Do you find your genre, or does it find you?



Genres are an important part of the book business because they allow a reader to find the type of books she likes without searching through the whole store, brick and mortar or digital.

That is really the only function genres serve.

So if a person is an author he can go at the genre deal one of two ways. Either he can scope out the most popular genres and decide to write something that fits in them, or he can write what he feels like he needs to write and then attempt to plug it into a genre niche.

Many authors take the first approach.  They see which genres are selling the best and dedicate themselves to produce content for that market.

If sci-fi is hot, they write a sci-fi book, if romance is hot (pardon the pun) they write romance.

And so forth.

Other authors write a novel and then shoe horn it into a category.

Either way the author goes he is prisoner to the genre deal.

genres to learn

It’s just a fact of life.

But if truth be known does the author pick his genre or does it pick him?

I am thinking about this because I recently received a nice review on a book of mine called The Compost Pile in which the reviewer said it had a Southern Gothic feel to it.

I had to do some Internet research in order to understand exactly what the Southern Gothic genre entailed.

You know what?  She was right.

I’ve been a Southern Gothic writer from Day One without knowing it.

I like that.

I didn’t set out to write Southern Gothic books.  As a matter of fact if anyone asked me what genre I write in, I tell them legal thrillers.

That’s true.

I write legal thrillers, but they have a Southern Gothic feel to them.

I like that, too. I have always considered myself a Southern writer.  I have grown up in the South and lived my whole life there. It’s the place I know from the inside out. It’s in my DNA.

So it is no wonder that the Southern vibe permeates what I write.

Did I decide to be a Southern Gothic/legal thriller writer?

No.  It never crossed my mind.

When I sit down to write, I pull from the experience and characters I know, the people with whom I have rubbed elbows all my life.

The Southern sensibility has a dark underpinning, populated with weird characters who may or may not receive a fair shake. It is tied to a certain geographical place and explores the inner recesses of characters who are in some sense provincial, but in a broader sense universal.

What’s wrong with that?

So it seems to me that the genre discussion makes a misstep if it requires an author choose one genre or another.

Rather, I think often the fact of the business is that a writer naturally gravitates to a certain manner of story telling, and she falls into whatever genre fits her way of approaching a story.

The author doesn’t choose the genre.  It chooses him.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Stephen, I like Toni Morrison’s thoughts on writing: “Write the kinds of books you want to read.” If you like to read more than one genre, sooner or later you will write in more than one genre.

  • I find myself returning to my roots in reading when I write. I’ve tried a lot of new things and new genres lately – some of it quite well written – but find I only read one or two books in the new genre, a taste, and then I’m satisfied.

    There is so little time for reading, at least for me while writing – both take the same kind of emotional energy – that I go for the comfort reading most of the time: the stuff I reread, and the occasional new book in a genre I already love.

    Southern Gothic, eh? Is that what Flannery O’Connor wrote? You’re in good company – and I entirely lack the Southern background, which is why it feels like an alien landscape to me. Not bad, just alien.

  • jack43

    I started out writing historical fiction because it’s what I like to read. I am tempted to change now that I look at it critically and discover that it isn’t a popular genre in America. It is in Britain. Just compare the rankings of historical fiction books in the Amazon store vs the ones in Amazon.UK. However, I won’t make the switch until I’ve gotten the historical fiction out of my system.

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