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A Degree of Uncertainty. November 2019.

Why literary genres are for marketers, not readers

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

I wonder if Daphne du Maurier wrote with her audience in mind? With a clear idea of the confines of the genre? Or whether she just wrote


2019 marks fifty years since du Maurier published The House on the Strand. It was quite a departure from some of her earlier work — think the spellbinding and enduring Rebecca, and the dark and sinister Jamaica Inn, both published some 20 years earlier.


Set in Tywardreath, near Fowey in Cornwall, where du Maurier spent much of her life, The House on the Strand tells of a protagonist who goes on drug-induced time travels back to the 14th century.


It is surely influenced by the pervasive drug use of the 1960s, not least the LSD era, with clear parallels between acid trips and the trips of the story’s narrator, Dick, who is propelled back in time.


It sounds a bit left field, and it is.


The House on the Strand strays into the realms of science fiction, and shows why du Maurier was so frustrated about being labelled as a ‘romantic’ novelist, such is the desire to force people into boxes.


Her writing spanned romance, gothic, horror, psychological thriller and everything in between.


Of course, du Maurier earned the right to explore different genres, to defy classification, and to be led by pure creative impulse. But what would she make of today’s publishing industry?


I have been on a number of novel writing courses, and most drum into students the importance of knowing your audience and defining your genre before pen gets within a nib’s length of the paper.


It is the age-old argument about commercial appeal versus creativity.

Like developing a brilliant product that doesn’t have a clearly defined use or need, writing an enthralling book which lacks a defined audience is the height of madness, surely?


I beg to differ. Readers are crying out for books which engage the reader, evoke emotion, and absorb them in another world — even if they are a marketer’s nightmare, straddling genres and carelessly appealing to all.


Or to continue with the product analogy, and to borrow from the alleged words of Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”


Readers of fiction want to be swept up in another world; gripped, entertained, enthralled. They don’t care about (often arbitrary) genres. Marketers care, because they have to sell the thing. A label makes it infinitely easier.


Readers seek great stories, not great genres

Let’s bust open genres and do away with labels. Let’s free writers to tell great stories, uninhibited by genre expectations, definitions, and what’s gone before.


Let’s liberate readers and open their minds to great stories, not force them down a genre funnel from which they may never emerge.


Writers: break the mould and unleash great writing and compelling stories, don’t obsess over predefined audiences.


Agents and publishers: throw your rule books out the window!

Book marketers: it’s time to get creative…


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