Happily Treading the Thorny Genre Path…


Richard Sutton



One of the most important marketing decisions a writer can make, when the time comes to market a new novel, is to determine which genre it will be assigned to. Of course, most of us wish our work were of such break-through proportions that all readers would admire it, yet that’s rarely possible. Since the net is rapidly overtaking the bookstore in terms of discovering new titles for readers, genre search  has become today’s go-to resource.

I can easily enter a four word string into an online search engine provided by an online bookseller and instantly retrieve scores of matches and suggestions based upon similar searches. Browsing through genre headings alone, I can scroll down through hundreds of entries. Genre browsing is an activity that readers seem to be comfortable with. While word of mouth is still the number one referral device for book sales, genre and author online searches and browsing are gradually replacing library and bookstore visits for many readers. Writers should take this into consideration when preparing a book for publication. Publishers’ editors often make suggestions to help steer a book closer into an identifiable niche where both the marketing and the expected sales are a known quantity.

While publishers understand how targeted marketing returns better sales, Indie Authors must carry all the weight of the marketing decisions themselves. When my first book had been completed and rewritten eleven times and eventually given a final professional edit, I still had to determine where it was going to fit in. I had also been following online discussions where authors decried genre as damaging to literature itself, if not completely handicapping a writer. They filled me with doubt.

My business background was steeped in marketing strategy and presentation, but it took a change in head-gear to help me learn. You see, I was still wearing the writer hat (usually comes complete with Harris Tweed jacket with elbow patches or a cable cardigan), and it was time to don the marketing cap once again. I grew to understand that at the exact moment when I thought I had a book that was ready for readers, my literary child, (my pride and joy) became a consumer product, subject to the whims of the marketing gods. It was time for the independent, inspired, creative writer to give way and embrace the idea of genre as someone with a product to market.

I knew my book wasn’t going to be a blockbuster. The subject was narrow enough that I realized it would appeal to a small reader pool. It was historical fiction, but that didn’t define it completely. I discovered that the niche of historical fantasy was actually an established genre with some growth. In addition, it was about an Irish family, so instead of trying to prepare a pitch to make my book appeal to the widest possible reader market, I began narrowing my sights.

Four years later, my first book, The Red Gate is solidly set within historical family fantasy, with Ireland an important keyword and the primary setting. I’ve learned through the next three titles, how to think in terms of keywords in preparing a pitch or synopsis blurb, too. Instead of seeing genre as a hobbling, restricting thing, I’ve begun seeing it as a key to finding readers. An enabling tool.

As a debut novelist, you need to try to see your book from the viewpoint of a reader trying to find something new. We’ve all been there. Our experiences and the techniques we rely upon ourselves when trying to find something to read, translate well when we want to market a new title.

My second book was a sequel, but the third, Home, fell completely within old-school scifi, and the most recent one, Troll, is Prehistorical Family Fantasy. It probably would have helped build a brand for my name faster if I had written all of them in the same genre, or even better, as a series; but the stories come to me and I have to write them as they show up. I really have little to say in the matter until the writer hat comes off.

One experience comes back to me with a smile. A respected author with many books under her belt, took the time to mentor me and teach me about the business. I’d asked her to read a few sample chapters of The Red Gate because I was having trouble determining who my readers would be. To be honest, I also didn’t know if the writing was any good, since my entire adult life to that point, I’d been writing advertising copy and corporate marketing plans. She told me the chapters reminded her of Maeve Binchy’s work. Maeve Binchy? Well, on one hand, it wasn’t what I had expected, but I had to smile because Ms. Binchy was a writer widely read and loved. Her books found loyal readers in a narrow, Irish niche. If I was going to try my hand at this, Ms. Binchy’s record would not be a bad one to aim at.

Some writers have the skill of writing to genre consistently, but that’s not me. Keeping an open mind about my work while not resisting the “restrictions” of genre has made it easier to find readers in more than one. While I’m still not selling to the point I’d like to, I can at least follow specific paths to reach my goals. I hope all new writers who want to publish won’t be afraid to toss off the “writer” hat when the time comes, and understand genre as a marketing concept to narrow your reader pool down and achieve better responses and sales.


For more information about Richard Sutton and his work, follow these links.

Mr Sutton’s Web Site:  http://www.sailletales.com/

The Red Gate: http://www.amazon.com/Red-Gate-Helped-Uncover-Familys/dp/1441472258
The Gatekeepers: http://www.amazon.com/The-Gatekeepers-Richard-Sutton/dp/1449924182
Home: http://www.amazon.com/Home-Richard-Sutton/dp/1479115363
Troll: http://www.amazon.com/Troll-Richard-Sutton/dp/1480271497

Available at Barnes & Noble, in print and for Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/red-gate-richard-sutton/1100071943,

Smashwords in all eBook formats: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/242232