I’ve created this video to help new writers think about the issue of genre in their novels, which can be a blessing or a curse depending upon how laser-pointed your target market is. If you’ve got a novel that crosses many genres (as mine does), you may have significant challenges in finding the people who most want to read your book.
For those who would rather read the video script here it is below:
Finding a Marketing Niche for My Novel, or What (the Hell) is My Genre?
To a well-read Martian who revisited the earth after a hiatus of thirty years, the publishing world would be hardly recognizable today. Everything has changed. Where it used to be that an author depended heavily upon his publisher to promote his books after publication, and the holy grail of promotion was the 15-city book tour and an appearance on Oprah, now people are publishing and actively marketing their own books and the great hope of every author today is to have their own marketing efforts go viral (I’m talking about millions of clicks, and links, and followers, and likes).
Niche marketing is what it’s all about. As Internet media expert Chris Anderson explained in his best-selling book The Long Tail, it used to be that the first weeks after publication were the critical ones as dollars were spent by the publisher on ads, media spots, and promotional book display stands in big-box book stores. Now, however, anyone with an Internet connection and a book to sell, can sell directly to the people who will be most likely to buy his or her book. However, this requires a lot of strategizing and authors must dig deep to find their audience, their niche.
A sort of reverse effect of this marketing issue has been that authors are increasingly writing to a specific niche that they can then successfully market to. This has resulted in an explosion of different genres of book types, particularly in the area of novels in the past decade or two.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines genre as ‘’a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.’’ Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were only a few genres of novels that predominated in the trade book field. They included: science fiction, mysteries, western, romance, and general trade novels. Now there is a much broader and wider range of genres. In addition to these five, there are: thrillers, horror, historical, speculative fiction, fantasy, magical realism, dystopian, detective, gothic, meta, military, steam punk, cyberpunk, young adult, new adult, survival, serial, psychological, parable, action & adventure, women’s, LGBTQ+, contemporary, literary, graphic, crime, and many other genres and sub-genres.
This explosion of book genres has been beneficial to readers who have specific tastes and preferences in subject matter and style. They can just get on Amazon, or go to a book store, and head straight for their favorite genre section of the store and hope to be rewarded with a wonderful read. As I’ve also said, this multiplicity of genres has also been a windfall for authors who can carefully craft their books to fit into specific genres that they can then target and monetize.
This expansion of genres, however, has not been beneficial to everyone. Readers whose tastes are eclectic may have to search harder for books that are what marketers call ‘’cross-genre’’ or more colorfully ‘’genre-busting’’ novels. And for authors who are setting out to write not for any specific genre at all, but merely seeking to write the very best novels they can write, this specificity of genres can make it very difficult them to craft marketing strategies that are tailored to the themes, styles, and topics of their specific novels.
I’ve found myself in this latter category myself this past year, having written a novel entitled Childless. It’s about a childless child psychologist who tries to foil a U.S. government plot to have childhood identified as a medical disorder and removed from the human genome.
Now you might say, well that’s easy, it’s clearly science fiction. But things aren’t that simple. Yes, it has a science fiction plot that is especially emphasized toward the end of the book, as U.S. military geneticists work hard to develop a genetic fix to accelerate adulthood while simultaneously renegade genetics work to genetically engineer a process that will delay adulthood and make childhood last a hundred years. A sort of good versus evil plotline. And I guess if I had to name one novel that seemed to represent the type of novel I’ve written, it would have to be Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The novel was written in 1932, so it doesn’t have the DNA and gene technologies that we have today, but the test-tube babies with their assigned traits comes closest to what I had in mind when I wrote my own novel. That’s why I listed the novel on Amazon as ‘’genetic engineering science fiction.’’
However, like Huxley’s book, it is also in a sense a parable novel and a satire (actually a dark comedy) on the importance of childhood to the wellbeing of civilization. In this sense, it bears some similarity to other dark comedies like The Loved One (which satired the funeral industry), Catch 22 (which satired the military), and perhaps the work that most closely approximates my book, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (which is actually a satiric essay where Swift suggests eating children as a solution to poverty and food insecurity). By the way, by mentioning these books, I’m certainly not putting Childless in the same category. These are the classics.
My book actually begins as more of a psychological or literary novel as Harvey Sumner, the childless child psychologist, goes through a good deal of inner turmoil as he considers his mid-life contradictions. He’s the scion of a long-line of famous child-healers and a world expert on childhood himself, but he hasn’t worked with actual real live children for almost thirty years. This inner psychological conflict is just as important to the book as the science fiction plot.
To these genres I could add speculative fiction and dystopian, since at the end of the novel (spoiler alert!!) I write about an American culture that exists solely of adults (the children who are born in this society actually are engineered to ‘’explode’’ into adulthood in a matter of seconds after their birth – I call them Popcorn Adults). In that sense in addition to Huxley’s book, it resembles Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (a world without books), The Handmaid’s Tale (a world with few procreative women) by Margaret Atwood, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (a world of organ farmed young adults), and The Children of Men by P.D. James (this latter novel comes closest to my book, portraying a world of infertility and no new babies being born).
So there we have it. Childless is a psychological novel, literary novel, science fiction novel, dark comedy, parable novel, speculative fiction, dystopian novel, and I should add, it also has magical realism aspects, because most of the novel is realistic except for the Popcorn Adults and a few other light touches along the way.
So where to put it in the bookstore? Who to market it to? I’ve already heard from a book reviewer who said she thought Childless was dystopian until toward the end when she ‘’discovered’’ it was a satire (at which point she enjoyed the novel much more than before). This is the downside of just setting off to write the best novel I could. I didn’t plan the novel ahead of time, I simply set my eyes on the computer screen and my fingers on the keyboard and forged straight ahead, adding things that made sense to me as the next good thing to add as I went along. Given my background as an educator and psychologist focusing on childhood for over thirty years, I was led to plot lines that occurred to me from my own experience (‘’write what you know’’ is the cliché that applies here), and perhaps most importantly, I added a lot of stuff from my wild and untrammeled imagination.
At any rate, all I can say is let you be the judge. Get my book on Amazon, read it, and then email me and let me know which genre or genres it best fits into. That could help me a lot in my marketing campaign. Here’s my email: email@example.com. Thanks for watching and listening!
If you’re interested in watching other videos in this series focusing on my novel Childless click on the links below:
- My New Novel is Out! Childless by Thomas Armstrong
- My Novel ”Childless: ”The Use of Human Endogenous Retroviruses as a Key Plot Element .
- Video: Childless and the Use of Neoteny as a Plot Device
- The Disappearance of Childhood: 15 Indicators of Childhood’s Demise in America
- The Journey to Publishing My First Novel at Age 72
- 12 Tips for Writing Your First Novel
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong