Monday, February 6, 2017

On Genre ...

By Iola Goulton



Welcome to the first Australasian Christian Writers/Christian Writers Downunder joint post for 2017. This year, we’ve decided to theme our posts, and our theme is GENRE. Genre is important in publishing, in fiction and in non-fiction. If you’re anything like me, you have favourite genres, not-so-favourite genres, and read-on-pain-of death genres. And you can get a little upset if a book doesn't meet your expectations.

Genre is like food.



My husband and I often go out for Saturday brunch together, sampling some of the many cafes in our area. He has two go-to orders: the big breakfast, or the hash brown stack. Each café tries to make their offering a little different, so what you get with each order varies. The hash brown stack has several hash browns, and may come with bacon or eggs or sliced tomato or sliced avocado. The eggs might be fried, poached, or scrambled. But the key is that it’s a stack: there are two or three hash browns in a stack, with the other ingredients layered in between the hash browns. The clue is in the name.

Or so we thought.



We tried a new café recently, and my husband ordered the hash brown stack. But it wasn’t a stack. It was three hash browns slapped on a plate beside some fried eggs, with a bowl of slushy baked beans on the side.



Not what he’d expected.



When we visit a restaurant and order a meal, we have expectations about what we’re going to get. If I order a hash brown stack, I want hash browns. In a stack. With stuff in between them. It occurred to me there are a lot of similarities between café menus and bookstores, real or virtual.



We look around, decide what we want, and feel unhappy if our expectations aren’t met.



How many times have you finished a perfectly good book with a "meh" feeling, because it wasn't what you expected? Perhaps it had been billed as romantic suspense, but there wasn't enough romance. Or enough suspense. Perhaps you'd bought a tell-all biography and found most of the information was stuff you'd already read online. Perhaps you'd been looking for a devotional with new insights into the Bible, and got the same tried-and-true clichés as in the last three you read. Or worse, perhaps you got a "creative" interpretation of the Bible.



As authors, we need to understand our readers and what they expect. 



We need to understand our readers, and manage their expectations. Part of the way we understand and manage reader expectations is through genre. If you're not sure what genre you write, then I suggest you need to read more. I'm not the only person who suggests this. So does Nola Passmore, in her recent post at Christian Writers Downunder. And so does Stephen King, who says:



We've talked a bit about genre before at Australasian Christian Writers, including brief explanations of several major genres:
Our 2017 joint ACW/CWD posts are going to go into these genres in more detail, and investigate some lesser-known genres.



Here's another reason to consider getting your genre right: marketing.



Selling books.



Genre is vital for selling books. The recent Author Earnings report shows that 69% of all US book sales are online. That's not just ebook sales, but ALL book sales. Many of those sales are through Amazon, and the key to Amazon sales success is getting your book categorised properly. Meaning, getting your book categorised in the right genre. Last week, I read a blog post from an author who was disappointed by the sales of her first solo single title novel (she'd co-written other single title novels, and had a number of category romance novels published).


When I checked her book on Amazon, I saw her publisher had messed up her categories: they'd categorised her novel as historical ... and as contemporary. That's not going to help sales. Sure, readers might find the novel, but it's also going to confuse them—and potentially lead to critical reviews from authors expecting a contemporary mystery, and getting a historical adventure/mystery. I see this a lot. Novels categorised as non-fiction. Novels listed in the wrong category, or one that doesn't seem consistent with the book description.



In other words, a lack of understanding of genre, and the way it influences and reflects reader expectations.



Take my food example: my husband was disappointed with his hash brown stack because it didn't meet his expectations of what a hash brown stack should be. It's not that there was anything wrong with the individual components of the meal, or that the meal didn't taste good. It's just that it wasn't what he was expecting. Readers are the same. They're not browsing the Classics shelves looking for the latest Love Inspired Suspense (or vice versa). They're not cruising the romance shelves looking for poetry.

Readers know what they want, and they expect those expectations(!) to be met.



And that's why we're going to be looking at genre in our joint posts during 2017. Please join us!

About Iola Goulton




I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.

You can also find me on:
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19 comments:

  1. Many thanks for an excellent post Iola. I like the sound of your Saturday brunches. That's a valid point about reaching our readers expectations. Also that if we want to write, we must first and foremost be readers. Thank you for giving us some thought provoking tips as well as meeting our expectations of reading a great blog today! :)

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    1. Thank you, Anusha :)

      (In case you're interested, the picture is of the Hash Brown Stack from the Hot Pipi Café in Waihi Beach. Hash browns, scrambled eggs, and plenty of bacon. Delicious!)

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  2. Yes, getting the right genre is definitely key. It can also be tricky!

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    1. Especially tricky when you start to write one genre and find the characters don't want to go that way ;)

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  3. Hi Iola, I'm really looking forward to this genre series, and this is a great post to start with. I've found myself in the same position as your husband with his hash brown stack, and for the same reason. Placing a book in a particular genre does set our expectations, and if it's different, we do feel a bit disappointed, as if we've been tricked. I do like the analogy, which makes it clear why being clear is so important. I've often found myself saying, 'That's not a stack' (or romance, fantasy, mystery etc)

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    1. I often pick the book I want to read next based on genre e.g. I'm in the mood to read a funny romance, or a more serious piece of women's fiction, or some non-fiction.

      Review copies (e.g. those I've got from NetGalley) can be harder, as I've often forgotten the book blurb or genre by the time I come to read the book. But even there I've had a couple I've requested to review because they *said* they were romance ... only they weren't. It does leave me feeling a little as if I'd been tricked.

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  4. Great post, thanks Iola. Expectation (and whether it is met or not) does influence our enjoyment. (Ever taking a sip of a drink expecting coffee only to be met with tea? Or vice versa. Even when we enjoy both, it's a shock to the taste buds.)

    Maybe one of the challenges as an author is how to met readers expectations while also exceeding them, or surprising them. It's that balance between an old 'yawn' cliche and the fresh metaphor that's so fresh it crawling out of the swamp with slimy tentacles waving. Block-buster novels often take a totally new take on a genre - or even invent a new one. Maybe it comes back to knowing the rules before you bend and break them. As you, Nola and Stephen King say, read a lot.

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    1. I love tea. I love coffee. But you're right: sip one when you're expecting the other and ewww! (Especially as I drink coffee white and tea black).

      And you're also right that it's a challenge to both meet and exceed reader expectations in the same novel. Those which achieve both objectives usually end up in my (small) five-star read pile.

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  5. Thanks for the post, Iola. Love the Stephen King quote!

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    1. Reading On Writing was excellent - it gave me lots of great writing quotes at the same time as reminding me why I don't read Stephen King's novels!

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  6. Great post Iola. It will be very interesting learning more about genre. Even as an avid reader for years I tended to only read in certain genres but since becoming a writer have widened my reading base quite a lot and enjoying a much wider variety of genres. Looking forward to these posts.

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    1. I think we all have our favourite genres, but it's good to step outside those favourites on occasion. The key in writing is to understand what readers expect so we can meet, exceed or twist those expectations.

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  7. Love your analogy re the hash brown stack, Iola. I can certainly relate to the idea of being disappointed when it doesn't meet your genre expectations. I read a lot of suspense and mysteries. But I've come across some billed as suspense that really aren't. The whole way through the novel I'm waiting for that suspenseful bit that doesn't really come or is over before it has time to get going. The same with crossover genres. If it's romantic suspense, you expect both romance and suspense.

    And thanks for linking back to my blog too. I'm not on the committee anymore so didn't realise the joint posts were going to be on genre when I wrote mine. I think they tie together nicely though :) And maybe the reader/author thing is one of the problems. Some people don't know their genre because they're not reading a variety of genres.

    Thanks for your insights :)

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    1. Yes, I've also read "suspense" novels that had me yawning as I waited for something to happen ;) Or "romance" novels where someone dies ...

      You're welcome regarding the link - it was an excellent post that reflected many of my own thoughts.

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    2. LOL - No wonder they think we're twins, Iola :)

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    3. Jenny here, I think its sometimes where romantic suspense and cosy mystery get confused also. a cosy mystery is just that a mystery more like what Agatha Christie would write without that real suspense element and I think many authors get the two completely mixed up.

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  8. Totally right, Iola. So confusing to read a book that isn't what it says...
    And as writers, we must read. I've been encouraged to widen my genre selection through reading challenges. It's good.

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    1. Yes, it's good to read, and to read as widely as we can. Thanks for commenting :)

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  9. Now I'm hungry at midnight ... but I digress ... A deliciously appropriate example, Iola. Thanks. (But where did I stash those leftovers???)

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