Thursday, 24 July 2008


It’s that genre thing again. I just don’t get it. Not genre. I understand that. It’s the increasing obsession by some publishers with putting things in a pigeon hole. Apart from being uncomfortable for pigeons, it is a self-defeating attitude. It’s more than that. It’s plain, bloody stupid.


I’ll repeat that. Loudly.




Genre used to be a way of describing a book after the fact, a convenient way of giving the reading public a general idea of what kind of work they might expect. This was especially important in the days when authors didn’t get tied to a particular kind of work because that is what was expected of them. But even then, it was always a bit hit and miss.

And before that, you were lucky if you got past ‘tragedy’, ‘comedy’, and ‘history’.

Nowadays it seems as if genre has become a formula by which you must write a book in order for it to stand a chance in “today’s difficult market” (the current favourite rejection phrase). We even have editors and agents writing books telling authors how to do this.




If we all go down this road we are going to end up with nothing but formulaic garbage. It plays on the desperate urge of writers to get published. People spend years busting a gut, sweating blood, running up debts, and alienating all three of their friends to produce their novels. They want to do something out of the ordinary so it doesn’t conform to genre or any other marketing group. The language sparkles, it tackles difficult themes, has an unusual structure. And then, heartbroken, they go away with their rejection letters, and turn their well-crafted original work into pap in the hope that this time it will get published and they can afford to go and get the dog out of the pawn shop.

It’s already happened. Go to a bookshop. Look at all the clones. Armies of them. But as with photocopies of photocopies and as with cloned plants and animals, each generation is a degraded copy of the previous one. Even books that try to break out of it are given their own genre – slipstream, cross-genre… they have their own section now.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for a stonking good thriller or crime novel. Publishing a book that happens to be firmly within a genre is no sin. Rejecting a book because it doesn’t fit into that year’s marketing fad, rejecting a book because it isn’t the next Rowling, rejecting a book because it tries to be something original – those are sins. And they are sins that compound, because the more you take that attitude, the worse books will become. Sales will fall.

Publishing is not a science. It cannot be put in the hands of the marketing and finance department. It cannot be done to a formula. Yes. Books have to make money so that publishers can stay in business. But publishers have to learn to start taking risks again. They have to learn to start nurturing their authors again so they can develop and experiment. A publishing industry that doesn’t do this is cutting its own throat.





Anne Brooke said...

Well said - I entirely agree!


Graeme K Talboys said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one. I know I could bore for Britain on this, but it seems to me that the industry has become too reliant on attempts to replicate the success of books that did well against expectation.

Pinxter said...

I agree! Genre is good if it is used in general terms, but today's use is too restrictive. It smothers my point of view and tells me a book is a romantic novel, instead of letting me decide that I enjoyed reading it because I like mysteries and found it to be suspenseful. It's all perception...
I am a novice writer, my blog can be found at, if anyone cares to give me feedback.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Hear, hear.