Which Genre Is Best?

Genre Pic

ROMANCE: Everyone knows I’m the best genre. I give readers the happy ending they crave.

EROTICA: Honey, you’re just a tease. I have what they really want.

SELF-HELP: That’s not quite true. What people really want is a healthy relationship with a warm, breathing body. A romance provides an escape from reality. But with a relationship guide, people can have a better reality.

ADULT: It’s not the relationship part that’s the challenge; it’s the intimacy. I’m the three-letter word that everybody wants, but most people are afraid to talk about.

MYSTERY: Relationships are fueled by passion. What kind of romance are you going to have if you need to read a guide to learn how to do it? People want books to entertain them. I give them a puzzle to solve to engage their interest.

SUSPENSE: If you want to really engage your audience, you need elements of suspense.

COMEDY: What’s more entertaining than humor? Everybody loves a good laugh.

FANTASY: Why not have it both ways? I offer the reader a better reality and I entertain the reader.

SCI-FI: But your reality is too far-fetched to be believable. I do it with a better version of the real universe.

HISTORICAL FICTION: Are you kidding? Jumping through wormholes, extra dimensions, aliens, going back in time… Who are you calling unbelievable? What I do is take events that have actually occurred in reality and make them better.

PUZZLES: You’re living in the past. I give people a way to make the present more fun.

COMICS: Exactly. And I do it in color with pictures.

CURRENT EVENTS: What’s wrong with reality? I show readers that the real universe in the present is really quite fascinating. It turns out that the truth is stranger than fiction.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: Ain’t that the case? And there isn’t a more fascinating current event than politics.

ETHICS: Where have you been? Politics is the reason reality is so screwed up right now. If everyone read me, the world would be a much better place.

HOW-TO: People can read you, but you’re not going to change people. The way to make reality a better place is to read a how-to guide. We have a guide for everything.

TEXTBOOK: Technology makes the world a better place. You can’t do rocket science or brain surgery with a how-to guide. You need a technical book deep in knowledge.

SPIRITUAL: Don’t you see the problems in society caused by having so much technology without the wisdom and spiritual harmony to go along with it? Look at the happy children playing with rocks and sticks, and the unhappy spoiled children with cell phones and video games. What we really need to teach is how to get along with other people, how to believe in ourselves, and how to overcome adversity.

RELIGION: And what would be better than the word of God himself to show you exactly how to do that?

PHILOSOPHY: That would be a lot easier if there weren’t so many gods and religions to choose from.

CHILDREN: The important thing is to get kids reading early. Teach them the fundamentals they need to succeed in life. Give them the gift of reading. If they don’t learn how to read as children, every genre will be out of business.

TEEN: The critical stage is when the child turns into a teenager. Most people want to ignore teens, or just punish them for bad behavior. What we need is to understand the problems of the teenager and help them through this critical stage of their lives. It can have a drastic impact on their adult lives.

SPORTS: That’s where I come in. I give them something they enjoy doing, provide plenty of exercise, keep them too busy to get into trouble, and teach valuable teamwork skills.

POETRY: Really? Then why are so many professional athletes getting into trouble with drugs and legal problems? Let’s face it. No matter what you do, people will have problems. I help people understand the human experience better, and I inspire them through creativity.

DRAMA: Nobody can illustrate the tragedies of life better than I can.

TRAVEL: When life beats you up, you just need to get away from it all. I can take them to the perfect place and help them enjoy it while they’re there.

COOKING: You can’t run away from your problems. Everybody feels better after a good meal.

LEGAL: That’s a good idea. I’m starving. Let’s all have a good meal. Besides, if you think you’re better than I am, I’ll just sue you for it.

Copyright © 2013 Chris McMullen

Experiencing the Genres (A Poem for Writers)

Genres Pic

It’s a bad romance—

Between the art and writer:

Passion fuels writing,

While distressing the author.


It’s sheer fantasy;

A million copies will sell.

Until it goes live…

True? False? Nobody can tell.


A killer suspense:

Will the book succeed or fail?

Check those sales reports;

The numbers will tell the tail.


It’s a mystery:

Who posted that book review?

To figure it out,

One must study every clue.

Cross-Categories – a Misconception among Authors?

Not a Romance

I come across a staggering number of self-published books that don’t seem to fit into any single well-defined category.

What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with Brokeback Mountain? Buyer confusion!

Some authors are thinking along the lines, “I’ll double my target audience by writing a book that has a healthy combination of fantasy and science fiction.” Or it can be an action thriller mixed with historical romance. Or one of several other combinations.

To make matters worse, surely they will have friends and family members who will help encourage this. Somebody will say something of the sort, “You know what. I love Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. I think that’s a great idea!”

One problem with this is that the target audience doesn’t actually double when distinctly different genres are crossed. Most readers who are specifically searching for a passionate romance, for example, are looking for exactly that. They’re not looking for a romance that’s fifty percent sci-fi, fantasy, or spy thriller.

Similarly, most readers who are looking for fantasy, for example, aren’t browsing for a cover that looks, or a blurb that sounds, too romantic.

Would you try to sell Easter bunny costumes on Halloween?

There may be an audience for a cross-genre book, but it will probably be a more challenging sell than a book that fits very well in a single genre.

In other cases, the author hadn’t thought about the categories at all until the writing was finished. When it came time to publish, the author is faced with the task of choosing the category. Now the author is thinking something like, “Well, there is a bit of action, a little mystery, a touch of romance, even some sci-fi at the end.”

Having a book that fits into a blend of categories is a major marketing and packaging obstacle.

It’s much easier to package and market a book that fits into a single, well-defined category.

Consider this from a marketing and packaging perspective:

  • The thumbnail image of the front cover needs to attract the right audience. When mystery readers click on a book because the cover appealed to them, but the blurb doesn’t sound like a mystery book, nobody will buy the book through discovery.
  • The title and cover need to send a unified message. If the title sounds like a spy thriller, but the cover looks like contemporary romance, this creates buyer confusion.
  • The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce the same signals given by the title and cover. Confused shoppers don’t by books.
  • The content has to satisfy the reader who is attracted to the book. If the title, cover, blurb, and Look Inside succeed in attracting fantasy readers, but the story doesn’t appeal to most fantasy readers, this will adversely affect book reviews and word-of-mouth sales.

Packaging a book for a specific target audience and sending a unified message about the content of the book is easiest when the book fits into a single, well-defined category.

I’m not saying that you can’t write a book that blends categories. If your goal is frequent sales, then writing a book that closely resembles one popular genre may be the best way to go. Marketing a book that fits into two or more different categories will probably be a much greater challenge. It’s already very difficult to be one of the top sellers. Why make it any more difficult than it already is?

It can be fun to write non-standard books. If you do this for the fun, and don’t mind that this may adversely affect sales, then you should definitely enjoy your fun.

I’ve had a little fun with this myself. For example, I’m working on a book called Romancing the Novel, which is an extension of a couple of pieces that I posted on this blog a few months ago:

Reading and Writing with Passion

Giving Birth to a Book

I also have a dialogue called Why Do We Have to Go to School? The closest topic is probably educational philosophy, but it’s actually fiction. I didn’t find a good category for it. It doesn’t sell, but I’m not surprised. I didn’t invest time marketing it, since it wasn’t an easy sell. But I’m not disappointed: It was fun to write and definitely worth doing.

I mostly write nonfiction, which sells for the value of the content and expertise. For me, the fiction is fun, while the nonfiction is educational. For me, the educational part sells, while the fun is just fun (and what’s wrong with having fun for fun’s sake?).

One of these years, I will finish a juvenile sci-fi book that I started several years ago. I believe that it has a great beginning (it better – I’ve spent years working on it). This piece of fiction won’t just be fun, but will actually fit into a well-defined, popular genre. Of all of my ideas for fictional books, this one has the best chance of succeeding. It’s also the book that’s taking the longest time to write. Maybe by 2020? (Hey, that would be a good year to release a book that has something to do with excellent eyesight.)

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers