With my first book coming out in just a few months and a long line of projects preparing for self publication in the next few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about genre lately. So much time that I’ve actually had four completely different ideas for this article(and I may well end up writing at least one more article about genres).
For me, genre has always been easy. I am a fantasy writer who dabbles in science fiction and the occasional horror. These are genres I know well, genres I’ve loved as long as I’ve been reading.
What is more difficult is choosing a subgenre. There are dozens of subgenres within each genre. In fantasy, the genre most of my work belongs to, there are over 40 different subgenres(at least according to Wikipedia, although I had never heard of half of these before I looked this up). And most of my books take influence from several subgenres, most notably high fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark, and medieval fantasy.
So what do I do? Well, sometimes I cheat. If you asked me about my debut novella, Keeper of the Dawn, I would tell you that it’s “alternate world fantasy bordering on the line between YA and adult fiction”. In fact, that’s how I would describe most of my work.
This usually means I can conveniently avoid having to pick another subgenre; YA is considered by many its own subgenre(which I think is bizarre, but that’s my opinion), and “alternate world” usually conjures a distinct image in people’s minds.
Now, technically all alternate world fantasy is high fantasy, but high fantasy typically brings to mind images of dragons and elves and incredibly powerful magic, things that only exist in some of my worlds. Moreover, the term high fantasy is deeply associated with Chosen Ones on epic quests, and while I do write these things on occasion, I don’t feel comfortable associating my overall body of work with them.
In some ways this will make my marketing life difficult. There is certainly something to be said for writing consistently in a specific subgenre. The more exact your genre is, the more exact your target customer becomes, making it easier to create highly effective campaigns. People who are fans of a specific subgenre are often incredibly dedicated–look at the sheer number of steampunk cosplayers and creators–and if you choose the right subgenre, you can make a lot of money from a small fan base.
In other ways, writing a variety of things is a much better choice, both for maintaining my personal interest and for building an actual career. It allows me to reach different customers at different times, and many readers are willing to leap from one subgenre to the next for an author they love. If I ever choose to open a publishing house and welcome other authors, my variety of work will also allow prospective authors to get a feel for what I like.
All in all, I believe subgenres are powerful tools for authors and readers to find each other, but I don’t think we should try to force ourselves neatly into one subgenre box or freak out when our work blurs the lines between a variety of subgenres. Many of the best stories already do.
What subgenre do you most like to write in? To read in? Let me know in the comments section below!