Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My genre (or "I need stuff to read")

Speaking of marketing, Lit Agent X has a great post on the subject as it relates to prose. The whole thing is worth reading, but this bit especially stood out to me: "Knowing where your book fits into the marketplace is very important. Good writers are readers. For fiction, you should read as much as you can in your own genre."

Which got me thinking about what my genre really is. For the last few years I've been of the opinion that genre doesn't matter; that I should just write the story I want and let the marketing people figure out how to label it. The problem with that view is that it's extremist. If I don't figure out how to attract an agent or sell my book to a publisher, there won't be any marketing people to put labels on it. A more balanced approach -- and I'm a huge fan of balance -- is to be aware of the kind of people who'd be interested in my book, but not to the point that I feel constricted by a bunch of creativity-stifling genre "rules".

To that end, Lit Agent X has a follow up post to the above in which she says, "You should know where your book fits into the marketplace. I'll believe you if you name two or three books that truly would be on the same shelf as yours. I won't believe you if you compare your book to Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Harry Potter. Comparing your work to bestsellers or classics that don't have much in common with yours won't serve you.

"But if you list three recently published authors/books and I know them all or I can quickly look them up, then I get a better sense of where your book fits and I know you're savvy enough to see your book as a product on a shelf sitting next to similar products."

The problem is: I don't know any recently published authors or books who's stuff my work-in-progress might sit next to on a shelf. Tobias Buckell maybe? But not really. Le Corsaire has a fantasy element to it, but it's very much set in a version of our world, rather than a completely fantastic one.

I haven't exhaustively researched this to know if they are or aren't, but if no one's currently writing anything remotely like my book, does that make me avant-garde or just really, really out-of-touch? Some superficial similarities between my book and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies make me suspect that it's the latter. Considering how popular the Pirates movies are, why is no one publishing books about pirates and supernatural creatures? It can't be that they're too derivative, because though the artiste in me rebels against that label, the publishing industry certainly wouldn't. I mean, look at all the Harry Potter and DaVinci Code look-a-likes and tell me that publishers are afraid of cashing in on a hot fad.

Here's something else that tells me how out-of-touch I am. Lit Agent X says that "good writers are readers." And I am a reader. But I'm reading old Conan novels and re-reading Burroughs and Robin Hood. Those are fun, but they're not teaching me anything about the current marketplace. I need new stuff to read. Hell, maybe there is a whole pirate-fantasy sub-genre that I don't know about because I've been too focused on the classics. I don't want to be the literary equivalent of the guy who quit listening to any music released after Boston's last album.

So, that's my mission for this week. I'm going to start surfing and searching Barnes & Noble for new stuff to read that looks like it might be in my genre. And if there's really nothing out there, I need to rethink whether Le Corsaire is a marketable first novel. 'Cause Lord knows I've got other ideas.

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