My first interaction with Patricia Loofbourrow was when I agreed to review Jacq of Spades. I loved the novel, and we’ve regularly interacted since then, especially on Twitter. In fact, she still often uses a portion of my review to advertise her book there – which gives me a case of the warm’n’fuzzies whenever I see it, I’ll admit.
I was really pleased with the piece that she delivered for me to share with you all, and I think you will be too, especially if you’re an aspiring writing. She gives some good advice that I don’t think many people take the time to elucidate this clearly. Feel free to comment on this piece. I’ll make sure she knows someone’s talking if she doesn’t see it!
Crossing Genres: Creating and Marketing a Multi-category Novel
by Patricia Loofbourrow
An online friend was talking with some of us in a marketing group I frequent about her young adult (YA) novel and the difficulty she had with sales. It came out that this book is not just a YA book, but a near future dystopia with a strong independent female protagonist. She had been marketing it in a very general way, although she had been comparing it to books such as The Hunger Games.
I said, “your novel is science fiction”.
This woman felt astonished: she had never considered this, and knew nothing about either the genre or the fandom. No wonder she was having trouble!
It came to me that there are a lot of factors that go into creating and marketing a multi-category novel that aren’t necessarily intuitive.
Here are some suggestions:
1) Think about your story and tease out the categories it might fit into
It’s probably best to do this during the outlining stages, but if you write like I do, you may not figure this out until the revision or even the editing process. That’s okay – just begin thinking about what categories your novel might fit into.
Begin with broad categories. What is the setting?
We’ll start with: is it in our universe, where normal physics applies?
• If it’s in the past, it’s historical fiction.
• If it’s set in the present day, we’re talking about contemporary fiction.
• If any part of the story is set in the future, it’s science fiction.
(Yes, even the near future, and yes, even if you aren’t a scientist. Consider The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is a science fiction novel written by someone with a non-science background as a bittersweet romance – great book, by the way.)
If instead of being in our universe, it’s set on some paranormal plane (for example, in your story, magic is commonplace), it’s fantasy.
Write one of those four down.
Your story can cross genres even here. For example, the Sookie Stackhouse novel series is set in present-day Louisiana, but it’s an alternate universe where vampires and werewolves are common.
How does the story end? In ancient Greece, they considered there to be two types of stories:
• if the story had a happy ending, it was called a comedy – not in the sense of the word as we use it today, but the concept of the happy ending is still useful. For example, if you categorize your novel as a romance, your readers will expect a “happy ever after” ending.
• if the story didn’t end well, it was called a tragedy. This sort of ending is very popular in some cultures, and is the norm in many genres (crime fiction novels tend to have some sort of tragic or not totally resolved ending).
Note this – it will help a great deal in your marketing.
To narrow your categories down more, consider what drives the story:
• if the story is mostly about the inner life of the main character, you’re probably writing literary fiction
• if the plot and action outside the main character is what the story is about, you’re writing genre fiction
This mainly matters when you’re marketing: you’ll want to bring out what the story is about in your blurb (for example).
Consider how you want your audience to feel:
• romance novels deal with romantic feelings, from young love/friendship to steamy erotica and everywhere in between
• comedy novels make you laugh
• crime and mystery novels make you feel intrigued
• horror, suspense, and thriller novels make you feel afraid
• action, suspense, thriller, and adventure novels make you feel excited
• epic adventures make you feel inspired
As you can see, there is often overlap in these genres without intending it.
Once you’ve decided what your big categories are, look up the particular sub-categories for your novel. For example, high epic fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings is very different in both content and tone from urban fantasy such as The Dresden Files. Sites such as Wikipedia and TV Tropes can be very helpful when learning about categories.
2) Look at the expectations for your categories
Each genre has its own set of reader expectations. It may be a certain type of character, a certain tone, or a particular setting.
We touched on this with romance: a novel is not generally considered a romance novel if it doesn’t end “happily ever after”. This feeling of happy resolution is what readers pick up a romance novel to get, so if your book doesn’t end that way DON’T market it as a romance, no matter how much romance is in the book. You’ll get bad reviews, because you haven’t met the expectations for your genre.
To successfully market a book which fits into multiple genres, you’ll need to meet the expectations for every subset of readers. To go back to the original example, a YA dystopia needs to meet the expectations of both young adult readers AND dystopia novel readers.
Include words in your marketing which describe how they will feel during and after the book. Since this is really what you’re selling, if you include these, your ideal readers will feel more confident that the book will satisfy them.
I read once that you should use your blurb (the bit in the back of the book) to weed out people who wouldn’t like your book. So if there’s something about the book which only your readers would like, put it in there!
To do that, you need to do one more thing.
3) Understand the fan base of each category
Your book, first and foremost, is for people. Not all people, but the people who like your type of story. The biggest problem I see in mixing categories is in this area. If you don’t understand what sort of person likes what sort of novel, you may make mistakes in these areas:
• you may misunderstand who you’re marketing to – my friend was trying to go to groups about the political system in her near future dystopia and market to the parents. However, teenagers may not react well to book suggestions from their parents! Also, a girl who likes novels with a strong independent female protagonist is probably fairly independent herself and would want to select her own reading material. Unless you’re writing novels for children under 13, market to the reader.
• you may misunderstand your readership and how to interact with them – for example, you may not know the common tropes, jokes, references, and pet peeves of your fan base, and may end up offending or alienating them with your marketing if you’re not careful.
How do you understand your readers?
• read as much as you can on (and in) the categories in question – the history of the category, the major books in it, and what makes that category unique.
• go to where your fans are – and before you begin marketing, spend at least a month observing in at least four different groups. What ages and genders are you marketing to? What do they like and dislike? What is really important to them? What movies do they watch? What upsets or offends them? What inspires them?
• stay current – this is especially important if you’re marketing to young adults. You don’t have to know about everything, but you should at least be aware of major trends, the main authors in the genre, and popular new works in your categories.
• listen to your fans! They will tell you what they like and what they don’t. If you’re on social media (Twitter especially), look for people to follow who like the categories you’re writing in. Then listen to what they and the people they quote and retweet are saying. This is a quick way to both get current and avoid any major blunders with your audience.
If you really explore your categories, understand why someone might buy a book in those categories, and understand what sort of people like what you write, you’ll go a long way in being able to sell lots and lots of books!
And you’ll make a lot of people very happy.
Author Contacts: Website
Patricia Loofbourrow, MD is an SFF and non-fiction writer, PC gamer, ornamental food gardener, fiber artist, and wildcrafter who loves power tools, dancing, genetics and anything to do with outer space. She was born in southern California and has lived in Chicago and Tokyo. She currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and three grown children.
Check out her novel The Jacq of Spades on Amazon .