Anne A. Wilson talks about the challenges of writing a book that is all things to all people.
Clearly defining your book’s genre — knowing where it fits — is a big deal in the publishing industry. It’s important for sales, marketing, publicity, and ultimately, the success of your book. You need to be able to answer the question, “On which shelf in the bookstore would you find your novel?” Sounds easy enough.
But what if your novel straddles two genres? Or three? Or even four? Unfortunately, I’m someone who’s had to learn the hard way about the pitfalls of promoting and selling a multi-genre novel.
My debut novel, Hover, released in June 2015. The protagonist is a female navy helicopter pilot. She is one of two women on her ship, and we take a journey with her as she struggles to assimilate into this male-dominated environment. She also falls in love with a naval officer — a man who is grooming her to fly a highly classified Navy SEAL mission. All of this takes place en route to subverting a terrorist plot.
Library Journal and Booklist reviewed Hover as women’s fiction. Suspense Magazine named Hover a Best of 2015 for Romantic Suspense. Kirkus Reviews reviewed Hover as a thriller.
You might think this is a good thing. A book that is all things to all people.
Not necessarily so.
The reality is that in the publishing industry, publishers and booksellers want and need your book to slot into a definitive place.
- Sales. Whether it’s a publisher pitching your novel to an independent bookseller or a bookstore selling to its readers, it’s a huge advantage to be able to say, “If you like Kristin Hannah, you’ll like this!” If they can’t offer a comparable, it’s going to be a tougher sell.
- Marketing. Publishers and booksellers have to choose how to spend their advertising dollars. It’s difficult to do even with books that slot well. But with a multi-genre novel, the decisions are that much more challenging. If the marketers focus on only one audience, they’re targeting just a fraction of the readers that might enjoy your title. If they spread their money across multiple audiences, the message could become diluted.
- Publicity. Bloggers, magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets target specific audiences with content that matches their readership. They’ve got thousands of books from which to choose, so if a novel is only partially on track with their audience, there’s a good chance they’re going to give it a miss.
- Art Department. Yes, your story is unique, but your cover still needs to look like the others in the same section of the bookstore. This is problematic for the multi-genre novel because the artist designing your cover is going to have to skew one way or another to ensure your book fits in at least one section. This leads to expectations from the reader about what they’re buying. If you’re a romance reader and a book looks like a romance and is shelved with romance, but only includes a small romantic element as part of the overall plot, the reader may well come away disappointed.
Dialing in your genre is also critically important in today’s age of social media, because when authors of the same genre join forces to promote, this is when the magic happens.
- Authors promoting authors. You see this with giveaways, raffles, new releases, Facebook parties, you name it. One author declares, “Hey, loyal readers, enter this giveaway for my fellow author because I loved this book and you will, too!” Each author reciprocates, of course, and it grows audiences for all of them.
- Authors blogging together. Readers are drawn to blogs that feature authors of the same genre because the author members fit the profile for their audience’s buying and reading habits. What a bonus for the reader who can meet and interact with their favorite authors all in one place!
- Facebook groups, Goodreads groups, etc. Most all are based on genre. Enthusiasm, excitement, and promotion between author and author, author and reader, and reader and reader create a genre wave that can sweep your single-genre novel high into the swell and carry it far into the book-selling sunset.
- Writers conferences. Regardless of genre, authors can attend most any writing conference. But if the conference genre matches with what you’re writing—you’re a crime fiction writer at Bouchercon or you’re a thriller writer at Thrillerfest—the benefits of attending the conference increase tenfold. Panel appearances, book signings, and networking with fellow authors and fans of that genre increase your exposure and brand recognition.
- Writers associations. These groups are most often delineated by genre, and opportunities abound here for greater visibility. You can write for the association’s newsletter, its blog, post on its social networks, and even submit your work for awards. Suffice it to say, your books can thrive in these more genre-specific arenas.
Take it from someone who thought it would be a plus that her novel crossed multiple genres — it’s going to be a tough sell, no matter how great the reviews and ratings. Going forward, am I going to be more cognizant of the genre classification? You bet.
But since I’m a happily-ever-after kinda gal, I’ll end on a positive note. When it first released, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was a nightmare for those shelving books. It was placed with historical fiction, romance, fantasy, science fiction, and thriller. But of course, we all know how that one turned out! This series is indeed a series for everyone.
So perhaps there’s hope for us multi-genre novelists after all. At least, I’ll keep telling myself that.
Navy helicopter pilot Lt. Alison Malone has been assigned to a search and rescue team based at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, near the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and far from her former elite H-60 squadron. A rule follower by nature, Alison is exasperated and outraged every time she flies with her mission commander, “Boomer” Marks, for whom military procedures are merely a suggestion. Alison is desperate to be transferred out of the boonies, where careers stagnate, and back to her life and fiancé in San Diego.
Alison’s defenses start to slip when she meets mountain guide Will Cavanaugh during a particularly dicey mission. Will introduces her to a wild, beautiful world of adventure that she has never known before. Stranded on a mountain during a sudden dangerous blizzard, Alison questions every truth she thought she knew about herself. When Will braves the storm to save her life, she must confront the fact that she has been living a lie. But is it too late to change course?
Full of action and adventure, dangerous and heart-stopping rescues, blizzards and floods, family secrets and second chances, Clear to Lift is a thrilling woman’s journey as she finds confidence, truth, love, and herself against the majestic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada.
Anne A. Wilson is the author of two novels — Hover (2015) and Clear to Lift (2016). She served as a US Navy helicopter pilot and now lives in Arizona where she and her husband run a triathlon coaching company.