I come across a staggering number of self-published books that don’t seem to fit into any single well-defined category.
What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with Brokeback Mountain? Buyer confusion!
Some authors are thinking along the lines, “I’ll double my target audience by writing a book that has a healthy combination of fantasy and science fiction.” Or it can be an action thriller mixed with historical romance. Or one of several other combinations.
To make matters worse, surely they will have friends and family members who will help encourage this. Somebody will say something of the sort, “You know what. I love Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. I think that’s a great idea!”
One problem with this is that the target audience doesn’t actually double when distinctly different genres are crossed. Most readers who are specifically searching for a passionate romance, for example, are looking for exactly that. They’re not looking for a romance that’s fifty percent sci-fi, fantasy, or spy thriller.
Similarly, most readers who are looking for fantasy, for example, aren’t browsing for a cover that looks, or a blurb that sounds, too romantic.
Would you try to sell Easter bunny costumes on Halloween?
There may be an audience for a cross-genre book, but it will probably be a more challenging sell than a book that fits very well in a single genre.
In other cases, the author hadn’t thought about the categories at all until the writing was finished. When it came time to publish, the author is faced with the task of choosing the category. Now the author is thinking something like, “Well, there is a bit of action, a little mystery, a touch of romance, even some sci-fi at the end.”
Having a book that fits into a blend of categories is a major marketing and packaging obstacle.
It’s much easier to package and market a book that fits into a single, well-defined category.
Consider this from a marketing and packaging perspective:
- The thumbnail image of the front cover needs to attract the right audience. When mystery readers click on a book because the cover appealed to them, but the blurb doesn’t sound like a mystery book, nobody will buy the book through discovery.
- The title and cover need to send a unified message. If the title sounds like a spy thriller, but the cover looks like contemporary romance, this creates buyer confusion.
- The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce the same signals given by the title and cover. Confused shoppers don’t by books.
- The content has to satisfy the reader who is attracted to the book. If the title, cover, blurb, and Look Inside succeed in attracting fantasy readers, but the story doesn’t appeal to most fantasy readers, this will adversely affect book reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
Packaging a book for a specific target audience and sending a unified message about the content of the book is easiest when the book fits into a single, well-defined category.
I’m not saying that you can’t write a book that blends categories. If your goal is frequent sales, then writing a book that closely resembles one popular genre may be the best way to go. Marketing a book that fits into two or more different categories will probably be a much greater challenge. It’s already very difficult to be one of the top sellers. Why make it any more difficult than it already is?
It can be fun to write non-standard books. If you do this for the fun, and don’t mind that this may adversely affect sales, then you should definitely enjoy your fun.
I’ve had a little fun with this myself. For example, I’m working on a book called Romancing the Novel, which is an extension of a couple of pieces that I posted on this blog a few months ago:
I also have a dialogue called Why Do We Have to Go to School? The closest topic is probably educational philosophy, but it’s actually fiction. I didn’t find a good category for it. It doesn’t sell, but I’m not surprised. I didn’t invest time marketing it, since it wasn’t an easy sell. But I’m not disappointed: It was fun to write and definitely worth doing.
I mostly write nonfiction, which sells for the value of the content and expertise. For me, the fiction is fun, while the nonfiction is educational. For me, the educational part sells, while the fun is just fun (and what’s wrong with having fun for fun’s sake?).
One of these years, I will finish a juvenile sci-fi book that I started several years ago. I believe that it has a great beginning (it better – I’ve spent years working on it). This piece of fiction won’t just be fun, but will actually fit into a well-defined, popular genre. Of all of my ideas for fictional books, this one has the best chance of succeeding. It’s also the book that’s taking the longest time to write. Maybe by 2020? (Hey, that would be a good year to release a book that has something to do with excellent eyesight.)
Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers