Defining genre for indie authors

There was once a time when the big six practically ruled the literary world, making authors famous, rejecting great books on a flippant whim and creating their own specific genres that writers had to adhere to if they wanted even the slightest hope of publication. I’ve heard many stories of authors who’ve had to significantly alter novels or remove entire story threads so as to appease the literary powers that be. Then, Amazon said ‘hang on, lets enable authors to publish their own books and take a cut‘. The self publishing indie world was born, free of restrictions, enabling authors to write what they wanted with no compromise. However, in the sudden rush of this literary bandwagon it seems that both Amazon and many readers have failed to keep up with the changing genres, often making it very difficult to place your book into the right category.

It seems that many good indie authors, authors who have written amazing novels and are doing well, as still finding difficulties with defining their genre. Numerous problems seem to be rife with romantic books in particular; even if your entire 400 page novel is bursting with romanticism, if the lovers don’t end up together, then your book is not romance and you will feel the wrath of many a reader. Readers are the indie author’s life force, offering the means to keep writing and share their work. But, there can often be a very stringent unsaid code of conduct to write by if you want to please the majority. Of course, there are readers who like the break from the mould, the chance to read something a little different, something refreshingly new, but in altering the traditional format, you may find yourself risking a backlash.

I’ve had particular problems defining Inside Evil myself. There are fantasy and paranormal elements scattered throughout the book, but many readers of this popular genre are looking for werewolves, vampires and fairies, of which NONE appear in my tale. Instead, a mystical tome offers intrigue, an evil curse lurks awaiting another victim, another realm’s ‘gatekeepers’ follow ancient customs to keep demons at bay. I sail perilously close to mentioning spells and some characters do entertain supernatural beliefs, but for a reader wanting a witchcraft read, once again Inside Evil does not quite fit the bill. Parallel worlds are often used in science fiction, but again, though there is another realm in Inside Evil, it is certainly not one that lives in the sci-fi genre. Then, there is the horror and occult aspect of the book which, though not apparent in full visceral force, does provide an underlying tone. But, for those wanting full throttle horror, once again, Inside Evil may not be the right genre. It seems that I’ve written a novel which fits into many, yet no traditional genres. Though the eclectic cast of characters offer a unique and page turning story, traditional readers may remain unsure.

Indie publishing is a godsend for people like myself who want to share their work with readers without having to deal with creative oppression. However, even Amazon itself is has so few categories within their Kindle listings that they seem tied to the very stereotypical genres that have been forced into society by traditional publishers. Whilst the traditional author might have to write a, b and c to create a perfect thriller, the indie author might take out b altogether and throw in a couple of wayward z’s to the mix. Just to liven things up a bit. Just to refresh the genre and offer something unique. But, it comes with the risk that you may divide readers, causing outrage from traditionalists and clamouring fans from modernists.

There are many indie authors whose works easily falls into a specific genre, making their lives far easier. However, for many, like myself, who have forgone the carefully constructed genres of the past, the world may be our oyster, we just have to work a little harder to try and define ourselves. Meanwhile, readers will remain vital in helping to break the traditional restrictions so that authors feel free to offer something new. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying new genres for Inside Evil and taking feedback from readers to help discover its best suited category, but until then, it seems that many will either love, or hate, novels which break the norm.

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10 thoughts on “Defining genre for indie authors

    • geoffwakeling

      Exactly! I’m not going to start including werewolves and vampires in my paranormal thrillers just because its what the current market wants. But, if I take this stance it seems the books are a harder sell. Oh well. Suppose we’ll just have to create our own genres 😉

      • Catana

        But how do we defeat that irony you mentioned? We’re free to write whatever we want, without publishers’ interference, but it’s impossible to work within the limited categories on the various sales sites.

  1. geoffwakeling

    And that’s the impossibility. Established authors are lucky enough to have a group of fans who love when they step outside of the boundaries and will lust after new work as soon as they are published. Building this fan base when genre options are limited and therefore stifle readers options when it comes to searching out new books, is extremely difficult.

    • Catana

      In a discussion on KIndleboards, someone actually had the nerve to say that if you don’t know what genre your book belongs in, then you probably don’t know what it’s about. And I was actually advised to write to a genre — or else. The “or else” was implied, but that’s the attitude a lot of “advisors” have.

  2. Catana

    I try to maintain my sense of humor, but eventually I just have to bow out. There’s a gap that can’t be closed because people write for different reasons. If you really love a genre and that’s the one you’re comfortable writing in, or you’re after the money in whatever is currently popular, then mixing genres doesn’t make any sense at all. Much less wanting the freedom to experiment. So we won’t get rich. That’s okay with me.

  3. Edit-My-Book (@BookEditorSteph)

    I read, edit and review a lot of books and I’m delighted to find that the definition of paranormal seems to be steadily evolving. There are plenty of books out there with that label that are vampire- and lycan-free these days. It’s true that many people do associate these guys with the paranormal genre, but they don’t define it. Broader minded paranormal fans will happily embrace any type of writing in that genre, whatever its exact contents. Writers should never be trapped by a genre, but rather use it as a springboard for their creation, as you are doing. Your book sounds most intriguing…

    • geoffwakeling

      Thanks for your comment Steph. I’m glad to read that true paranormal fans are not stuck to the popular vampire and lycan genres.

      I agree, writers should never be trapped by genre, but it can be quite difficult to define a genre if people like me decide to step outside of the box!

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