I admit it: I have a difficult time staying in genre. Genre is the category a story falls in. You have your Westerns, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Historic, Adventure, Christian, Mystery, Main Stream, and so forth and so on. Then there’s subdivisions within genres, such as Steampunk and Cyberpunk in Science Fiction, or the Fantasy divisions of Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy. Where things get confusing are along the boundaries. Bonanza was squarely in the Western genre, but where do you put Wild, Wild, West? Western or Steampunk?
What usually determines genre are the principle elements. Take a story where the central plot is the romantic relationship between a female protagonist and male character. It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a lab, a frontier town, a space station, or a Gothic castle: it’s a Romance. Or take a story where the central plot is humanity’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and all the things that come out of that. It doesn’t matter where it’s set, or whether it involves romantic interests: It’s in the Christian genre.
What happens, though, if a story falls squarely on the boundaries? Such as my story Friday’s Children. Is it fantasy or science fiction? Or Asmar’s Gift, an unpublished story that fell straight on the boundary between fantasy and Christian genres. The problem is that when they straddle genres, it’s hard to find a place to take them. It’s like a certain fancy chocolate treat that was so bitter it was hilarious to watch the unsuspecting bite into them. Readers pick up a magazine or a book with certain expectations, and can get miffed if those expectations aren’t met. Getting a genre-straddling story published can be a problem.
Or it was prior to e-books and indie publication. In fact, the editor who gave me a nice personalized rejection for Asmar’s Gift suggested, out of the blue, that it would have a market as an indie book. Had I been more confident, and had Asmar’s Gift said precisely what I wanted it to say, I’d have done precisely that. A little more tweaking, and cover design, and I’ll follow his suggestion. For the big advantage of indie published works is that customers only buy want they want It’s like putting a sign that said “Bitter Chocolate” beside the aforementioned treats. No unpleasant surprises. Well, maybe not unpleasant.
What this means for the genre concept remains to be seen. My guess is that genre is here to stay because we all have certain expectations when it comes to reading. It’s like tastes in music, or food. What will be interesting is if new genres come out of this. Steampunk as a genre was decades away when Wild, Wild, West hit the airways. Now it’s not only a genre in its own right, but a fashion/decor statement as well.
Just what the next genre is going to be is anyone’s guess. But with indie publishing, it’s left to the customers, not someone in a corporate office trying to decide whether to spend company money on the genre-straddling novel that’s landed on his desk. It may turn out that some cross-genre works simply don’t appeal to readers. Then again, they might.
One thing’s for certain. If it’s never placed in readers’ hands, no one will ever know. And placing it readers’ hands is what Indie publishing is all about.