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What genre is it?


‘It's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman’ – The Player

At recent events with authors, I kept hearing people discussing their genre.  Mostly in slightly baffled tones.  This is another example of the disconnect between a writer and the publishing industry. 

An author doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed, stuck in a genre corner, an author wants to appeal to all those readers out there.  On the other hand, a publisher – while also anxious to appeal to as many readers as possible – knows that their job once they take a book on will be to define it as clearly as possible to the potential audience.

It might be helpful at this point to remind readers about how books made it into the bookshop (assuming you still buy books from a bookshop of course).  A publisher brings out publicity material about 3-4 months before the book’s publication date, and their sales rep takes that in – either to the local shop or to the chain’s head office.

The bookseller (be they large or small) will be judging the book from the cover, the rep’s sales talk, and the information sheet (an A4 sized piece of information that includes genre, previous sales figures for that author, and a basic synopsis).  Sometimes the bookseller will also get a book proof to read (a bound copy of the book – not for sale) that will help them promote it to their customers.

When a rep sells books into a shop or chain, they get a frighteningly small amount of time to concentrate on each title.  The cover and the basic information are required to do a lot of work.

As an aside, I always find it fascinating to compare UK and US book covers as they can be so different.  As a British reader I have never preferred a US cover yet, although I guess there’s always a first time!  Have a look yourself and see what you think.

Given this very short time, how would you place your book?  Put yourself into the rep’s shoes, and think about it.  You’ve not got long, and you need the bookseller to understand what your audience is likely to be.

Book Country have done a great genre map which is fun to play around with – have a look here.

I am often asked about ‘crossover’ titles – either books that are read by both adults and children, or books that straddle genres.  What I’ve observed over years of bookselling and working in publishing is that crossover titles evolve.  J.K. Rowling never set out to appeal to adults, it was a combination of the strength of her work and the sense at the time that adults could enjoy childish pursuits and entertainment that made that take off in that direction.  Similarly, crossover genres tend to start off being marketed quite firmly as one type of book – it’s the audience that picks it up that takes the definition into a different direction.

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