Hello all! Welcome to a special edition of GPF. Now for the many new visitors: Every Friday, I let followers of this blog post on anything related to writing and/or the literary world. I stopped it for most of April, but I’ve been asked very nicely, and the day coincided with G and I thought: why not?
Today, David is here as part of his blog tour to market his new book: The Story Book. It’s a guide to story development, problem solving, principles and marketing. So… pretty much exactly what we writers need. Click here to head over to his blog. It’s full of wonderful advice for those of us who like transforming ideas into stories.
OK then… let’s get to the really interesting part.
Why is Genre Important?
When a writer tells me his story is so different it doesn’t fit a genre, he generally looks pretty pleased with himself. Rather than make myself unpopular, I refer him to my conversation with Stewart Ferris – the ex-MD of Summersdale Publishing – who told me the top three reasons why he will reject a book on the basis of its content:
- Is the material appropriate for our brand and list?
- Does it have a strong title?
- Does it have a clear genre?
If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, instant rejection is almost inevitable. So why is genre in this list?
Everyone in publishing builds a reputation on the decisions they make. Every publisher will go out of business if they don’t publish books that people want to buy. Every editor is only as good as the books she has her name against. Every buyer in the shops will be sacked if they fill precious shelf-space with books that doesn’t budge. And the key to selling a book (not writing – selling) is genre.
Since I started looking deeply into what makes stories grip and engage, I’ve found the roots of just about everything in psychology, and genre is no different. Our brains innately categorise and organise everything. Sales and marketing people know that products MUST match with a mental category to have any chance of making a sale. In Art, Genre is the label we use for this mental categorisation, and we are surprisingly rigid in how we want our lives, firstly, to be categorised, and secondly, for things to sit solidly within category boundaries.
Think about how you choose what to buy in a bookshop. Firstly, you generally know what type of book you want – let’s say you like ‘Travel’ books. You don’t know which specific book you want to buy, but you do know where to find the desired type of book, and you head for the Travel Section. There are, say, 100 books in that genre. Then what do you do? You narrow to a sub-genre. City guide? Map? Adventure? No – you want Humour. This will narrow it to say, 10 book, and you begin looking at them individually. You use the title and cover design to pick the ones that fit best (fit what? Your mental categorisation) and that will leave you with perhaps three that suit your personal idea of travel humour. You then read the back of each and if the publisher has their genre messages right, you probably buy all three of them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ deal (Yes, that’s why they do that!). Note carefully that the content of the book – the words the author took years writing – are totally irrelevant. The top level genre messages that the publisher wrapped your words in are what sold it. Not the writing, but the wrapping. This is the job genre does for you – it helps the publisher to find appropriate writers and it helps readers to find material they are likely to appreciate.
A lot of writers get very frustrated by having their work and themselves forced into a pigeon hole. My advice is to embrace genre. Even the best writers only appeal to say 1% of the population, and you find your audience, and target them with appropriate marketing, because they are the ones who are attracted to the genre. So you need to be sure of one thing: Having a clear genre for your image, your writing, your books and publicity is absolutely key to commercial success.
If you would like to see the 106 page PDF of book categories published by the Book Industry Communications Trade Organisation which is used to categorise ALL published books, or if you would like a free chapter from The Story Book on any aspect of story theory or publishing, do please drop me a line via www.baboulene.com and I will send it to you.
Thanks to Misha for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful blog. I do hope to do it all again some time!
Thanks for this enlightening post, David. All the best with the rest of your blog tour! If you want to know where David is headed next, this is the link to his tour page.
Now, if any of you are interested in posting as well, feel free to take a look at the dates available (in the scroll bar) and contact me.