Genres: What’s Your Flavour?

Cover of "Magic Kingdom for Sale--Sold! (...

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Do you know what flavour your genre is? In the big, intimidating and more often than not exclusive world of publishing there are just two very basic forms of writing. Fiction and non-fiction in others words, based on real-life events or made up worlds and characters.

For each of these there are an ever-expanding list of sub-categories that never cease to change and evolve, much like the human race itself. On a simplified level non-fiction can include but is not limited to biographies, autobiographies, history, culture, love, relationships and the ever popular self-help.

Fiction has just as many varieties and categories as there are in the non-fiction world but the problem dear readers, is that in order to market your work you must know into which category your written piece falls into. If you can’t figure out what genre you’ve written or what your target audience is you will have a very difficult time marketing your work to the write publisher.

A good example of not knowing your audience or your particular flavour of genre was when several years ago I attended a writer’s group meeting at my local library. The things many of these writers didn’t know was where they fit into the world of books or how to go about discovering whether or not what they had written was had been done before. When they read their short writing samples I was shocked by how little they knew, not only about their target audience or their subject matter, but were completely oblivious to popular works in their category.

For example, an older gentleman read to the group a fight scene between a father and son that had within it a weapon they were using to teach the son discipline while strengthening their relationship as the son “came of age.” The problem was the weapon itself. The author failed to describe the weapon at all. He continued referring to it by the name he’d given it while the rest of us tried and failed to picture what it looked like. I stopped listening after only a few minutes because I could not picture the weapon mentioned, which made it impossible to imagine the scene he described. When we pointed this out to him he was confused that we would need a detail like that just to listen to a sample of his writing when his focus was on the interaction between his characters.

A second author, after reading their particular sample, made knowing your target audience paramount to writing any story regardless of genre. This author presented a story about a young brother and sister team who used their dreams to enter a magical kingdom in the woods at night. While listening, many of the other writers, including myself kept thinking that there was something extremely familiar about this story. When he finished reading, everyone thought his writing was well done, with vivid description and his dialogue wasn’t bad either. But there was just one problem. We pointed out that this story was very much like the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. To which he replied he had never heard of this story. He was also quite adamant that this book was for young adults, but as a group we said that there would be very few, if any young adult readers who would gravitate to a story like this. When questioned, he admitted that he had never read any books for young adults or children which I felt was not only irresponsible but lazy to boot, considering that you will eventually expect other authors in your genre to read your work. Plus without knowing your competition, marketing your work will be very difficult if you don’t know what is currently popular. If you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to be heard?

When you first begin your writing endeavors you should always be very clear and honest with yourself about what you want to write about, what you’re passionate about and who you want to write for. Once you’ve determined these points, you really must read what is out there in that genre or age group so that you can get a feel for style, content and what kind of genre you want to write. For example, choosing to write a fantasy novel is all well and good, but what kind of fantasy novel? Will it be loosely based on real-world locations? Are your ideas drawn from a time or place in history? Will it be an epic fantasy world that never once mentions this world? Or will it have a link to our present time that allows readers to connect by imaging themselves crossing over into your fantasy world? If you’ve never heard of a book like that, there are several that should be available at your local library – some popular, some not so much. The ones that come to mind are: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, and Terry Brook’s, Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!

There are a multitude of genres out there but I believe the biggest key to unlocking your success is to know your genre as well as you know the back of your hand, and then some. If you’re writing mystery and suspense, you will need to read at least one from each category that you feel your story falls into. For example in mystery, there are hard-boiled detective novels, whodunnit stories, crime novels, cat-solving mysteries (yes even cats solve mysteries), and forensics and/or csi which could then be termed crime/drama.

Below you will find authors that I have read in different genres that I feel show some of the best talent their genre can offer. What you will not find is authors I have never read nor books that I couldn’t get through even though they may have been on someone’s bestseller list or were recommended by this or that celebrity. You also will not find any romance authors here. I have read many romance over the years but that was long ago and even then they had to be historical in nature or I quickly lost interest. Nowadays, I fill my romance needs by reading stories or novels that also have a great, meaty plot and vivid characters much like what you would find in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Authors for a variety of genres and/or age groups: Horror authors; Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Edgar Allen Poe, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon‘s earlier works. Fantasy/Sci Fi; Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis, Terry Brooks, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R Tolkien, Barbara Hambly, Laurell K. Hamilton, Sara Douglass and Diana Gabaldon. Mystery/Suspense; Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Kathy Reichs, and Tess Gerritson. Literary Fiction: Maeve Binchy, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Charlotte Bronte, Yan Martel & Margaret Atwood.

I hope that if it was previously missing, you are now able to better understand how to determine what genre your work of fiction may or may not fall under. For a long time, I believed that my greatest passion was to write fantasy fiction. Perhaps that is still one of them, but for now I am content to write as many non-fiction pieces as my muse cares to dictate to me. So long as my momentum doesn’t waver, I am fine with allowing my muse to pave the path I walk upon.

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