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What is Genre? Understanding the Business of Publishing with Mary Malone

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | Submission Tips

Mary Malone

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What is genre?

Where will your book fit in the market?

What will give it the very best opportunity of being picked up by a publisher?

Very briefly – because I don’t want to interfere with or disturb your creative flow  – if you are a writer, you have to consider the business side of writing, the dastardly publishing world. It’s not something to be afraid of but it is something to prepare for.

Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that Literary Agents and Publishers are in the business of making profit. Your novel will be one of their multiple products and to market and sell it successfully, they will have to inform bookshops where exactly it fits into their large variety of stock.

In other words, it has to fit into a niche and appeal to a particular market.  This is what we mean when we talk about genre. Genre is your book’s niche.

A general rule of thumb for debut novelists is to check out the bookshelves in the local bookshop and decide what slot suits their work. This slot is known as ‘genre’, e.g. popular fiction, romance, thriller, suspense, paranormal etc. Choosing a genre was easy for me; I wanted to be on the same shelf as the authors I’d been reading for years.

Take the time to choose yours. Figure out where your novel will sit most comfortably on the shelves. Above all, for a novel to succeed in the market, it must STAND OUT.

Identifying the age and gender profile for your book is another consideration. If you’re writing for children, what category? Pre-school? 5-7 years, 7-9 years etc. Boys or girls? Or both?

Adult fiction too can be categorised by age and/or gender so have a reader audience in mind for your book. The publisher may well be impressed by the level of detail you can provide in terms of your target market, encouraging them to invest in some of the book shop promotion opportunities that are available. Speaking of which, did you know that publishers have to pay a fee or allow larger discounts to have books displayed in prime spots, e.g. on the table inside the door of a bookshop, window display, bestseller stand or labelled as book of the week?  As I mentioned before, publishing and book selling is a business, one it pays to be well versed in, in order to give yourself and your book the very best opportunity.

Each genre or ‘category’ has its own set of conventions that are there to be both obeyed and ignored.

  • Crime: plot, action and character are key
  • Science Fiction: the imagined world and its landscape set the scene
  • Historical Fiction: historical fact becomes the backdrop, using fiction to fill in the cracks and gaps of historical knowledge.
  • Romantic Fiction: predominantly takes a world of female archetypes and the issues preventing them finding their happy every after.
  • Horror: Stephen King is the best example – even though he has created and broken all the rules in this particular genre.

These are mere guidelines, drawing imaginary squares for a writer to squeeze their work into, particularly at submission and publication stage. A writer securing a little market knowledge may well avoid falling into publishing ‘booby traps’, learning to maximise every opportunity to promote their work.

Publishing, despite its creative nature, is a business. Writers will do themselves a favour to remember this. Publishing markets, like other economic sectors, are feeling recession strain. Tightening profit margins, increased market volume and decreased market value are real concerns, yet they continue to invest their belief in writers and launch their titles. As a writer you must remember that the business cannot operate without you – and while traditional print publishing is reshaping and going through a period of change, there are many opportunities opening up for writers through the Internet and ePublishing. See Vanessa O’Loughlin’s article ‘Finding Opportunity in Change’ for more on that.

Writing a novel is your first step. Making it a successful marketable product is a team effort between the author and the publishing house. But as an author, give yourself the best opportunities, play your part, be open-minded and research your market, understand your genre.

About the author

(c) Mary Malone for writing.ie

Mary Malone is the best selling author of Love is the Reason (Poolbeg). She lives in Cork with her husband, Pat, and sons, David and Mark. Love Is The Reason is her 4th novel . As well as being an author and freelance journalist, Mary works full time in the Central Statistics Office in Cork.

Find out more about her at www.marymalone.ie

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