I spoke to an author this week about his latest book. When I asked what genre it was, he couldn't tell me. It was a true story but not non-fiction, he said, because he changed a few facts "to protect the innocent." It was a coming-of-age book of a young woman, but it wasn't chick-lit or women's fiction. It had a love story woven throughout but it didn't fit into the romance category. It included a murder but it wasn't suspense and it wasn't mystery and "definitely" wasn't crime. Oh, and there were images of angels but it wasn't inspirational nor paranormal.
The author tried to find a publisher for it but was turned down time after time because they simply couldn't define it. So he decided to self-publish.
And therein lies the problem.
There is a proliferation of self-published authors these days; anybody watching the industry can see it in every direction. But with so many publishing their books themselves, some fail to do the most rudimentary research into what genre they are writing in. It goes far beyond whether a traditional publisher picks it up. It has more to do with marketing, promoting and selling the book.
Before the first word is written, the author should ask himself or herself: Who is my target market?
If you can't define the genre, how do you know who will read it?
More importantly, who will buy it?
When you publish your book for a commercial market (versus something you can hand out at church or work or to your family) the problem is not getting it printed. Any book can be printed quickly and easily these days.
The challenge is how to sell it.
The first rule of thumb is, of course, it should be well-written and meticulously edited. The second rule is: what genre is it?
If it's carried by brick-and-mortar stores or in libraries, how will they know where to place it? In the mystery section? Romance section? Non-fiction section? True crime?
If you're trying to sell it online, who are you attempting to appeal to? And don't say "any adult" because that is too broad. People have distinctly varied likes and dislikes. Especially as busy as we all are these days, your book is competing against everyone else's.
And if you can't define your own genre, nobody else is going to do it for you.
What's more, different genres have different rules. In suspense, which is what I write predominantly, there are sub-genres: political, medical, techno, cozy, paranormal, romantic, woman-in-jeopardy... That's just to name a few. It makes sense to learn the industry before jumping feet-first into it.