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