Do you have to know your genre to write?

10 steps to being a better writer copy

Since Camp NaNoWriMo is starting on the 1st, and since I completely forgot about it until a couple of days ago, I took a quick gander at the Campfire Circle forum on the NaNoWriMo website. (Gander, for those of you not from the South, means “look”.) One of the questions got me thinking, I think because I’ve been in the indie publishing world for a while now. Things are different — in a good way — in indie land.

Here’s the question: “I need some help identifying my genre.” Then the poster put a synopsis of her story up.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in asking the question, but it really reminded me of one of the best things about being an indie author. GENRE DOESN’T REALLY MATTER! Sure, once you publish, you have to select your genres on Amazon and B&N and Kobo… I get that. But you certainly don’t need to know what you’re going to check off before you even write the thing. And honestly, some of the best work coming from indies are cross-genre stories that would never get picked up by traditional publishers for that fact alone. Traditional publishers want to quantify you. Many traditionally published authors who want to branch out into other genres aren’t allowed to by their publishers, or at least not in their own name. That’s a shame, and something that the indie market is doing better than the legacy guys at the moment.

I will grant you that it’s easier to market yourself if you write in one, carefully defined genre. Since I don’t do that, I can attest to the “starting over” phenomenon when you have a new book out in a new genre. But still, the point of writing is (or should be) to write the story in your heart. If that story is romance, or suspense, or police procedural, that’s great. But if, like me, that genre is Young Adult sci-fi dystopian fantasy… Well, that’s okay, too. Will most of my action adventure treasure hunt readers cross over? I doubt it. Does that mean I’m starting from scratch? Yep. But I started from scratch when I published Solomon’s Throne, anyway, and it’s selling at a pretty steady pace, so it’s doable. And worth it, to write what I want.

If you’re doing Camp NaNo next month or in July, or you’re going to sign up for the big event in November, relax. Have fun. It’s a first draft. It might be terrible. That’s okay! You have to give yourself permission to write crap. Work on your story, your characters, your settings. Research the details. Let your mind take the story where it wants to go, and don’t worry about genre. Once you’ve written it, edited it, sent it to beta readers, and edited some more, then you can think about it. If you decide to go the traditional route, you can figure out which genre it fits best when you start sending out queries. If you decide to go the indie route, it won’t matter until you’re in production. Either way, that’s a long way off from the first words of the first draft.

Relax, take a deep breath. Write. Think. Dream. Imagine. For now, that’s all you need to do!

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10 Comments

Filed under NaNoWriMo, Publishing, Self publishing, Writing

10 responses to “Do you have to know your genre to write?

  1. oh my gosh I LOVE this post so much!!! reminds me of what I said in a post about being a “genre bender.” It’s so true…. in indie publishing you can totally cross genres and write anything you want 🙂 Best of luck to you in Camp NaNoWriMo!!! 🙂

  2. I’ve always wondered how the person who first read the original Star Wars script reacted. I get the feeling he sat back and was like, “Lucas, what the hell is this? Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Is it action/adventure? PICK A GENRE, MAN!”

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