Blurring the Lines of Genres: Part I

Categorizing your written works can be very challenging in today’s market.  Properly tagging, as well as miss-tagging, your works can work for you or against you.  For instance, the adult entertainment forum that I often post to has two very popular tags that get more reads and exposure than all the other themes.  Some writers will ‘tag’ or categorize their story with these specific themes even if their story does not contain these elements for the simple reason that they think it will get them more reads.  While miss-tagging the story may attract more people to it, doing so often has a huge backlash of readers leaving negative comments and ratings because they felt cheated that the story did not actually have any of the elements that the story was tagged with.  It would be like a reader picking up a novel that was categorized as having vampires in it when it actually didn’t.  Imagine how disappointed the reader would be to have invested all this time and energy in a book and read it from cover to cover only to discover after the fact that there were  not actually any vampires in the book at all.  Readers can be very fickle.  Piss them off just once and they can turn on you like rabid dogs.  Okay, maybe not exactly like rabid dogs, but you get the idea. 

So you may be wondering how on earth you are supposed to wade your way through all the different genres and sub-genres to pick out the perfect themes for your works.  Well, if your works are anything like mine, they probably have elements of several different genres in them.  And anyone who has ever looked up genres on the internet also knows that the experts do not exactly agree 100% on what constitutes a specific genre.  Most people are familiar with mystery, crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance, and erotica.  But what if your story consists of a vampire detective agency trying to solve the crime of who stole the aliens’ spaceship?  And what if the two main characters fall in love and there are some really hot sex scenes thrown into the mix.  What, exactly, would you consider that novel?  Mystery?  Crime?  Fantasy?  Science Fiction?  Romance?  Erotica?  The answer is yes…to all of it.  Throw in some gory fight scenes among all the little aliens and you might could even get away with using horror as a genre listing too. 

As you can see, trying to decide exactly which genre your novel fits into can be a very daunting task.  If the company selling the novel allows a work to be placed in multiple genres, then narrowing it down to 3 or 4 isn’t so bad.  But what happens when you can only list one genre?  That, my friends, is where the lines of genres begin to blur.

Remember how I said that using popular tags could work for you or against you?  Here is one of those times when you are going to have to make an educated, and ethical, decision.  The general rule of thumb for trying to pick out a specific genre is to pick the one that has the strongest element.  In the above example of the vampire detective agency, it could easily fit into the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery genres.  So which one should you ultimately pick?  This is one of those personal decisions that writers have to make all the time.  If you are wanting to be known for writing a specific genre, then you would want to choose that one.  If you are looking to boost your reads, then you might want to pick a genre that is relevant to your story but which is more popular with readers.  Right now, vampires are a hot topic.  Tagging your story as a fantasy novel with vampires could mean more readers.  However, with the market being flooded with such storylines, it could also mean that your novel will get lost in a sea of vampire novels.  Tagging it as science fiction with vampires might reach a different audience, but you run the risk of having die-hard readers of that genre ripping it to shreds because they do not like vampires mixed in with their science fiction.

Tagging and categorizing a story can be an extremely personal experience for a writer, of which many things will affect the final outcome.  Sometimes your agent or publishing house will make the job easier and pick the categories for you.  If you are self-publishing, categorizing your novel will be left up to the writer.  Choosing carefully and wisely can mean the difference between getting a lot of positive feedback and getting a lot of really upset readers who were expecting something entirely different.  When deciding on tags, doing some homework on what is popular and what tags are being used on stories similar to yours can go a long way.  Whichever way you decide, being happy with your results is all that really matters.  Okay, so getting a pay-day helps too.


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