Genre Expectations - Indie Pub It
There is a tremendous freedom associated with indie publishing. No more legacy publisher demands for word length, specific types of content (say, sword fights or sex, for example), and more silly rules and demands that get in the way of telling a good story.
Dean Wesley Smith, for example, often points out that novels are getting shorter these days not just to keep down the price, but because shorter novels tell a story economically, tightly and effectively. It’s only legacy publishers demanding a story must hit, say, 100K words, that result in padded and overblown story-telling.
When you first start out indie publishing, you will realize very quickly that you can publish anything you want.
Or can you?
As in all things indie, the answer is yes and no.
There is a little thing called genre expectations, a.k.a. genre rules and genre conventions. You may also see the terms used interchangeably with reader expectations, although these are two different, but closely related, things.
Actually, I’m lying. Genre expectations not a little subject at all. It’s freakin’ huge. You can’t afford to ignore genre, not for a moment. Even if you believe you’re not writing genre fiction…you are.
Why? Because your readers think you are.
You may think of yourself as a high-art literary writer, but that is still a category of fiction. Readers who like literary fiction expect to read about interesting characters facing internal struggles and developing as people as a result (or refusing to change). The reader expects beautiful prose, phrasing that makes them pause in appreciation. If you were to throw a torrid romance or space-ship dog-fight into the middle of that, you would upset your readers, because that’s not what they expect of literary fiction.
Then there is genre fiction, also called popular fiction. Romances have happy endings. Westerns have gun fights and laconic heroes. Science fiction has futuristic settings. Murder mysteries have a body and thrillers jump start the reader’s pulse.
These are the expectations of genre fiction, put in very simplified terms. Whatever genre or category you are writing, you should understand in nuanced detail what readers expect to get when they read a book in your chosen category…and you must meet those expectations, or readers will not buy your next book.
Genre expectations, however, are just the start of what a reader expects from your books, in particular.
What if you like to genre mash? I do. In fact, I can’t help myself. Almost all of what I write is one or two popular fiction genres, with a third as the foundation – there is always a romance in my stories that meets genre expectations. I market my work as romance, too, because that is the shelf from where most of my readers like to read and buy their books.
You might write fiction that you believe doesn’t fit into a single genre or even several genres. If this is truly the case (and it’s very rare a popular fiction book doesn’t fit into any genre or combination…you should be aware that no-category novels rarely sell well because readers just don’t know what to make of them, or what to expect from them. Plus…where do you go to find your audience?
Amazon and most other retail outlets insist upon you picking a category for your fiction and as soon as you do that, you’re also picking your readers.
If you do genre mash and have found a way to market to the primary genre(s) you write in, and you are happily selling to readers of that genre, then you have found yourself a tribe that likes those genres, and to whom you are delivering stories that meet all the genre expectations.
Your particular “mash” of genres now becomes a function of your personal brand. Readers who have bought your books in the past understand what sort of books you will release in the future…and this is where genre expectations + reader expectations overlap. You had better deliver a book that matches the type of books you have already published, because that is now your brand and what the reader expects from you. If you do not, you will disappoint readers and they won’t buy your next book…a disaster!
Does genre expectations + reader expectations + your brand mean that you can’t write anything different, ever again, once you’ve started selling?
No, not at all.
If you’ve been writing heavy science fiction military novels for the last few years, you can’t suddenly dump an intensely emotional romance on your readers and expect them to buy the book because it’s yours. You’re breaking the author-reader bond when you do that.
However, if you really do want to head off in a different story-telling direction, then what you need to do is prepare your readers.
As I have mentioned, I write all over the genre map, with romance at the base of the stories. The unbreakable expectation of romance readers is that a romance will show the developing relationship of the main characters, and end happily.
However, my readers demanded a backstory featuring two main characters from an already existing series. I was happy to oblige, except that there was no way to tell the story without a tragic ending. It just wasn’t possible if I was going to abide by the characters’ personal histories as related in books already published in the series.
I prepared readers for the tragic, non-romantic story by talking about it for several weeks leading up to the release. I also warned readers via my newsletter and also in the product descriptions that it was critical they read earlier books in the series before reading this one, or they would be bitterly disappointed. I repeated these warnings right up until release. I gave my Street Team every book already published in the series when they reviewed the tragic one, so they would have the necessary set-up and backstory, too.
You can transition your own readers over to a completely new and different story in a similar way. Take your time, ease them into it with lots of communication. Point out the similarities (if any) of the new genre to the one they’re used to seeing from you. Make sure the reader understands what to expect in this new genre – in other words, what they will get out of it, if they try it.
It takes time to expand your brand, so don’t rush it. Also, expect to lose some readers, especially if your new genre is the only genre you’ll be writing in the future. If you’re still writing in the old genre, too, then make sure that is very clear, but still expect to lose impatient readers who don’t want to wait longer between books in their favourite category.
Don’t switch genres too often. Every couple of years would be maximum – you need time to transition current readers and build up new audiences. If you switch too often, you’re disintegrating your brand. Reader will get lost trying to figure out what sort of writer you are.
You also need to make sure you’re keeping your tribe – your readers – happy no matter what you’re writing, by delivering a story that meets their expectations, every single time.
Your tribe will ultimately determine what you can write. Don’t let them down.
Tracy Cooper-Posey writes vampire romance series and hot romantic suspense. She has been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. After a decade of legacy publishing, she switched to indie publishing has released over 65 indie titles to date. Her indie books have made her an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and have been nominated four times for Book of the Year. Byzantine Heartbreak won the title in 2012. Faring Soul was awarded a SFR Galaxy Award in 2015. Tracy has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Her website can be found at http://TracyCooperPosey.com.