By Iola GoultonAs a reviewer and editor, I read a lot of fiction, mostly Christian fiction. I see a lot of the same mistakes over and over, especially from first-time authors. My intention with this series of articles is to address one of the most common issues I see in writing: lack of a clear genre. This was addressed in a recent post by Rachelle Gardner on minimising the obstacles to publication. One obstacle was not being able to name a genre for your book, while another was related: not understanding your audience (hint: your audience buys by genre).
The concept of genre was introduced in a post last month from Narelle Atkins and Jenny Blake. If you haven't read it, I suggest you read it now (and make sure you read the comments as well). You can find it by clicking here.
Back? You read all the comments as well? What did you think?
My view of the conversation is that as readers, Jenny and I have clear expectations of what we want from a novel. If the novel doesn't meet those expectations, we feel let down. It wouldn't matter if the novel had just won a major prize—we'd rate it badly because it didn't meet our expectations.
Where do those expectations come from? Very often, those expectations come from our perception of genre.
Don't judge a book by its cover (but we all do)
What can you tell about these books from looking at the covers? Are they likely to be romance, action, speculative or general fiction? Which book looks the most lighthearted? Which one looks edgy? Which one looks more serious?
Most importantly, which of these books are you interested in reading? Why? And which books aren't you interested in reading? Why? (Share your answers in the comments.)
Chances are that you've just judged each of these books based on your perception of the genre based on the cover. The front cover is often our first exposure to a book, and it is designed to give us an immediate view of the genre of the book. This should be reinforced by the back cover copy. So if you don't like speculative fiction, you won't like the look of Dead Man's Journey - and that's before you read the blurb.
Of course, sometimes publishers get the covers wrong. Here's an example of a book I was disappointed in because I misjudged the genre. Bright pink cover. Eiffel Tower. A girl's name in the title. It's screaming 'romance', isn't it? But it's not romance. And for that reason, I didn't like it. It wasn't that it was a bad book. It was that I picked it up wanting to read a lighthearted romance, and that wasn't what I got.
What genre are you writing?
Before you begin writing your novel, you should know what genre you are writing in. The number one mistake of beginning writers in this area is to not consider genre at all.
Karen Baney maintains the importance of defining your target audience before you begin writing. It is tempting to say ‘my story is targeted at people aged 8-80’ (yes, I’ve seen that). What is more likely is that story isn’t designed to appeal to anyone. A good book may well appeal to people outside the target market, but first you need to meet the needs of a target reader. This could be defined as some or all of:
- Geographic location
- Educational level
It's also worth remembering that Christian fiction isn't a genre. It's a market segment, like Young Adult. Within Christian Fiction there are books across a range of genres, including romance, historical, mystery, suspense, speculative and thriller. So it's not enough to say your book is Christian fiction. You can read more information on targeting the general market vs. the Christian market on my website.
Whatever genre you write in, make sure you are widely read in that genre so that you know you are following the rules of the genre—and meeting the expectations of readers. Over the next three weeks, I'm going to take you through the principles of three major genres in Christian fiction, starting next week with Romance. I hope you'll join me.
I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.