The Great Myth of Genre


I've seen tons of online discussions (looking at you, reddit...) pitting genres against each other in terms of sales and profitability.

Consistently, the thing I hear most is this: romance and erotica sell.

Is that true? Can anyone write a romance or erotica story, take a picture of some fit guy's chest for a cover, post it to Amazon, and buy a new Mercedes with their first royalty check? Obviously, the answer to this should be a resounding: NO.

So why do people all over the internet seem to think certain genres are gold mines and others are dusty broom closets full of dead manuscripts?

In bookstores, genre certainly plays a huge part. If 15 of the 100 shelves are full of erotica and romance while only a single shelf in the back holds mystery, guess what? More people will buy romance and erotica. But none of that stuff pertains to the indie author. (If you want to read more about big press numbers in sales, read this awesome article.)

What does genre mean in the indie world?

As an exclusively small-press published author, I live (or die...) in the indie book world. That means attending conventions 30 weekends a year, cold selling my books to people who have never heard my name before, and keeping my travel expenses low by surviving exclusively on Taco Bell. Needless to say, I have a lot of experience in indie books and I know tons of successful and failed indie authors. So here is what I've come to know about genre in the world of indie books: 

Genre means nothing.

Of course, we all have our anecdotes of someone who published in a big genre and saw instant success, and we have anecdotes of the opposite scenario as well. When it comes to selling books as an indie author, finding your audience is everything. If you write paranormal western romance, find conventions geared toward that kind of thing. Yes, they do exist. No, I have not been to one. Yet...

For an unknown indie author without a following (I'm talking less than 10 Twitter followers, no name online whatsoever kind of obscurity) already built up by something else, marketing and quality of product determine success, not genre. Publishing an incredible book is obviously step 1, but marketing that book well and finding an audience are steps 2 - 100. You can write in the most obscure genres out there and if you find your audience, you will sell copies. Similarly, you can write in a very saturated market and have an incredible book go unnoticed. 

When you sit down and finally identify your genre label, you need to then figure out where your audience lives. If you write paranormal western romance, find western conventions. Find blogs about western topics. Go to a UFO convention. Find a reviewer with 15k Twitter minions who loves alien romance stories. Is your main character a cool gunsmith-turned-vigilante-hero type? Try a gunsmith-themed blog for an interview. You can't look for the 6 people who might exist and are in need of your specific book, the handful of people who sit at their desk and Google 'paranormal western romance' every 15 minutes in hopes of finding some incredible new author. You need to look for the thousands of people somewhat interested in your themes and topics and then convince them that your book will fill a deep longing void in their hearts.

Basically, the indie author isn't bound or encouraged by any particular genre. The discussion should not be about genre saturation or genre growth in sales at all. The discussion needs to be on marketing. If you find your audience and have a decent product, genre is irrelevant.

Looking for your next favorite book? Click here.