Friday, April 8, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Genre by David Baboulene

Hello all! Welcome to a special edition of GPF. Now for the many new visitors: Every Friday, I let followers of this blog post on anything related to writing and/or the literary world. I stopped it for most of April, but I've been asked very nicely, and the day coincided with G and I thought: why not?

Today, David is here as part of his blog tour to market his new book: The Story Book. It's a guide to story development, problem solving, principles and marketing. So... pretty much exactly what we writers need. Click here to head over to his blog. It's full of wonderful advice for those of us who like transforming ideas into stories.

OK then... let's get to the really interesting part.


Why is Genre Important?

When a writer tells me his story is so different it doesn’t fit a genre, he generally looks pretty pleased with himself. Rather than make myself unpopular, I refer him to my conversation with Stewart Ferris - the ex-MD of Summersdale Publishing - who told me the top three reasons why he will reject a book on the basis of its content:

  • Is the material appropriate for our brand and list?
  • Does it have a strong title?
  • Does it have a clear genre?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, instant rejection is almost inevitable. So why is genre in this list?

Everyone in publishing builds a reputation on the decisions they make. Every publisher will go out of business if they don’t publish books that people want to buy. Every editor is only as good as the books she has her name against. Every buyer in the shops will be sacked if they fill precious shelf-space with books that doesn’t budge. And the key to selling a book (not writing - selling) is genre.

Since I started looking deeply into what makes stories grip and engage, I’ve found the roots of just about everything in psychology, and genre is no different. Our brains innately categorise and organise everything. Sales and marketing people know that products MUST match with a mental category to have any chance of making a sale. In Art, Genre is the label we use for this mental categorisation, and we are surprisingly rigid in how we want our lives, firstly, to be categorised, and secondly, for things to sit solidly within category boundaries.

Think about how you choose what to buy in a bookshop. Firstly, you generally know what type of book you want - let’s say you like ‘Travel’ books. You don’t know which specific book you want to buy, but you do know where to find the desired type of book, and you head for the Travel Section. There are, say, 100 books in that genre. Then what do you do? You narrow to a sub-genre. City guide? Map? Adventure? No - you want Humour. This will narrow it to say, 10 book, and you begin looking at them individually. You use the title and cover design to pick the ones that fit best (fit what? Your mental categorisation) and that will leave you with perhaps three that suit your personal idea of travel humour. You then read the back of each and if the publisher has their genre messages right, you probably buy all three of them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ deal (Yes, that’s why they do that!). Note carefully that the content of the book - the words the author took years writing - are totally irrelevant. The top level genre messages that the publisher wrapped your words in are what sold it. Not the writing, but the wrapping. This is the job genre does for you - it helps the publisher to find appropriate writers and it helps readers to find material they are likely to appreciate.

A lot of writers get very frustrated by having their work and themselves forced into a pigeon hole. My advice is to embrace genre. Even the best writers only appeal to say 1% of the population, and you find your audience, and target them with appropriate marketing, because they are the ones who are attracted to the genre. So you need to be sure of one thing: Having a clear genre for your image, your writing, your books and publicity is absolutely key to commercial success.

If you would like to see the 106 page PDF of book categories published by the Book Industry Communications Trade Organisation which is used to categorise ALL published books, or if you would like a free chapter from The Story Book on any aspect of story theory or publishing, do please drop me a line via and I will send it to you.

Thanks to Misha for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful blog. I do hope to do it all again some time!

Thanks for this enlightening post, David. All the best with the rest of your blog tour! If you want to know where David is headed next, this is the link to his tour page.  

Now, if any of you are interested in posting as well, feel free to take a look at the dates available (in the scroll bar) and contact me


  1. I saved genre for M under Mystery Sub-Genre. I think it's not only important to know which genre your books falls under, but to keep the description simple. Choose the genre most covered in the story.

  2. With my first book, I made up a genre, thinking I was so clever. I cringe even thinking about what the agent's reaction was they read my query. eeeek!

  3. I will leave the labeling to someone else and simply write what I want!

  4. Interesting guest post. I have to confess, I usually just skim the first bit, but this one got under my skin enough to read the whole thing. Thinking about it, I am amazed that people wouldn't realize how important genre is. What's the point in writing your 800 page novel if it can't sell. Seems pretty much common sense to me.

  5. That is so smart! I was always thinking of myself as all above the whole genre thing.. but here I wasn't being smart at all. Thanks for the great guest post, Misha!

  6. I'm definitely with Bish. Everybody draws the line in a different place, but mine is certainly way before this. To those who say it won't sell without someone else's label, I say it may not, but who says the industry will look anything like this in even a year? Better to get writing what matters, and worry about the selling later.

  7. Well, people like to classify everything and everyone around!!! For example as Engineers / Doctors / ....

    but going beyond the boundaries can be cool.. out of box style .. mixing up two or more genres can be really interesting too!!!

    with warm regards

  8. An informative post. Thanks David and Misha for sharing this. Certainly gave me a new perspective on genre to mull on.

  9. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I'm with you there, Gail. It's more important to write than to worry about genre. BUT I also think it's a good idea to keep the genre in mind - even if it is just to flip the norms on their heads.

    Hehehe Em. I'm so glad I read a good post about genre creation once. It disabused me of that notion very quickly.

    Bish, but what of when you query?

    Joe it seems like sense to me too. Although it isn't my priority when I write, I always keep the genre in mind... It just seems like a good marketing strategy to keep tabs on. :-)

    Cathy, I'm glad that the post managed to help you. Genre is there for a reason, the first one being (to my mind) that agents want to know.

    Porky, I agree with you on the fact that writing must get priority, but I think at some point authors have to take a look at what they wrote and try to put it into some sort of marketable package. That's what genre is for. I think this post was intended to inform people who insist on querying agents with a "my story transcends genre" line. They don't buy it.

    Posts, I agree with you. My beast draws in influences from other genres as well, but I don't go saying it's a YA fantasy epic/mystery/coming-of-age story with influences from dark fantasy and romances. It is first and above all, a YA fantasy epic. The reader will pick up on the rest on his/her own.

    I'm glad if you could get another perspective on the issue, nut.

    Pleasure, Renae!

  11. I agree that it's important to embrace genre, but we shouldn't forget there are many types of readers, who buy and read in different ways, for different reasons.

    Genre is important for businesses that are structured accordingly (many publishers, agents, bookstores, etc.) and for a number of readers who know about genre and stick to it.

    That (and more) makes it important for writers, especially those who want to get published.

    However, there are many readers out there who are looking for books with other characteristics: e.g. a strong character of a particular gender, ethnic background or persuasion, novels that engage them emotionally, books that were recommended by different friends (on- or offline), cheap ebooks, etc.

    Thanks for your post, Misha. Great food for thought (and discussion). :-)

  12. KC. I agree with you 100%

    I will never write a book just to fill a genre spot, as to my mind that will lead to me missing out on the readers that read for other reasons.

    But I won't write off on the point of having a genre, either.

    Thanks for the comment. It gave a new spin on the topic. :-)

  13. Genre out to be the job of packaging professionals. ;)

    I understand what you're saying here, and agree - from a psychological standpoint, categorization is comfortable. But isn't the job of packaging and advertising to get people to step OUT of their comfort zones and try something new, perhaps? Look at country/rock crossovers. That would NEVER have flown, 50-60 years ago. Now it's hot. The popularity of various genres changes over time, as well. I think maybe it's more important to be in touch with time and culture, but it's disturbing and difficult to hold a book in your hands (particularly one you've written) and have NO CLUE how to categorize it. That might just be an indication that you've missed the mark, somewhere - maybe that your writing isn't tight enough.

  14. I have a tendency to classify things. There are books I want to read, books and papers I want to write, toys that go on the shelf, toys that go in the drawers, dishes that will fit in the dishwasher, clothes that will go in this load of laundry and clothes that will go in the next, errands I can do this weekend and errands that will have to wait until the next, bugs that are harmless, and bugs that I don't want my kids to touch. It just makes sense to me that anything I write should fit into some category. I really enjoyed the analysis of how genre affects a books sell-ability too!


  15. Holly, you have some very valid points. I think that is what sub-genres are for. To further refine the category cross-overs. I have to say it was very uncomfortable for me in the beginning of writing Doorways, because I knew it fell somewhere in the Fantasy Genre, but I couldn't figure out where. Now I made a decision and I think the story is better for it. My knowledge of what I write focused me more than panicked me. And yes, I have some stuff in that comes from other genres I read, but I know that that is just the frosting. ^_^ As for the packaging people, I agree with you 100%. It's their jobs to push boundaries and expose readers to new styles. BUT YOU have to get them to read that FAR into your story. And to my mind, attempting to flout the "rules of engagement" (or seeming to) is not the way to do it.

    Carla, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I also found it very enlightening, even though I never was one of those "my story transcends the limits of genre" types.


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