I’ve talked before about how in Traditional Publishing it is important to focus on the product, the book! Now we continue with the second—knowing your genre.
Often new writers tell me a big reason they want to self-publish is so they don’t have to conform to publishers’ specs. “I want to write my book how I want to write it!” is a common sentiment. Word count out the window. Structure? Who needs it! Novel editing services? Nope. “I don’t want to write formula,” comes into play.
But the genres, categories, and sub-categories are not really formulaic, except in the idea of what needs to happen, and what doesn’t. Some are of course, but the vast majority of specs exist sort of like a clothesline on which you pin your shirts and pants, blouses and jackets to make up the storyline.
Why on earth should someone intending to self-publish care about Traditional Publishing’s specs? That’s a huge reason you’re self-publishing, right?
Big fat wrong.
It’s very true that Traditional Publishers can’t spot trends. Just ask them! The standard line is always: “I’ll know the next trend when I see it.” Everyone in this business is always surprised (often shocked) at what takes off. As a developmental editor, I’ve seen it all. And then everybody wants that thing, with a different twist. Who saw Urban Lit coming? Or the resurgence of Vampires? And don’t you wish you did?
But it is in hindsight that the Traditional model shines. This really is a business of the tail wagging the dog. But what those publishers excel at is in analyzing what made the tail wag in the first place. In other words, they study the successes, and most importantly, who those readers are and what they expect from the books. They know their customers.
How often have you heard: “Write for your audience”? Again, that makes new writers quite squeamish. “I write for myself,” is often the response. Which, yeah, you have to. But you’re also writing for someone to actually read your work, no?
Your audience exists. If you know where to find it.
People come to me all the time saying, “I have written a romance.” Okay—what category and sub-category? There’s a reason that Harlequin Desire is 50K words, while Harlequin Romantic Suspense is 75K. And the reason is: That’s what those readers want and expect. A Desire reader doesn’t want the Suspense part. Period.
For a more stark contrast, let’s mix genres. There’s a reason that Cozy Mysteries are 70K words, with no graphic sex or violence. But if you’re writing Urban Lit, you better have both! Because, again, that’s what those readers are looking for in a book.
It’s not just word count, but what happens, and how it happens. Even the prose is different in a Mystery vs. a Thriller.
Often I see manuscripts that cross genres, which in the Traditional world is the kiss of death.
None of the agents I know will touch those, because of course, they can’t sell them. Writers get so frustrated by this. They’ve just doubled their audience, no? No. By crossing genres, you’ve just lost both audiences. Readers want what they want. Give it to them! They’re waiting for the next great book (in the genre they read, of course).
I often talk to readers, from people I know to strangers in airports. I’ll ask what they like to read, and they usually respond, “Oh, I read widely.” But when I press as to which authors they most read, those authors all line up in one specific genre (even though readers are unaware of the appellations.
Yes, you absolutely can throw all these specs to the wind, but go outside the lines at your own peril.
Recreating the wheel in publishing is akin to climbing Mt. Everest when your goal was actually to hike the Appalachian Trail. Man, don’t you hate when you do the former when the latter would have been so much more successful?
Go to the major publishing sites and peruse their categories and sub-categories and the specs for all, and discern where your book fits best. Listen to your manuscript editor. Editing a novel and revising it a bit to fit those specs is not at all difficult, and the results are powerful—you can target an audience that already exists, and is ready, willing, and wanting to buy the kind of books you write!
Now, go be that successful author you’ve always dreamed of being!