I’ve never been what you’d call a genre writer. In fact, I’ve said this for years: “I’m not a genre writer.” Problem is, we live in an age where everything must be classified.
It’s weird. I’m a guy who grew up listening to a lot of rock (the genre formerly known as “rock ‘n’ roll”). When I got into my late teens and early 20s, I noticed a strange trend: the stuff I thought of as Rock was now being labeled Classic Rock, and the newer rock was called Alternative or some other vague label. So when I went to a record store—yes, I used to frequent such places—I found it confusing. I kept trying to figure out where the new rock was and where the old rock was, and…. well, you get the idea.
The same thing seemed to happen with literature. Growing up, I’d go to a bookstore and look for fiction. That was the name of that section of the store: Fiction. Over time, something weird evolved (or devolved) there, too. The categorization fever that overtook my favorite record store began to overtake the bookstore. Where once was only Fiction, there now stood shelves and shelves of Detective and Romance and Mystery and…again, you get the idea.
I was nonplussed. I grew up on Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Balzac, and a slew of other writers who wrote Fiction. No one ever suggested that The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins should be categorized as Detective Fiction or that A Tale of Two Cities was an Unrequited Romance novel. We had Fiction and Non-Fiction. Oh, and Biography. Can’t forget Biography.
So when I started publishing my own novels, I was pained to learn that I’d have to classify them as the snobby-sounding Literary Fiction. After all, my books were about pretty regular people. There weren’t any zombies or werewolves or vampires interfering with their character arcs. In the brave new world (Sci-Fi!) of mandatory categorization, anything with regular people would have to be classified as either Literary or Mainstream Fiction. My stuff wasn’t exactly mainstream—guy gets dosed with LSD at a party and has his hand chopped off by a speeding locomotive—so Literary it was.
What Sort of Genre Is This?!
Time went by, and I started a novel that had something a little supernatural about it. The challenge wasn’t so much “How do I write in a different genre?” It was more like, “What do I call this book I’m writing when the time comes?”
And time was a primary consideration indeed because the book has a time travel element. Would it be Time Travel Fiction? Was that the category, or sub-category?
I had to step back from my project and figure out what people would call it. Ultimately, I researched the broad category of Speculative Fiction, aka, SpecFic, and learned all sorts of stuff about what’s considered Science Fiction and what isn’t. In the end, it seemed like the best categorizations for the novel, because of its spiritual considerations, would be something called Metaphysical and Visionary Fiction.
I added Time Travel Fiction and Action and Adventure Literary Fiction to my IngramSpark listing. But Amazon didn’t seem to go for it and sub-categorized the ebook as Metaphysical Fiction and Metaphysical Science Fiction ebooks—straight from the Department of Redundancy Department. They then went to the extra extreme of sub-categorizing the paperback as Fantasy Action & Adventure (a dubious category at best) and Time Travel Fiction (Yay! Got one!).
The reason all this stuff is so important? Obviously, if you don’t categorize your book, Amazon will do it for you. Even in my example, I still don’t think they got all the sub-categories right. Imagine what a mess they might have created if I hadn’t gotten my IngramSpark listing dialed in properly. And when books aren’t categorized properly, the wrong readers may find them—readers who dislike that genre and will feel they were misled into buying your book.
So now you know: writing in a new “genre” isn’t necessarily the hard part; categorizing and sub-categorizing it may be the hard part. After all, that’s what the book business is now, in some fashion, all about.