Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Rose by any other name -- would be difficult to sell ...

... Or ...
I came here expecting horses

There's been a lot of hoopla of late over genre, cross-genre, tagging, labeling -- whatever you want to call it. Writers agonize over what genre their book fits into, which agent/small press/publisher to submit their work to, what tags to use on Amazon and so on.

The situation strikes me as one in which we've built the buggy and now feel compelled to find the one and only horse to pull it -- or perhaps the perfect compliment of horses to pull it.

News flash: You can switch horses. Anytime.

That horse, er, label is, and always has been, a marketing tool. It does more to help focus marketing efforts on niche groups (reader target audiences) than it does to help niche groups find books to read. (think of it as the difference between being pursued by a guy you'd probably like vs. a guy you'd find boring) (Now, that's not a bad thing -- although you'd probably be missing some gems).

We want people to read our books, but hey, even Coca Cola targets audiences. Sometimes companies even create niche groups (anybody remember the "Pepsi Generation"?). However, until you get to be your own genre (Steven King, Lee Child, JK Rowling, Janet Evanovich ....) you have to target a genre if you expect to sell. That doesn't mean you can't include different genres in your work, it means you have to be able to use a label without lying (too much) if you want to sell your books easily.


Yes. Stop laughing. "Easily" only because otherwise, it becomes a lot more work. That's probably why marketing departments in publishing houses have been seen making purchasing decisions (I was shocked, too, when I found that out. If I was in marketing -- which I was years ago -- wouldn't it be my job to sell what my company produced, not tell my company what they should make?) (yes, I'm perfectly aware of the value of market analysis -- did it myself)

As writers, we not only need to learn to write well enough to hold a reader's interest (otherwise we write ONLY for ourselves), but we have to learn how to stir up excitement in a specific group by using a very few well chosen phrases....not exactly lying, but selective truth-telling.

We can do that, right? We write fiction, after all.

The labeling/genre situation is far too established to fight and conquer at this point -- and I'm not sure it's such a good idea, anyway. However, we can learn to market to target audiences who, once having discovered a good read, don't seem to mind multiple genres at all.

So, if you want to sell a rose don't call it "a flowering bush that requires a lot of fertilizer, water and spraying for insects and disease, and produces blooms for a couple of months out of the year." Call it "a bush that produces armloads of fragrant blossoms," "a velvety flower given to one's heart's desire," "an ancient symbol of passion," AND call it a "Rose." People get that. Those of us who love roses, don't really mind the other, un-poetic stuff -- we know it and don't want to hear it. The other sometimes-truthful description simply feeds our interest.


  1. A fresh idea on an old trope. I guess that when you approach marketing, all you really need is to keep an open mind to all the possibilities and don't fall for the same ole same ole, right?

  2. Fresh ideas and an open mind are valuable commodities, Michael, that's for certain. But there are tried an true approaches to getting the information "out there," too -- persistence and connections being two of them. Marketing and promotion is a steep learning curve for most authors -- me included.

  3. Good blog!

    There's also the tendency among many inspiring authors to jump on a genre bandwagon... and write for something that's oversaturated as a fad at the moment. Right now that's the vampire genre.

  4. Thanks, William. Oh, yes -- let's not forget the zombies! I do believe they may be taking over from the vampires, although I can't imagine why! ;)

    I think the thing we authors have to remember is to use genre and labeling as marketing tools, which is where they work best.