Happy Monday! It’s almost the end of July and then we have just a few more weeks of summer left! While fall is my favorite season (woodsmoke! crunching leaves! cooler weather!) I don’t like to rush my time along, and I’m going to make the most of August and the lazy days still ahead.
At any rate, I love being plugged into the indie industry, listening to what other top indies are doing, and where their heads are at right now. Mostly, at least last week while I was consuming information, it seemed the subject was choosing genre.
Choosing genre can be really hard for some writers, reluctant to settle on one thing for fear it will stifle their creativity, or they choose not to do it all together, claiming to be multi-genre authors with “something for everyone.” While I agree that we should write what we want to write so we never lose that spark of wanting to create, I’m still of a mindset that if we want readers to consume our work, then we need to figure out how to deliver that work into the hands of the people who will enjoy it most. A friend of mine writes in several genres, never publishes under a pen name and she spends a lot of time on Twitter directing readers to books she thinks they’ll enjoy. That’s great, and if she’s willing to network and “show people to their seats” like a theatre usher, then she should have at it. But while she’s curating her own library for her readers, when is she writing the next book? “Something for everyone” is hell on marketing.
I was listening to the Wish I’d Known Then Podcast for Authors with Jami Albright and Sara Rosett, and they interviewed guest Lee Strauss. I haven’t read any of Lee’s work (she doesn’t write a genre I read) but she had some great advice about choosing genre and figuring out what you like to write best through trial and error. (Hint: what you LOVE TO READ BEST is probably a good starting point for figuring out what you’d like to write best. And don’t @ me and say you read everything–I read widely as well, but if you take an honest survey of what you read, you’ll find a genre that tips the scales.) I commented on their FB page for their podcast that while this kind of information is great, the writers listening probably already know settling on a genre is the best way to go. Jami gentle corrected me and said you never know who will need to hear something like that. I agreed, but, on the other hand, a listener also has to be open to hearing the information, accepting it, and willing to apply it to their own careers.
Back when I started writing, if someone had told me to focus on one genre, I would have said, “But I am.” Little did I know that contemporary romance isn’t a genre. Contemporary romance is the ocean. Thriller is the ocean. Mystery is the ocean. Women’s fiction is the ocean. Drilled-down subgenre is a pond, a little pond where you can specialize in what you want to be known for to your readers. A duck can get lost in the ocean. Probably eaten by a shark. A duck is cute and safe in a pond. Lee’s interview proves my point–she settled into historical (1920s) cozy mystery. Can’t get any more drilled down than that.
If you want to listen to her interview here it is. She also goes a little bit into character attachment and what that means to a reader. I found it really interesting and may write a blog post about that another time.
I think talking about genre is interesting. There are so many people who think that choosing a genre will pigeon-hole them they refuse to do it, yet they try to query. Agents don’t want a book that’s a mix of three different genres. Your agent wants to see your book on a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble just as much as you do, and if you’ve ever gone into a bookstore, their shelves are still divided by genre. If you’ve got a romantic fantasy horror just waiting to get out, where is the manager of that Barnes and Noble going to stick your book? Romance? Fantasy? Horror? (Never mind what that cover is going to look like :P)
I like writing romance, I’m always shipping couples who don’t need to be shipped. I look for romance everywhere. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that’s what I wanted to write, but when I say contemporary romance isn’t a genre, I mean it’s too big of a genre to write in, too many subgenres and tropes, and like my friend who writes everything, my readers have to pick through my books to figure out what they’re going to enjoy most. That’s not a way to keep readers and, while it isn’t difficult, doesn’t have the return on investment that it could.
I think we get a little confused because when we publish on Amazon, or Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Google Play, we no longer think of shelves. There aren’t any shelves in the Amazon store, no end caps featuring the latest deal or overstock stores want to get rid of. Because of this, browsing is a lot harder for a reader, and they need to search for what they like, such as Vigilante Justice, or Small Town Romance. Then, if you have your keywords and categories correct, your book will show up on the results page. But, you’re saying, you can genre-hop and this will still work.
It will. When someone wants small town romance, maybe my Rocky Point Wedding series will pop up. (Likely not since my books are old and they don’t have many reviews, rending me useless to Amazon.) But say they like your Women’s Divorce Fiction you wrote under the Women’s Fiction genre–and they want more Women’s Divorce Fiction. Oh, you only wrote the one book, too bad, and they move on. Chances are really really good that they might read another one of your books anyway, but if you had more Women’s Divorce Fiction for them to choose from, you just caught yourself a reader who will read your entire backlist. Think of your Amazon Author Page as a store, and your list of books as a shelf. Do they all fit on that shelf? My books fit in Contemporary Romance, but with a sports romance trilogy, enemies to lovers, age gap romance, close proximity, then a four-book small town romance series, you can kind of see why a reader would like to read my enemies to lovers then drop off from the rest of my backlist. They aren’t similar enough to hold a reader’s interest. I wanted to be like Nora Roberts–able to write everything. I’ll never be like her. Her career and mine will never be the same.
I can see why you’d be balking, even to me it sounds extremely limiting, but the secret is to choose a subgenre and then have fun with the tropes. I chose Billionaire Romance to start up my pen name, but I can do anything I want with tropes. Enemies to lovers, fake fiance, my brother’s girlfriend is off limits, even a little mystery suspense. I’ll grab every reader who wants billionaire and more importantly, keep them because they know that’s all I’ll offer them. Had I known that, maybe I would have focused all my other books on small town romance. I am from a small town, after all, but it actually wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me to even write to trope. After four years of writing, you’d think that would have clicked into my brain a long time ago, but like many new authors, I was just writing the stories as they came to me and assigning the genre/subgenre/trope after the book was written, if there was even a trope after all was said and done. My sports trilogy and my Rocky Point Wedding series don’t follow tropes very well. It’s no wonder the ten books I have out never really did anything. I didn’t have a direction. Maybe all those who wander are not lost, but my books now are out in the weeds and there’s no pulling them back.
As for readers of blog posts like this, and listeners of podcasts like Jami and Sara’s, and even writers and authors who watch YouTube videos by indie authors like Derek Murphy who extol the idea of writing to market and writing to trope, maybe you aren’t ready to do things this way. Maybe you never will be, content to be a theater usher using social media and marketing to direct readers to that one book in your backlist they’ll enjoy. That’s okay. I don’t think my friend will ever change how she does things–she says she enjoys writing whatever she wants. Maybe you enjoy the creative freedom so much that you’ll take worrying about where your readers will come from in exchange. Or maybe in a couple years you’ll think back on this post and realize you’re in the same spot you were in when you read this and you’ll be open to a new way of doing things. And maybe Jami is right after all–maybe there are writers out there who don’t know there’s a better way to do things.
If you want to watch Derek Murphy’s latest video, here it is:
For me, this kind of content is interesting. While I was listening to Lee, I kept nodding, smiling even, because what she found out, I too have found out the hard way by way of little traction and no audience.
If you’re interested in trying it my way, and the way of other indies who have built and audience and are making a livable income off their books, how can you start?
- Pick an ocean genre. Contemporary romance, thriller, women’s fiction. The biggest umbrella you can find. Because while I said most readers don’t hop around, some do, and this wide net will catch a lot of fish. But then–
- Choose a subgenre. Subgenres are not tropes. Subgenres are niches within the larger genre such as billionaire romance, small town romance, vigilante justice, hard-boiled detective, family saga.
- Then choose your tropes. You might think that Billionaire Romance is limiting, but I’ve written 11 books so far, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet. It’s kind of like the idea “free as a bird in a cage.” You have boundaries and you know what they are so you have more fun playing. If you feel safe, you’re more secure in your story, and your confidence will come out in your writing.
Of course, coming from me, it would make more of an impact if I could say, see, my Billionaire Romance has made me $100,000 this year (God, that would help me with so many worries!). Of course, I can’t, but you can take a look at any indie author making it to see they stuck to a certain subgenre and used familiar tropes in their writing to see that I’m not wrong.
As far as genre and subgenre and tropes as buzzwords, I guess they’ll always be around. No matter how much you want to brush them off for the sake of your creative freedom, they are there for reasons that may we not understand let alone want to accept. That will have to be a choice you make, and I wish you the best!
Here is a good list of Genres and Subgenres from Writer’s Digest. I can’t help but note what the start of the article says. 114 Fiction Sub-Genre Descriptions for Writers
I didn’t find a list of subgenres or tropes for Women’s Fiction. Indie publishing has drawn hard lines when it comes to romance, something it took me a lot of time to discover. Women’s fiction is blurrier, but if you look women’s fiction authors, they still tie their books together, like Pamela Kelley and her Nantucket series, or Elizabeth Bromke and her family sagas. I did find a list of themes, and I think the article explains women’s fiction well and worth a read if that’s what you’re looking to write: Themes in Women’s Fiction
This is it for me this week. You can think of this blog post as filler, if you’d like, because I’ve blogged about this before (I hope it will be the last because I’m even starting to bore myself), but I’m spending the week in Georgia and my mind is already on vacation. I think genre, subgenre, and tropes are important though, they are the core of each book we write whether we want to admit it or not. Something clicked with me when I decided to write to trope, and maybe it will for you, too. Have a great week ahead!