Monday, May 28, 2018

Confessions of a Genre Butterfly

By Susan J. Bruce (aka Sue Jeffrey)


Photo copyright Susan J. Bruce. All rights reserved.



The author platform. Do these words fill you with confidence? Do you say ‘I know who I am as an author and I know who I want to reach? I know what my brand is?'

Or do you think, ‘Eerk!’

Earlier this year I realised that as I belonged to the second category, I really should do something about it. So I enrolled in Iola Goulton’s appropriately titled course, Kick-start your Author Platform Marketing Challenge. The first few days were fun and I was filled with a sense of purpose. They led me to rethink my author name (that’s another story for another time) and gave me confidence that I was going to succeed. I would make a good website. I would build a social media platform around my brand as an author.

But then we came to the question of genre.

We were given an exercise where we had to identify our genre and find websites of authors who write the same kind of books. The idea was to see what website elements (images, fonts, etc.) are consistent with our genre. If we write romance we want the reader to get a romancey vibe when they visit our website or look for us on social media. If we are a science fiction aficionado we might depict spaceships soaring through nebulae, boldly going where no one has gone before. It makes sense. People should see our name and associate it with our brand so they can know if they will like the kind of books we write.

But what if we don’t write in just one genre?

I know. All the publishers and marketing gurus have crashed to the floor in a dead faint at my words. It makes absolute marketing sense to write in one genre, at least initially. But what if our writing doesn’t fit this pattern?

What if we are a ‘genre butterfly’? What if we flutter from genre to genre like a butterfly flits from flower to flower, collecting all kinds of nectar as it goes on its way.

Our group discussions showed that I was not the only one with this particular affliction, but that didn’t solve our problem. How do we develop an author brand if our writing doesn’t naturally fit one genre?

It must be possible.

Tim Winton comes to mind as a brilliant proponent of literary fiction: stories that are generally more serious and have deep artistic merit. Then there is general fiction. General fiction tends to be more accessible than literary fiction. Some general fiction authors are, I suspect, latent genre butterflies. They gather nectar from different genres and meld it into a new story. The success of a huge number of general fiction authors means that those of us who like variety need not despair. And then there are age-defined categories like YA and children’s literature, which can contain multiple genres.

But what if we like to write different types of genre fiction? What if we want to write a cozy mystery followed by a science fiction novel and a love story between two dragons? Can we do that and build our brand as an author? What do we do? There are several options:

1.                  Embrace our eclectic nature. Write what we like, when we like. The catch is that we will probably find it hard to build a brand and to sell books unless we are so prolific that we quickly build up a backlist of several books in each genre.

2.                 Become a genre blender. You like three different genres? Mix ‘em together! I recently read Kerry Nietz’s, Amish Vampires in Space. This science fiction author blended Amish fiction, science fiction and Christian fiction together with vampire fiction to create an excellent space opera with great characters. In his case, merging genres made for excellent marketing. It led me (and many others) to read the book and because I liked it, I bought the sequel (which was great too).

3.                 Establish a unique brand of our own. Genre is a handy way of categorising our writing but it isn’t the only way. We can look at the heart of what we write, find the common themes and build our brand around those themes. 

I wish I wrote contemporary romance or cozy mysteries set in a bookstore. Branding would be simpler. But just because branding isn’t simple it doesn’t mean it’s not doable. I’ve chosen to take the third route above. Just about all of my stories, short or long, have themes of overcoming. Many have strong romantic elements, or themes of belonging, and are set in an environment of adventure or danger. Nearly all my work contains animals. Some stories contain deep issues. After a lot of thought I developed my working tagline: Stories of the human spirit – and sometimes other species. If I can write stories that fulfil that promise to the reader, and promote my books accordingly, I’ll be doing well. And should my writing evolve and take on a more speculative bent, I can always change it to Stories of the human spirit – and sometimes alien species J.

My name is Susan J. Bruce and I’m a genre butterfly. How about you?

Go on. Confess in the comments. You know you want to! How do you approach branding as an author?


Susan J. Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up she does the same kinds of things. Sue works part time as a veterinarian, writes stories filled with themes of overcoming, adventure and belonging, and loves to paint animals. Sue won the Short section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and her stories and poems have appeared in various anthologies including Tales of the Upper Room, Something in the Blood: Vampire Stories With a Christian Bite and Glimpses of Light. Her e-book Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story is available on Amazon.com.  You can check out Sue’s animal art on Facebook.

8 comments:

  1. Great post Sue. If I read on a writer's blog that they write a variety of genres I would actually look up to that writer and feel she/he is gifted and skilled and creative. I do understand your difficulty though seeing there are advantages of making it clear what one's genre is. I believe I'm called to write non fiction but I also have a tug towards writing children's books mainly fiction.

    I like what you say here: "We can look at the heart of what we write, find the common themes and build our brand around those themes." Well said Sue. And I read a lot of General Fiction which I thoroughly enjoy! All the best with it all - you write very well - so go ahead and enjoy being 'different' and do enjoy the ride! :)

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    1. You are always the ultimate encourager, Anusha :D

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  2. Enjoyed your post, thanks Sue. I've flitted quite a bit over the years but have never tried sci-fi or fantasy. Wishing you all the best with your writing.

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  3. From one genre butterfly to another, great post! I'm still working out my brand, but one of the things I got out of Iola's course is that you can also think about what you want readers to feel after they've read your book. That can cut across genres. I currently have a contract for an historical fiction novel, but I also write contemporary, and have dabbled in a couple of futuristic stories too. However, one thing they have in common is that there is a heroine who has to work through her own issue with God (e.g. abandonment, justice) so that she can rise up and defeat the bad guy. Words like courage and hope come to mind. I'm still trying to nail down the brand, but I'm going to go for something like that. I like your catchphrase by the way :) Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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  4. Yes, feeling is key I think. From your description I think I’d like your books :). It sounds like we have similar types of main character - although your books sound like they are more overtly Christian than mine. I think a lot of genre butterflies start writing until something becomes popular, then they stick to that kind of flower.

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  5. Hi Sue, thanks for an interesting post. Hmmm, my first love has always been fantasy and that's what I write (apart from poetry & a little science fiction which I decided to fit into my fantasy world of Nardva), though I mix in some mystery or romance or adventure or coming of age, depending on what the story seems to need. It does make 'author branding' easier -- though I do like your themes based motto :) All the best with the writing.

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  6. Hi Sue, I enjoyed that post, as I've sometimes felt like a bit of a genre butterfly too. Perhaps it comes from enjoying a variety of different styles as readers. Sounds like an excellent course, by the way.

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  7. That's very good, Sue. I like what you're saying.
    I admit to being a Genre Butterfly, or chameleon or amoeba or similar, which is something encouraged by FaithWriter's writing challenge. I've tried many genres and liked nearly all, but then, does that make me a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none? A moot point.
    I've tried the genre-tossed-salad approach as well.e.g. a romance between two fantasy eagles in a pre-human settlement historical setting, singing balads of great eagle-champions, yet with a spiritual message (Latest publication: "Wings in the Wind.")

    One approach to marketing I'm trying (although it began more an image rather than a marketing tool) is presenting my brand as a multi-genre persona.
    I'm presenting myself as a modern-day Bard i.e. a virtual "wandering minstrel" who sings songs, writes ballads and other poetry, tells & writes stories, narrates pictorials, makes graphical presentations etc. Hence my writing name here.
    I wouldn't mind any comments on that approach.
    Blessings
    David B

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