Writer’s Craft #91 – Genre Mashups

K. A. Laity
K. A. Laity

K. A. Laity: All-purpose writer, Fulbrighter, uberskiver, medievalist, flâneuse, techno-shamanka, Broad Universe social media maven, History Witch, Pirate Pub Captain currently anchored in Dundee, Scotland.

Agents, editors, far more successful writers all tell me the same thing: it helps to stick to one genre. People who like that genre and you will stick with you if you keep to that part of the playground. Although I tend to fit under the broad umbrella of “fantasy” in my work, I can’t say there’s a lot in common between my works.

My first novel was a fairy tale, set in an approximation of medieval Scandinavia. I’ve written a comic gothic novel and a slightly supernatural thriller, while my forthcoming novel is a science fiction/urban fantasy/shamanic journey/road trip/retelling of the descent of Inanna.

Yeah, my publisher went with “science fiction” for the label, but we added a catchy new tagline, ‘shamans vs aliens’.

But some SF folks will argue it’s not what it says on the tin. And fantasy fans may overlook it. I hear more and more that people like this kind of literary mashup — after all, why not try something new — but the truth is it remains difficult to market them. People say a good story is more important than the label on the spine. But discovering books remains a difficult process.

How do you find new books and new authors?


14 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #91 – Genre Mashups

  1. I’m in the process of finishing off a number of short stories. Some would be classified as SF, some as fantasy. Some are horror, or possibly crime. One starts out fantasy, but turns out to be SF. One starts out with the trappings of SF, and turns out to be fantasy.

    I recognise that marketing this stuff would be almost impossible. However, the big advantage is that while only a tiny percentage of people would ever want to read such things, at least I’m in a very small number of people providing that kind of thing.

    One could say that it’s a big advantage being labelled as urban fantasy, or vampire romance, or teen vampire fantasy urban romance, but the disadvantage is that there will be many thousands of writers fighting in the same space. Additionally, in many of these tightly defined genres, people have expectations which if not fulfilled, can put them off.

    Of course, advice would best come from someone with a hugely successful record of genre-bending, but examples are out there. Who knew that a mash-up of Battle Royale with The Road would be the leading young adult book of the last couple of years?

    1. I’m really in the same boat. I worked on it with the current release with the tagline, but I was lucky that I already had a publisher willing to run with the weirdness. And point about The Hunger Games well taken. Nobody knows anything, as William Goldman said.

  2. The “Science Fiction readers, writers, collectors and artists” group on LinkedIn debates about genre definitions a lot, and we often end up agreeing that they are only useful for marketing and for the endgame of marketing, bookstore shelf sorting (even while the hard core SF fans and the hard core fantasy fans are complaining loudly that the bookstores have put chocolate in their peanut butter/peanut butter on their chocolate).

    The long game here seems to me that if you write a successful book that doesn’t fit existing genre definitions, that book and others like it will inevitably bring a new subgenre definition into existence. When I was first reading in the genre, all of it was just called “science fiction” – until LOTR became a big success, and suddenly the designation “fantasy” began appearing on paperback spines. Cyberpunk, steampunk, alternate history, urban fantasy, and paranormal mystery are just a few of the genre newcomers in recent decades, spawned by the popularity of specific authors and books in those genres.

    I usually do follow writers I like across multiple genres if they write them (not romance, though, I draw the line there!), because what makes me like a writer is not necessarily the genre, but an ineffable combination of that writer’s voice, skill and the themes and questions he or she explores.

    1. Well, I write romance, so I’m not drawing any lines. But people do have their prejudices that will keep them from ever picking up a book because of the label. So I have to think about those labels as much as I would eschew them.

  3. I’ve been mashing my genres since I wrote my first novel. It does make it harder, particularly when you wander among the genres like I do, but I do think that if you write books you love, and then talk to people who like to read, you’ll find readers. I’m the slow and steady turtle author, I guess.

    1. I keep hoping that the new connections made laterally via Amazon tags, etc. will lead to better matches between explorative readers and genre-bending writers, but I can’t tell yet.

  4. I wonder if whether a mashup works depends upon whether the reading protocols of the genres involved mesh or not (see http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/protocol.htm and http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/01/sf-reading-protocols on the subject of reading protocols in SF, and the difficulty readers have when they’re not familiar with how to approach a work). It’s not enough for the writer to be bi- or tri-lingual, or be able to switch protocols, but the reader has to be to as well.

    1. That’s a good point, Alison. It requires more work on behalf of the reader and not all readers are willing to expend that extra energy with an uncertain payoff.

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