Does the division of literature into genres, help or harm readers, writers and publishers?
As an aspiring writer I have attempted to write in different genres to find my niche in the industry. When I was a child my writing first developed by writing stories from my perspective and those of friends. I would write cute little stories such as Sophie and Friends Go to The Shops… imaginative I know! The characters would have the personalities of each of my friends. Surprisingly, the story did not have depth or consequence, but since attending university I have learnt the conventions and plots that make each genre worthy of publication. Has learning these codes within genres really helped me as a writer? Or has it dampened my creative flair? After starting to write this post, I have been questioning, do readers and publishers want books written within a strict genre code or are they ready for something different in the market?
So, what is genre? Dictionary.com defines genre to be ‘a class or category of artistic endeavour having a particular form, content, or technique’. There are many genres that are easily distinguished from the next and it is clear which books belong in each category. When writing in a genre, authors need to be mindful of the rules of each genre and be aware of what readers and publishers want to see in the piece of writing.
Though some writers succeed in experimenting, many theorists argue that every text can be classified to a genre. Readers may not always know exactly what this entails or know what genre the book they are reading fits into, but publishers abide by the rules of these different themes; they find it essential for the purpose of marketing and advertising.
The idea of genre can be traced back as far as writing itself. Although novels in the same genre share some key traits, like a family, they all have their own individual style and just happen to be put into the same group.
However, do these same genres still exist in the same way in today’s society? I believe the foundation of writing was set by the genres and gave us the vital building blocks that we need. As the world has changed, genre has adapted to suit; we as writers of novels and short stories should also change our set ways to reflect this.
As well as being a writer, I am also a reader. I love going to bookshops, having a good browse, looking at what is on sale and what will be coming out soon. I must admit, I do tend to stick to the same two sections when it comes to buying books, because I know that within this genre I can find something that I will enjoy. From my own experience and being friends with a lot of people who are also avid readers, I find that we don’t want to spend hours in the bookshop looking around sections that we are not familiar with, wasting our time and money on a book that is out of our comfort zone. Dividing books into sections is convenient, allowing us to go straight to the area we want.
Writers construct their work with careful precision and already have an audience in mind when writing a book. Is writing to sell necessarily a bad thing? Authors need to make money and it is a hard industry to enter. I personally want to know what I’m buying before purchasing, writers do need keep reader satisfaction in mind. I’m not a publisher, however, I am interested to discover how a publisher will help me sell my book. Publishers know the market and what is trending with readers. When reading manuscripts they will be looking for key elements that they can easily sell in the current climate.
Publishers expect a mass of newly written manuscripts to come their way, so those pre-categorised into genre allows them to feel more in control when sorting through everything. After discovering more about what a publisher does, I do feel like I may be more considerate when it comes to my own writing. I know exactly what features to include in my novels when writing in a particular genre, as I want publishers and readers to take an interest in my work. I think that aspiring writers can use genre conventions to guide them through their early stages of writing. By having a mental checklist of how a story in their genre should be crafted, they are able to write more coherently and appeal to specific readers.
In David Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction he claims that some genre authors make so much money, to the extent that they are no longer authors, but ‘brands.’ These successful writers have been able to master the basics enough to now be able to put their own style into the genres that they originally used. They are now their own unique genre. J.K Rowling who is a big inspiration of mine is a prime example of this when she developed the Harry Potter series. These books now stand on their own in a bookshop, having a whole section dedicated to her and her writing, instead of just slotting into a genre shelf.
The challenges are established when writers decide to write a novel or a series of short stories that fit under more than one genre. In these cases, writers have to be careful where they want this book to fit in and think about publishers and other published work. Writers need to think about whether it’s a good idea to write something which fits into a genre or if it’s problematic when selling their books.
Many readers and critics are very comfortable within boundaries of genre, yet, does this mean that writers are not allowed to explore their own creativity? If creative writing teachers all teach their students to stick within the rigid genre rules, does this mean that people are not able to explore their creativity and find something new? New literature can lack originality when the characters, style and story is progressing in a stereotypical fashion. This is repetitive and the reader is able to predict what is coming. With writers making the decision to play it safe, they comfort the audience which can be a good thing, but at the same time they are unable to make their own mark in the industry. This can make their stories robotic.
I do sometimes struggle to stimulate my creative flair within my stories, as I always have expectations of the genre and audience. Categorising every novel and short story into different genres, though not on purpose, can narrow down a reader’s mindset. Readers are acclimated to reading a book within a certain genre and know how the story will end. It can make the reader lazy, using genre as a security blanket.
As times have modernised, new authors have begun to challenge and test the limits of genre, creating unique work. This has inspired me as a writer to continue to take small risks in my craft and hopefully, in the future, I will have the courage to be more experimental. I have realised that sticking too closely to genre conventions stunts my growth as a writer and dwindles the passion I have for the industry.