By Bob McCrillis
I admit, I thought the question was a little silly the first time someone asked. Genre, unless you were an English Literature professor, was a euphemism for formula and no one wants their work to be viewed as something written to a formula.
It didn’t take long to discover that the question of genre is critically important to the people who sell books. Readers tend toward books similar to the ones they’ve already read and enjoyed – hence the popularity of a series. If you’re in the business of selling books, knowledge of the preferences of the market is critically important.
Remember that agents and publishers are looking for raw material for a saleable product. To be successful, to make a sale, they must find the perfect market segment for the work they’re representing. In real life, it works the other way around. They need to find the perfect work that will appeal to readers in the niche they’re most comfortable in or which they feel is the hottest.
Okay, in order to pitch my book, I need to find the agents or publishers that concentrate on the genre of my book. The problem: what genre is it? The Literary category can be eliminated right off the bat – I write what I read, which used to be called pulp but now is some genre under the Commercial heading.
Being a nerd, I searched for the definitions and criteria for genres. How naïve. The first list I found was forty-three pages of genres, sub-genres, cross-genres, and hybrid-genres supported by citations and footnotes. In Science Fiction alone the two major categories, Hard Science Fiction and Soft Science Fiction were sub-divided into twenty-one more genres, ranging from Space Opera to Theological Science Fiction. I’d been out-nerded.
My next thought was to look at the books that are most like the ones I’ve written and see how the experts have classified them. Dashiell Hammett – Detective Fiction, Michael Connelly – Thrillers, Charles Todd – Mysteries…this didn’t get me as far as I’d hoped.
Ultimately, I decided to focus on my main character, a world-weary Viet Nam vet who takes up murder in a good cause. Sounds like a Hard-Boiled to me.
Now all I have to do is convince an agent that I’m not channeling Mickey Spillane.