Genre. It’s like the gender classification for books, except there are more than two options:
On and on and on . . .
Just as it is with gender, a book’s genre classification gives people a set of expectations for how the book should ‘act’. Romance novels should have a happily ever after ending. A Fantasy novel should transport the reader to a world they’ve never before seen. A Mystery novel should have unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.
But what if I don’t want to be boxed into one category? What if I don’t want to follow the rules?
“Um, that’s great. But tell me, what kind of books do you write?”
When someone asks me this question, I know they’re expecting me to respond with a genre classification. In the beginning of my writing career, I would cringe and stutter and overall just make myself look like a blubbering idiot. My books don’t fit neatly into a specific genre, and I didn’t want to pigeonhole them into one. Instead of blurting out a genre, I decided to tell my perspective readers what my books are about.
The primary focus of my indieBRAG honoree novel, Kingston’s Project, is overcoming grief. However, it’s so much more than that. It’s also about family dysfunction, friendship, love, and living with a rare disease. The sequel, Kingston’s Promise, continues these themes through the point of view of another character.
My third novel, Shattered Angel, is completely different. The primary theme is human trafficking. It shows the strength of the main character as she endures the brutal life she has been given. It’s about survival, knowing who to trust, and forbidden love. It’s also a bit of a suspense novel as it counts down from chapter 24 as Angel only has 24 hours to make a choice—return to her old life or die.
The novel I’m currently working on is somewhat of a coming of age story, but it will also have a touch of magical realism (assuming I can pull it off the way I want to). The main character is a teenage boy, so that means it could probably also be classified as young adult.
Writing came into my life by way of serendipity, so I never sat down at the start of this crazy ride and asked myself, “What do I want to write?” I just started writing the story that was in my head. I didn’t pause to consider who the reader might be or how I would classify it during the publishing process. Now that I know writing will always be a part of my life, I get a bit claustrophobic when I think about being boxed into writing only one genre. One of the primary reasons I decided to self-publish was so I could write what I want, how I want. While each of my books touch multiple parts of the genre spectrum, there are two common denominators:
I write with heavy emotions. Just last week my critique group told me, unanimously, how much they hated most of the characters in my current work-in-progress. They spoke with a level of passion that made me feel as though my characters were real people. It was awesome! And it was great because they hated the characters I wanted them to hate. Their response was exactly what I strive to achieve. I want to evoke a range of feelings in each of my books. Cry, laugh, get angry—just don’t give me indifference. If you feel nothing, then I have failed to achieve my goal.
I write about life. The good, the bad, and those parts we wish we could pretend didn’t exist. Life is complex and messy. And it certainly doesn’t fit into one neat little genre.
“That’s great, Carrie. But what do you write? Romance, mystery, what?”
Readers are used to books being marketed and classified by genre. Many have paid for long-term parking in the section of the bookstore with the books they like to read. They want to ensure my book will fit neatly into that category (and therefore their expectations) before a purchase is made.
Genre classification is also a requirement for many aspects of the book publication process—from Amazon to book promotions—so I have to pick something.
Out of sheer force, I’ve decided to identify with Mainstream. It is the box that fits the best while allowing me some flexibility to stretch my wings and try new ideas. If Mainstream isn’t an option (for example, with certain promotions), then I close my eyes and throw a dart. Okay, not really. But that’s what it feels like sometimes. If I’m required to select a genre other than Mainstream, I battle it out between Literary and the ‘next best genre’ category I have identified for each of my books.
However, I wish I could simply say, “My books are genre-neutral. Just like life.”
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
Be sure to check out Carrie’s post, The indiebrag on My Shelf!