Word Blurb – What’s in a Genre?

May 21, 2011 at 1:52 am (writing)

    Search around the Internet and you’ll find the popular opinion in the publishing industry that a writer should choose a genre and stick with it. If they want to dabble in other genres, they may want to consider a pseudonym. This is sometimes referred to as “branding” yourself and is particularly championed by agents and large publishing house as a means of establishing a loyal fan base who will avidly follow your work.

    Well, I for one have a problem with this. Not with the loyal fan base – but with the prescribed means of achieving it.

    There are two reasons why I can’t easily adhere to this idea. The first reason is that I’m a perpetual dabbler. If its speculative fiction of some type, I’ve tried writing it – just look at what I have published, from Ghost in The Mirror to Shear Terror, I span a broad range. Horror, dark fantasy, weird fiction, paranormal tales, dystopian fiction, urban fantasy, science fiction, standard fantasy, erotica and various forms of humour, like It’s All about the Tourists – I’ve tried it all. I’ve even tried my hand at literary fiction. I’m a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none in almost every aspect of my life, so asking me to focus my efforts in my writing is asking me to go against my nature. I would rather throw myself into a new and different challenge than write something similar to the last thing I wrote, even if this means I lack a writer “brand.”

    The second reason this doesn’t work for me is that I’ve never manage to squish myself into the standard mould for anything. I’ve run the gambit of trying to conquer a physical disability since I was five, grown up in a French Acadian village with a mother who was British, been a gamer-geek girl in a rustic location where the favourite local past time was drinking beer on the back patio, and I happened to be the only female in my high school honours physics class – and these are only a very few examples of how I’ve never fit in. This means I’m just not capable of boxing myself into any prim and proper package that others insist upon.

    Branding might be effective in many ways but it also has its problems. For one thing, I don’t want ten different pseudonyms because I’ve ventured into multiple genres. I already have trouble enough keeping my current life and the one name straight, how do I manage adding in nine more? It also has the disadvantage of what to do with crossover pieces. Do I lump something like my novel Fervor, which I consider dystopian science fantasy under my dystopian pseudonym, science fiction pseudonym, or fantasy pseudonym? This also brings up the idea of how the “experts” suggest crossovers are a faulty concept – but I’ll get to that later.

    Also, part of brand power is name recognition, and you lose that every time you write something in another genre under a new pseudonym. Why would you want to throw that away and start from scratch because you’re trying something new? Isaac Asimov didn’t resort to using different names for his mystery stories or fantasy work versus his popular science fiction. In fact, I’m not a big fan of straight mystery, so the only reason I read his Black Widowers stories was because the cover wore his name. He did write under the pseudonym, Paul French. I had never heard of the books he wrote under that name until working on this blog posting.

Stephen King faced a similar situation; he published non-horror under his proper name and who hasn’t heard of Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, but the horror he wrote under his pseudonym never really fared all that well until it became common knowledge that the pseudonym belonged to him.

    Okay, so I’m no Isaac Asimov, or Stephen King (in my dreams, maybe) but I’m struggling to market myself and establish some name recognition. Why would I throw that away because I want to play a different game? I’ve already made up my mind that that’s not going to happen – alright, it will with the erotica, but that’s for other reasons.

    Branding aside, when it comes to genres, there’s the second issue of the crossover. This is a little more controversial, but the majority seems to support the idea that you should keep a particular story within the confines of a single genre, once again for the sake of that fan base. That and I’ve also seen the critique that crossovers sometimes don’t work. True – but sometimes they do, very well (one of my favourites from Piers Anthony, the Apprentice Adept series, comes to mind), and some of the genres that exist now are the result of successful crossovers, the result of daring, creative authors who decided to buck the norm of existing genres and do their own thing, even if it was frowned upon. We can attribute the very popular steampunk and paranormal romance genres to these kinds of writers. What would the publishing industry be like without those genres, genres that originated as variants of others?

    So those who are supposed to know best can continue to push the notion of branding and sticking with a single genre, and I will continue to ignore what people tell me I ought to do and write anything and everything I feel like writing. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be known as the creator of a new genre.

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2 Comments

  1. cherylmoore said,

    I completely agree with being stubborn and sticking to your beliefs. That in itself will carve you a loyal readership who are perhaps more open to various genres. I think writers like Iain Banks have a good idea, as we all know that he and Iain M Banks are the same person. It’s useful for the reader to distinguish his science fiction work from his fiction, but he keeps his identity intact.

    • chantellyb said,

      Distinguishing one type of fiction from another using different versions of your name or pseudonyms may work if you keep your writing distinctly in one genre with every story – as I mentioned – but that solution doesn’t solve the riddle of what to do with work that mixes genres, which several of my stories do (also as I mentioned).

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