fiction circles, and there’s still that segregation when you get to science fiction & fantasy and romance, even if they are much larger sections.
Does it matter anymore? With the Internet, word of mouth in specialty shops, and countless online retailers’ recommendation algorithms, readers have all the information they need to find both their favorite authors and new authors they might like. Discovering Cemetery Dance and its reviews and ads back in the day opened my eyes to the small press and the plethora of killer horror writers and publishers it contained. Today? Readers have forums, news sites, blogs, and podcasts that do the same thing.
I think genre is more a convenience for publishers. Labeling a book helps them sell it not to readers, but to retailers. They know which reviewers like horror, so they say “here’s a horror novel.” They know shops like Borderlands Books and Dark Delicacies cater to a horror audience, so they say “here’s a horror novel.”
In fact, some publishers embrace their genre status. Consider Deadite Press, for example. Take one look at their covers and there’s no mistaking their audience.
Writers know their audiences, and audiences know their writers. Let the publishers and marketers and retailers figure out the rest, especially now that so much of the work is available electronically and there is no ghetto anymore.
Yeah, sure, readers can still browse Amazon by genre, but again, who sets the label? The publisher. And the recommendation engine knows what the reader is really reading and buying, so before long it still becomes irrelevant.
Writers, just write. If you have a successful string of horror novels under your belt and you get an idea for an epic, sci-fi space opera, then write it. If you’ve made a career on romance and you get an itch for police procedurals, then why not go for it? Hell, fuse genres, if you want to. If it’s good, your readers will follow you.
Which brings me to the exception: rookies.
For rookie writers, genre is a convenience of marketing. By shouting out “Look, I wrote a horror novel!” it helps readers get an idea of what they’re dealing with. It’s an icebreaker before getting into the heavy petting that parts the reader from their money.
Just understand it’s more about marketing than it is about defining or confining the work. The horror genre label tells Rue Morgue they may want to review it. It tells Mark Justice you may be worth interviewing for Pod of Horror. It tells Borderlands and Dark Delicacies their readers may be looking for something just like it.
Or, if you haven’t gotten that far yet, it tells prospective publishers whether they should even take the time to read your manuscript. It helps you sort out small presses and the things they like to read. Deadite, for example, is not going to read your bodice ripper.
Well, not unless there are tentacles ripping said bodice, anyway.
In short, genre is a tool. Use it like one. Genre only becomes a ghetto for you and your work if you allow it to be one.