The literary community and the general public seem to be split down the middle when it comes to genres, and as writers we’re stuck in the middle. Your college professors might have lectured on the importance of avoiding genres if you want your writing to be taken seriously… but your non-writing friends can’t wait to get their hands on the next post-apocalyptic horror novel or teen romance series. If you want to come out on top of your writing and its reception, you have to give this issue some serious thought and change your writing accordingly.
First, let’s look at the good things about genres. Genres guarantee you an audience. Most people have one or two genres that they can’t get enough of, and even if your writing itself is terrible, the genre will make it worth reading, as far as they’re concerned. Genres can also make your book easier to publicize or sell. You’ll get much more attention by saying that your book is a sci-fi vampire thriller than by saying it’s about some random people going through their life’s activities. Genres are eye-catching, constantly evolving, and addictive. But… they don’t come with a whole lot of respect.
Genre-less fiction, or “literary” fiction, is becoming increasingly popular among the literary crowd. It gives you a good chance to showcase your actual writing without the cheap help of a pre-made audience, setting, and story. Writers who can prove themselves based on their writing instead of the genre they wrote in are the ones who tend to last longer and gain more critical attention.
If you’ve already written your novel, you probably already know whether you have a genre, or if it’s a literary story. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of what the other style has to offer. Personally, my favorite writing is writing that can do both: that has the intellectual and personal depth (and quality of writing!) of literary fiction with the action and plot twists of genre fiction.
If you have an old-fashioned western that you’re wrapping up, see if you can get more involved with the minds of the characters and how they are humanly responding to their situation in a way that the readers can connect to. Watch for the different philosophies and mentalities that arise and try to build them up and accent them in a way that will make them pop. On the other hand, if you’re working on the next great literary classic, try to think of what details you could use to grab people’s attention. What does your novel have to offer that’s out of the ordinary, that’s fresh and new and different? Try riding on that for a while and see how much more interesting you can make it. Chances are, somewhere in there you’ll find that happy medium that makes your novel the best of both worlds.