When I started writing ‘Dancing Through Fire’, I didn’t have a specific genre in mind – I just wanted to tell a good story. Thinking about genre came when I self-published my book and I was selecting the appropriate genre categories within Amazon KDP. At the time, I was surprised that there wasn’t a straight forward ‘drama’ genre – in my eyes my book was first and foremost a life drama. As such, I ended up selecting 3 categories which I felt most closely related to my story : ‘women’s fiction’, ‘romance’ and ‘contemporary fiction’. Before I knew it I went on to label myself as a writer of women’s fiction, marketing myself and my book in this genre – it seemed to make sense.
Since that time however, I’ve come to realise the dangers of labelling yourself as a writer too early on and in a way which might limit your readership. Whilst ‘Dancing Through Fire,’ may appeal more broadly to women than to men, I have been very pleasantly surprised by some of the positive feedback from male readers who have looked past the ‘women’s fiction’ label and taken a punt on my book. Here’s a review from one such reader; podcast host (Under a Tartan Sky) and magazine editor Glen Moyer (review also viewable on Amazon.com):
The revelation (and it was a kind of revelation to me) that men could engage with, and enjoy my writing led me into the whole genre debate. It’s something which I went on to discuss in greater detail with Glen who, having read my book, invited me onto his show as a guest speaker (podcast coming soon…) Around the time we recorded the podcast, we talked a lot about what it was in my book that hooked him. Reading the story from two perspectives (both the male and the female protagonist’s) was a key element and I’ve since read that this is often a technique which encourages men to link in with genres which might typically be considered the domain of women. A story line which is relatable is also key and so stories which illustrate the dramas and the twists and turns of life and love have a better chance of hooking male readers.
The difference between romance and romantic is also significant. If you search for romance novels on Amazon you’ll generally find a sea of books which are all kinds of versions of Fifty Shades; what several readers have qualified as ‘soft porn.’ If that’s not where a book lies, and you’ve put it in that category, it can easily get lost within the romance genre (it’s the largest category of books on Amazon). I would argue however, as would many of my readers, that ‘Dancing Through Fire’ is romantic without falling into the afore mentioned ‘romance’ category. This difference has been highlighted by several male readers who tell me they have no interest in what is now known as’ romance’ but could easily engage with the romantic element of ‘Dancing Through Fire’.
The balance is fine, and the whole genre debate, and need to categorise your work as a writer, can be a minefield. The danger I realised I was facing was that I could easily have fallen into the trap of shoehorning myself and all future works into the ‘women’s fiction’ category. It could have restricted me as a writer, and I confess that whilst writing book 2 I have at times put genre before story; something I won’t do again. Whatever you call it and however you want to categorise it, it should always be about the storytelling – I want to write a good story which readers, male and / or female, can pick up and enjoy, without being deterred by a label.
So where does this leave me with the whole genre debate? Personally, I think there should be a ‘contemporary drama’ category, but for now I’ll settle for the more widely used ‘contemporary fiction’. The other two categories I mentioned at the beginning may still be selected when I publish future works, and my writing may well continue to appeal more broadly to women than to men, but in terms of how I market myself and my writing, I’ll be mindful that I don’t let genre labels limit, or deter, potential readers.
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