Breaking the Genre Boundaries


A New Genre

People like to try new things. They’re looking for something new.

At local restaurants, though they know the menu by heart, diners hope to find a new dish. Listening to the radio, people hope to hear a new tune. Shopping for clothes, customers want to see a new style.

Do people really want to keep reading the same kinds of books? The truth is, readers are hoping to discover something new. All the different genres came about from brave authors who tried something different and succeeded.

Ah, but people won’t try anything just because it’s new. It must not only be fresh, it must also be very good, appealing, and easy to find.

Traditional publishers like to see books that are fairly similar to what is already established. They want to find new ways of doing much of the same. They know which books have a history of success. They know there is an audience for those books.

Indie authors have the freedom to try something wildly different. Fortunately, there are readers who are looking for out-of-the-book writing. The trick is to help those readers find the ground-breaking novels.

These are the hurdles you must overcome:

  • Which category will you choose?
  • How will your book signify its genre?
  • How will people discover your book?

The Category Problem

If you write a book that defines a new genre, none of the standard genres will quite fit. The next best thing may lead to disappointment. For example, if it’s not quite romance, but you list your book as contemporary romance, suddenly many loyal contemporary romance fans will pin their contemporary romance expectations on your book.

You can try to explain this in the blurb, but then you may lose some sales from customers who are thinking, “Oh that’s not what I was expecting.” If you don’t make this clear in the blurb, you may get some reviews that criticize your book for not being as expected.

No category is perfect, but you must choose some category. You just have to go with the closest match. Choose a genre where the readers are most likely to appreciate your new genre. Make it clear in the blurb that your book isn’t the same old thing, but try to do it in a way that will catch the interest of readers who may be looking for something new.

It would be ideal if Amazon had a special category for books that are exploring brand new genres. I bet this would be a popular category for readers if it had the right name. For example, eBay has special categories for Strange and Bizarre. The trick is to combine name appeal with product appeal. If a bunch of standard items are listed as Bizarre, for example, people will stop browsing that category.

Amazon lumps things that don’t fit into Other and Everything Else. This just doesn’t have the appeal of Strange or Bizarre. It’s the island of misfit products that nobody will ever discover.

You can’t change the categories. (But you can send Amazon a suggestion to make a new book category like Fresh New Genres. With enough requests that show Amazon the potential of doing this, maybe it will happen someday.) All you can do is make the best use of what’s available.

Or we indies can get together and create a website for misfit books. There are many authors who write outside the standard genres. If we could succeed in spreading the word, we may be able to attract readers and authors to our website, making it easier to match readers who would like to try something fresh with authors who are writing different kinds of novels. What do you think? Or just get on Google, and you might find there are already some websites (or Facebook groups) that do this.

The Marketability Problem

Highly effective covers tend to clearly signify the correct genre. Readers who are looking specifically for detective novels, for example, know what the covers of detective novels typically look like, so these are the kinds of covers they will be looking for when they shop.

But how do you signify a genre that doesn’t yet exist? How do you design a cover that will attract readers?

If the cover is indicative of a standard genre, you run into the problem of shoppers expecting one thing, but getting something different. Nonetheless, this may be the way to go. That is, design a cover that attracts the audience who is most likely to try your book out, then in the blurb show that your book is different, but in a good way.

An alternative is to create a cover that is different, but do it in such a way that it may catch plenty of attention. This is a much tougher challenge. It’s not just the difficulty of creating an eye-catching cover. There is the additional challenge of appealing to your target audience. Your cover basically needs to imply, “This is a brand new genre, and it’s worth checking out.” It’s a tough message to get across effectively on a thumbnail image.

In between these two ideas, you can design a cover that’s similar to the category that you select, but just different enough to show visually that your book isn’t quite the same old stuff.

Realize that authors who write standard stories in standard genres have great difficulty designing highly effective covers. You’re trying to do something far more difficult if your book doesn’t fit into a standard genre.

It’s possible for a short subtitle to help, but even this is a challenge.

The Marketing Advantage

Marketing will be your best friend. This is your opportunity to meet people in your target audience and help them discover your book firsthand. You’re interacting with these people, so you have a chance to get them interested in your book idea without having to worry about them finding your book in a category that doesn’t exist.

Emphasize what makes your book special. That’s why you wrote the book, right? You saw some problem with traditional stories and found a way to improve upon them.

Get prospective readers interested in the things that make your book unique. When it comes to categories and packaging, your book is a misfit and those differences count against you. But when it comes to marketing, your book is special and the differences are on your side. Play your cards right.

Breaking Publishing Boundaries

I’m Chris McMullen, an indie author. All indie authors are breaking boundaries. We’re part of a publishing revolution.

I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

14 comments on “Breaking the Genre Boundaries

  1. This post reminds me of the movie Princess Bride. Now it is a classic but when it came out it was such a different type of movie they didn’t know how to market it. It wasn’t quite an adventure or a romance or a comedy but it had all of that. It was not successful in theater but found success later on from video. Sometimes for something that cross pollinates it is a slow burn for it to become accepted and sometimes it’s like gunpowder, lol.

    One thing I would like to mention is not being original is okay. I think too often today people are trying to be “innovative” (I blame Apple marketing for that one) when all that is needed is to take an idea and come at it from a different angle.

    For example I am going to list a basic storyline:
    An orphaned youth finds out that he is special and begins to train with his new powers. The youth finds out that a big bad evil killed his parents. During the course of his adventure his wise old mentor dies and he finds a group of friends who help him. Eventually the youth manages to overcome the big bad evil and set balance to chaos.

    People today would know that as Harry Potter but in my day I knew it as Star Wars (original trilogy).

    Just a few random thoughts bumbling about in my head today, lol. Great post.

    • There are many success stories like Alfred Hitchcock who were struggling to breakthrough with something new (although in the case of Hicthcock, he’d already made a name for himself, but was exploring a new kind of movie). (What we don’t hear about are all the ideas that failed. But the successes give us hope.)

      You’re right about innovation. Sometimes being innovative involves nothing more than a simple twist, like combining chocolate and peanut butter, or making the same design, just smaller.

  2. That is exactly what I set out to do, and I think I’ve succeeded. My sales have been slow, but I think I’m starting to make an impact. My reviews have been very positive–readers seem to appreciate being taken to a strange new world.

  3. While looking for marketing outlets I ran across several platforms that offer a web site for books in general, or a site specific to the genre. They almost all send notices of new books out to their reader audience (who selects their preferred genres) and post on facebook and many cater to indies. This a sort of a new frontier (not brand new, but more popping up every day), Some charge a flat ten dollars for ads, and others charge their readers for membership, and still others are free to both readers and writers. It seems though, that the most successful at really moving an author’s books are the ones with subscribers and FB fans in the 100,000s, to millions, the ones with few (<10,000) don't move much.

    • It would be nice to see one of the big advertising sites open up a door for good books that don’t quite fit into any genre. The big sites are definitely worth looking into for books that do.

      • Technically, 1/3 of my book is about events that took place in 1992…hardly historical fiction, but the 80 yo characters related events that occurred in the 1950s…2/3rds was in the third person and was written as a historical fiction. It didn’t quite fit the formulaic template for historical fiction, but that was as close as I could come to a category. I have it listed in both literary and historical fiction. When I placed the ENT ad I used historical fiction because I had to pick ONE. I just hope readers aren’t disappointed. That is a risk.

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