Since I’m between novel projects this month, I decided to check out the writing section of my new local library and finally get myself a card. There wasn’t much, but stacking my few finds with the writing books I own, I decided now would be a good time to brush up on some basic research on the craft and process of writing, especially since we were driving to Portland to visit friends and my husband will often read to me in the car on long drives.
Well, he sampled a few of the books, some which sounded better aloud than others. One was obviously more like a workbook, asking questions about your idea/manuscript, and not easy to read in the car, another was written by some college professor who after fifteen minuets of reading chapter one, we still weren’t sure what the book was about. There was a scholarly but promising book on voice in writing that we figured we’d probably come back to, but when he tried the first chapter of “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Orson Scott Card, there was a definite shift.
The other book might have been about voice, but Card’s book has voice. Suddenly it felt like an old friend was telling us hilarious stories and tips about writing, and since the traffic was stressful we decided to stick with it.
Card’s book, published in 1990, starts off with talking about genre and publishing categories. His thoughts are hardly current 22 years later, but are the still relevant? We got into a fascinating debate over the state of publishing. Card talks about how those publishing categories lock authors into a genre, and both publisher and readers expect more of that, not something completely different:
The result is that today, while readers are very free, passing easily from one community to another, the publishing categories clamp down like a vise on the authors themselves. You must keep this in mind as you begin to publish. Do you wish to be known forever as a science fiction or fantasy writer?
At first I was inclined to think that in indie publishing this has at least changed. There’s no one to stop me publishing what I want, right? Well, my husband had some interesting points. Maybe no one can stop you, but your books are still shelved in different sections of the bookstore, even if it’s the online bookstore. You basically are pitching yourself to a whole new audience all over again, as a fresh name. Also, your “brand” on your website… which genre or category of reader are you trying to attract?
The marketing challenge of crossing genres is still there. And in some respects, publishing category will become even more important. It’s the major way on amazon to browse books, which means which categories you pick for it is crucial. Which readers sample your book hangs on it. Perhaps starting over as a new name is slightly easier, but the pressure to write another book just like your last one is still there.