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  • Writer's pictureJohn Brage

Genre Shmenre - Who Cares And Why

Indie writers typically belong to a number of discussion groups through social media. Facebook has a lot of them and Twitter has the #writingcommunity hashtag that draws indie writers together. A common topic for discussion involves defining various genres. I can't tell you how many genres there are all together, but Amazon will give you a hundred million (ok, not really) sub-genre labels to place on your book. I know this is "science fiction" but is it "hard science fiction" or is it "space opera"? What if I have lots of space ships with lots of space ship battles and go to great lengths to have accurate and detailed descriptions of the technologies the ships use? Now it's both, right?

The better question is "who cares?" One could sit around with a group of friends and debate whether super hero stories are science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, etc. Iron Man is Tony Stark in a metal suit that does insane things because Stark is a technological genius and designed it to do those things. Can't be more science fiction than that, right? Dr. Strange isn't just a sorcerer, he's The Sorcerer Supreme. Everything he does involves the use of spells or magic-based devices like the Orb of Agamotto and his cloak. No science involved. Nada. Can't be more fantasy than that, right? Meet The Avengers. Oh snap. Now they are in the same story. But it can't be both fantasy and science fiction because, you know, all labels matter. Now I guess it's speculative fiction? We have a Norse god who is really an alien, a scientist that transforms into a gigantic green powerhouse when he gets mad, and a young woman who can alter reality by....thinking about altering reality. That's pretty speculative.

There are really only two groups who care what genre label gets slapped onto a story. Readers and writers (only two!). Readers like genre labels because there are so many different stories available in the market that they need a meaningful way to sort through them. Writers have to follow suit by attaching these labels so readers can find their stuff. So while someone might tell a writer, "hey, your book isn't a 'YA dystopian coming-of-age' story", the writer might respond by clicking a couple of boxes on her KDP page and say "it is now."

Amazon also has genre rankings (as do major publications like The New York Times). This can result in some hilarity as well as some shenanigans that this writer is overly miffed about. There is one label Amazon uses called "Literature-Fiction-Women-Mystery, Thriller & Suspense-Women Sleuths". That's three levels of sub-genre. If a reader wanted to, he could search the best sellers JUST within that narrow sub-genre (and people do, it's the 10th best selling category in the Kindle store). Romance is a hugely popular genre. There are seven essential sub-genres. One of those is called "paranormal romance". Sex with ghosts? That and more! Vampires, werewolves, demons, etc. are all included. Then you can narrow it down even more. There is gay paranormal romance. There is "harem" romance where the main character is a man who is romantically involved with more than one woman. Then there is "reverse harem" romance where the main character is female and she is romantically involved with more than one man (think "Twilight books" if you can without becoming queasy). All of these are sub-genres of romance, so you can go romance-paranormal romance-shape shifters-reverse harem. That would be a female main character who is involved with more than one werewolf (or "were-some other animal" or anything that can change shapes). So you must be thinking "Man, but how many of those types of books can there be?" Not a ton. BUT, if you are an enterprising writer of such stories and can swing a big roll out with pre-orders, etc. so your first day has good sales numbers FOR THAT SPECIFIC SUB-GENRE, you might land at #18 on The Times's best-seller list for that date and Bam! Every book you ever write after that will say "from New York Times Best selling author _________" on the cover because you aren't dumb. All because you had the 18th best-selling book about a woman involved with more than one werewolf at a time on August 14, 2017. Congratulations, you are now Stephen King.

I haven't bent my knee before the genre gods yet. It may become a necessary evil. I like writing (what I call) science fiction and fantasy because they are both rich in ideas and technology and magic (however you define it) provide flexible tools to provide fresh perspectives on timeless themes. Being a hobbyist who isn't making any money allows me to stick my nose up in the air and state my allegiance to "my art". And to be honest, if I ever write a book about a woman with a thing for werewolves by the dozen, I'm going to use a pen name.

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