Tag Archives: literary fiction

Genre marketing

I recently enrolled on a writing course, Exploring Genre’, run by prolific writer, editor and teacher, Tom Bromley, at PWA. Why?

As readers of this blog may have noticed, genre is something which has been taxing my mind for some time. Genre, for me, is a doubled-edged sword. I’m a marketing professional by trade and the logic behind any good marketing campaign is the same, and always has been.

Why genre fiction equates to smart marketing

Marketers talk a lot about market segments and quantifying them. You know, roughly, who your audience is, but in order to engage successfully with them, you need to narrow it down. Normally competitive analysis and positioning helps to sort out which market is not only the best fit for you product but also the one likely to be easier to compete within. So then (as any good marketer knows) you test the theory to end up with a proof of concept. And what any marketing person worth their salt will ascertain from looking at the publishing business is that awareness of genre equates to smart marketing in the world of book sales. Ask any best-selling indie author, and they will tell you that. This blog ‘Write to Done’ hammers this point home very well.

My test-run novel, Borderliners

BorderlinersTake my novel, Borderliners, as a case study. Borderliners was released in February. About a troubled psychotherapist who must uncover what is behind a string of deaths in her village, Borderliners was a story I thought would classify as a thriller – but it isn’t really. The process of self-publishing and getting right up close to my audience showed me that hard-core thriller audiences got fed up with the more reflective elements of the book, whereas readers of YA – surprisingly – quite liked it. Since its publication, I’ve played around with the book a lot, placing it in several categories within Amazon. It got lost very quickly in ‘thriller’ but rose in ‘occult’. I tested it in ‘fiction’ (as in general, not literary), but it got lost there too, so currently it’s in ‘juvenile fiction’.

Borderliners was supposed to be my proof of concept, but I don’t think it is fit for that purpose. I made it as good as I could at the time, but in terms of writing for a specific audience, it hasn’t ticked the boxes. That’s OK though, as the marketer in me finds the Borderliners test a fascinating one. It will soon be followed by my second novel, Split Symmetry, which, as a  mixture of adventure thriller and metaphysical love story, is similarly cross-genre. Effectively, Split Symmetry is also a proof of concept experiment.

Genre as classification

pride-and-prejudiceIn some ways, it’s true that all fiction is, to an extent, cross-genre. As the writer of this Guardian article about genre fiction and classification says, Jane Austen didn’t consider herself to be writing literary fiction. I did snigger a bit at the writer’s re-classification of literary fiction in today’s terms as ‘LitSnob’ – ain’t that the truth. There’s some fantastic story telling and writing within so-called genre fiction, and yet some people feel they are letting the side down if they aren’t constantly reading prose-poetry, not realising that literary fiction is just another marketers’ classification of general fiction.

For me, the answer lies somewhere in between. I’m a big fan of CJ Lyons’ smart approach. She writes thrillers which would be considered cross-genre as they contain romantic elements. So rather than just allow her books to sink and dwindle in the nether regions of Amazon and the like, she used crossroads positioning to find her niche – ‘Thrillers with heart’.

Now, that’s what I call smart marketing. But in order to execute this kind of positioning in your chosen market, you must first know what your market reads, and why. You must know what else your market reads and find your competitive space, and you must be sure your competitive space is wide enough for you to enter – and not too crowded! Early competitive advantage is key.

So that’s me back to the drawing board. Back to school, as it were, to study genres and their audiences and hopefully afterwards, back into the field armed with knowledge which will help me execute my own killer positioning.

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First of all, speculative fiction, what is it?

This blog, What is Speculative Fiction, goes into more detail, but I understand spec-fic to be a kind of cross-over or middle ground between the following:

  • Alternate histories
  • Science ficiton
  • Dystopian fiction
  • Fantasy (ish)
  • Horror
  • Post Apocalypic

It’s that middle ground between hard core Sci Fi and a character-driven story, that place where reality seems normal enough until you realise it isn’t. It’s where the reader is challenged to think, what if the world had taken a different course, what if things were not as they appeared? In conversations with readers and fellow writers alike, I often hear people saying you can’t mix Sci Fi with romance or you can’t mix fantasy with literary fiction (well, what about magical realism, for a start?). This is an assumption which is lacking in imagination.

For readers who like to see traditional genres turned on their heads, or who like to journey further into imaginary worlds, there’s speculative fiction.

Literary speculative fiction titles

This excellent blog about novels which straddle the fence between literary fiction and speculative fiction goes into more detail about how this is done. It lists a whole host of well known ‘literary’ works which could be considered ‘speculative’, but some of my favourites in this area are:

  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Speculative fiction to try out

Aside from my Borderliners trilogy, the first book of which will be out in the new year, there is a wealth of speculative fiction out there. If you’re interested in this mixed genre approach to fiction, why not look at this comprehensive 2013 list of speculative fiction titles to try? I particularly like the following suggestions:

  • In Search of and Others, Will Ludwigsen
  • Anything by Aldous Huxley
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Happy holiday reading!

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Have I written a ‘holy crap’ novel?

… or just a crap one? As my current work in progress straddles sci-fi and general fiction, this is a question which has been worrying me for some time.


Having read through a fascinating article, Holy Crap': The Flawed Notion That Novels Can Transcend Genres, about the nature and classification of genre, I’m forced to reflect: can an aspiring novelist ever write a genre-buster or is genre-straddling just a sign of inexperience?
As an avid reader of cross-genre, I’m not sure. I love Kate Atkinson, for example, and her most recent novel ‘Life after Life’, more than ever. I’m also a great fan of Milan Kundera, and I’ve just started reading a book which I’m sure is going to blow my mind, ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki. She does everything I wanted to do, only better. Much better. But the very existence of a book like this is heartening. It’s a so-called ‘Holy Crap’ novel, and it is glorious!

But as an avid reader of such novels, how can I ever hope to write one without making a mess of things? One published writer I know advised me not to put all my eggs into one basket -or into one debut- as there would always be time to write different types of novels within genres. Maybe. But what if I like to read cross-genre and would like to see more of it?

Mix it up

And then there is the question of what to mix. As my 11 year old put it, ‘You can mix thriller with romance and you can mix sci-fi with thriller, but you can’t mix sci-fi with romance.’ Out of the mouths of babes…?

Or is it, as the quoted article suggests, true that ‘Genres aren’t conceptually solid enough to be transcended. Any genre is going to be made up of things that both fit and don’t, and over time those things will change and shift.’

I’d like to think so.

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