One of the things that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we like to classify things and then stack them on shelves. Back when music wasn’t something you downloaded or streamed, every serious music collector had a well-organized shelfful of vinyl or plastic. Classical, Country, Hip-Hop, Jazz, R&B, Rap, Rock, World. (The rest of the world has its own category! Yay!) But please don’t combine genres, thank you, or we won’t know what to do with it. Or as a fictional music marketer once said to a pretend genre-busting musician, “I love it, Dingo, I really do. See that over there? That’s my mind being blown away. Poof. Gone. Seriously, man. I love this stuff. Really meta. Personally, and this is just me speaking mano a mano, I think it’s totally brill. Totes. I mean that from the heart. But here’s the thing. I can’t sell this, Dingo. People won’t know where to put it.”
Want to watch a movie? Netflix is very helpful. RomCom? Thriller? Drama? Horror? Family? Mystery? Foreign? (Yay! The rest of the world has its own category!) Since you just watched “His Girl Friday” you might also enjoy “50 First Dates.” It’s a RomCom too! (Just for the record, no, I wouldn’t.)
We do the same with books, of course. Fiction. Young Adult. Children’s. Romance. Contemporary. British. African American. Gay and Lesbian. Science. Fantasy. Classics. World. (Yay! The world has its own....ah, screw it.)
This is in part a natural extension of how the human brain attempts to make sense of its surroundings. We organize our world by creating shortcuts. Of course, arbitrary media categories are also the result of marketers defining specific targets and creating content for them because it makes it easier to Sell You Things. It’s not that they are doing something sneaky or underhanded. They are simply taking advantage of a natural human trait and exploiting it for profit.
Media categories are also the result of marketers defining specific targets and creating content for them because it makes it easier to Sell You Things.
For an aspiring writer, and maybe even for an established one, this presents a conundrum. Say you have an idea for a novel that crosses over or even transcends genres. (Did you say it? I’ll wait.) Do you write the story you want? Or do you mold it into a more palatable, more marketable form from the outset? It’s a tough question to answer. I think you can’t ever go wrong writing the story that is clawing and scratching to get out of your brain and into the world. (Unless you’re just a terrible writer. And even then, who knows. You might be a bad writer but a great story-teller.) After you have written and rewritten (and rewritten and rewritten and and rewritten and rewritten and....) your novel, a good editor can usually help you with the next step and give you some general (and usually hard) truths about the potential market for your book.
There will always be writers who are able to figure out the marketplace and provide just the right product at just the right time. I’m not one of them. And I guess I don’t want to be. You’ll have to decide for yourself.