#MidWeekPOV #wwwblogs Genre & Category: Reader Expectations

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Among the many new things I’ve learned since I started writing three years ago, nothing has been more of a surprise than the idea of reader expectations. As an avid reader of 3 to 4 books a week for most of my adult life, my own expectations were simple. I wanted good writing, fantastic characters I was totally invested in, and solid, believable plots, even in fantasy. That was about it.

In today’s world, the relationship between readers and writers seems to be expanding. Writers no longer lock themselves in  tiny rooms, sweating blood while they aim to produce literary masterpieces that will live beyond them for centuries. Well, maybe a few still do. But mostly, it seems like writers today are forever asking themselves what  it is that readers want. This week. And then trying to write a book that fills that need, even if it’s not the story they really want to be telling. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it is one way many are going about the process.

I have to say, I don’t think a lot about what’s trendy in fiction. I know I probably should, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I have a hundred stories in my head, waiting to get out, and those are the ones I want to tell. Some of them have current subjects woven into them, and some don’t. Most do have age-old themes threaded through them, and those are the things I want to focus on, no matter what the tale is outwardly about, or what’s popular in the industry today. I do my best to make my stories entertaining, but I don’t spend a lot of time wondering if the topic of the book I’m writing is going to be a hot one in the months ahead.

However, having said all of that, I also want to SELL my books. In fact, for me, this is not a paying hobby, as I’ve heard it described. It is an honest attempt to tell good stories and be compensated with a small but steady income every month. I don’t expect to get rich. I do hope to augment my husband’s retirement income, in a few more years. So, I write the stories I want to tell in the best way I can, and I look for ways to get them in front of the right audience. Once there, I expect them to stand on their own merit, or fall by the wayside. But getting them there–in front of people who might enjoy my writing style and subject matter–is the hardest part of this whole endeavor, if you ask me.

Deciding which genre my books fall into is challenging in the extreme, since most of my stories are not neatly pigeonholed. And, finding the proper categories on Amazon is even more challenging. Amazon doesn’t make it easy, for some odd reason. If you want to “drill down” past the main branches and find a sub, or even a sub-sub, category where your book would stand out, you have to contact them and ask for help. That seems contrary to the idea of getting your book in front of the folks who really want to buy it, doesn’t it? Or am I missing something? I think it ought to be easier.

I’ve also learned that a “hybrid” category like Romantic Suspense, which is what my first two books clearly were, is still not going to make everyone happy. For instance, Suspense and Mystery readers are used to the book being wrapped up almost immediately after the crime is solved. At that point, they expect it to all be over but the shoutin’, as they say.

However, Romance lovers will turn on you in a heartbeat if you don’t take them through to that happy ending they’ve been dying for, ever since handsome hero met gorgeous heroine. Yeah, yeah–they’re really glad the mystery is solved, and they enjoyed all of that creepy stuff–but the most important thing to them is the love affair finally working out.

Point in case, and what made me start thinking seriously about all this, two reviews of one of my books, both good (with caveats), one immediately following another:

Partial Review One: This book started off with a bang, and just kept building and building straight through the discovery of the guilty party. Then, it fell flat, with over 30 pages of blah, blah, blah. (They did recommend the book, in spite of the blahbage, so I’m not complaining.)

Partial Review Two: After a slow start, this book picked up speed and was fantastic straight through to the last page.

See? Review #1 was likely a person who generally prefers suspense and mystery novels, and to whom the romance was merely background noise. While Review #2 was probably a person who wanted a good love story with a happy ending, and the journey to that point was less important than seeing the couple in question actually ending up together forever and ever.

So how do you find a balance when you are writing for a hybrid category like Romantic Suspense? Or if your book simply doesn’t fit into ANY niche as well as you’d like? What tricks do you use to be sure you’ve ended up in the best categories, and put your book in front of as many readers as possible? Also, how many of you change categories now and then, as recommended by some industry experts, in order to expand your potential reading audience? Let us hear your thoughts on how you deal with these things. Inquiring minds wanna know!

22 thoughts on “#MidWeekPOV #wwwblogs Genre & Category: Reader Expectations

  1. Hm, not an easy question. I do think the best advice out there is NOT to follow trends, but write what you are passionate about. Trends pass quickly, and unless you can write a book at light speed (I know some can, but not all of us) often the trend will be withering away by time you publish – even more so if you are trying to get a publisher, as they are always looking for the next trend, not the current one. Passion makes your writing heartfelt and relatable – writing to order, not so much (unless you happen to be a talented hack!)
    As to the genre issue, I have a different problem. My books have very clear categories – Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy – both of which are HUGE, with little or no facility for drilling down to sub categories, as they simply don’t exist (on Amazon, at any rate).
    With yours, I reckon you just have to play around, change categories a few times, and see what works best for your individual books. Good old trial and error, annoyingly time-consuming though it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • OH, I agree. I’m not interested in trends. I’m going to tell the stories I was meant to tell, otherwise, whoi else would? 🙂 I just can’t get the categorizing thing down well, since they don’t fit perfectly. And Amazon WILL let you drill down to sub-categories. You just need to find the ones you wan by checking books similar to your own) and then contact them to place your books there. But I haven’t finished doing it yet. I’m working on it. Of course, I haven’t examined the sub-categories for Fantasy yet, so maybe you have fewer to choose from?

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      • Yep, that’s the problem. My books are an excellent fit for the main category, but not for any of the very few sub-categories. I hadn’t thought of asking Amazon directly for help, I might investigate a bit further, I’m just not sure there’s much scope in my genre, as my books are pretty mainstream in content.

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  2. No answers and my long suffering beloved is not expecting financial support when he retires! My novels are genre free, but any review when the reader has enjoyed the story, particularly likes a character or ‘gets’ the book, makes me happy. I’m continuing to write what takes my imagination.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, my husband isn’t expecting anything, either. I WANT to contribute because we will be on a fixed income, and will have to budget tightly. My sales can make a big difference to us.

      Genre free? I’m wondering where you put them on Amazon, then? You have to list at least two, don’t you? I’m interested in how you handle that. Nice to see you here today, Janet! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • OH, not to worry about that, Judith. That was never in doubt. It’s trying to put my books into the right categories that is driving me batty. But I will write my stories EXACTLY as they come to me, and I think there’s an audience for them, if I can just get the books in front of them. THAT part is what’s so difficult. 🙂

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  3. Know what you mean in that way, Marcia, my books on Amazon are in the strangest of categories – and once they are there it’s the devil’s own job to get Amazon to change them (or so my publisher says!!) So, it’s twelve at night and I’m off to write Jx

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  4. I have the same problem with No More Mulberries. Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni is memoir and fairly easy to categorise but No More Mulberries isn’t. It’s not Romance with a capital R though there is a love story. Contemporary Women’s Fiction is often how I end up describing it but I find that a very unsatisfactory description. One of its Amazon categories is Asian Literature (?).
    I agree with tidalscribe’s comment above – it’s wonderful when a review shows a reader ‘gets’ the book.
    I don’t think increasing sales comes down to categories – it has much more to do with marketing, getting a book noticed by people.

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    • Of course, there’s more to getting sales than amazon categories, however, getting in the RIGHT one, small enough to have less competition, means you have a chance of getting into the top 100 in that category, and THAT gets your book noticed. And can do fantastic things for your sales.

      I’ve read several books on it, and am working out my plan of attack. There is an optimum point, where your category is small enough to give you better exposure, but not so small that no one will ever search for it. And there are very good books out there on how to maximize exposure via categories AND those 7 keywords, which are super important. But it all requires TIME, and that’s the thing I have very little of. 😦 But I’m working on it.

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  5. My books do fit neatly into a genre–mystery. But it’s a huge genre, and the two subgenres that are the best fit are also huge–female sleuths and cozy mystery.

    One helpful hint I picked up from a sister misterio author was to make the second category a nonfiction one if there’s one that works for that book. So my novella mystery set in Hawaii is in Travel–Western US–Hawaii. And my service dog trainer protag’s stories are in Crafts and Hobbies–Pets–Training–Dogs. And those three books do sell better than the others! But then again, they are about current “hot” topics too.

    Actually Book 1 in the service dog series is usually in the top ten of Training–Dogs. I think what happens is it gets a lot of exposure to people interested in dog training, who weren’t necessarily looking for a fiction book to read, but they pick it up when it’s thrust in their faces.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now that’s the kind of creative thinking I love. You’ve found a way to put your book in front of people who don’t even know they want it, but are attracted to it because of the subject matter. I think that’s brilliant! And just the kind of thing I’m talking about. You are getting all sorts of extra exposure, just from that alone. Makes me wonder if Rabbit’s books could go into some non-fiction category on ESP or the like. Definitely something for me to consider. And good for you for finding a way to make the system work better! Thanks for sharing, Kass!

      Liked by 1 person

        • I have all three of the WRR books listed in ghosts at this point, as there’s at least one in each book. 🙂 But I never thought about anything non-fiction. I’m going to do some scouting around. Swamp Ghosts is filled with Florida nature and wildlife. Might be something there. Hunter deals with emotional trauma including agoraphobia and PTSD. And the one I’m on now will have some areas that could work in non-fiction, too. REALLY going to get to work on this stuff.

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  6. As a writer, I believe I must be true to myself and my vision for my story. I never write with the notion that something will or will not sell. When I published independently, I held little hope of earning money–and with good reason. “Don’t quit your day job” is a popular motto for writers.

    I hope you sell lots of books and realize your dream of subsidizing retirement. You have a goal to reach, and knowing you, Marcia, you’ll achieve it! You’re already well on your way…

    A well-written, cogent post about writers, readers, and the relevance of genre. Pinned & shared. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good points, Linda. I set out recently to write the “last” book in my older series. My heart wasn’t really in it, and that showed in a lackluster first draft. I’m now doing the first rewrite and I’m actually getting excited about the project (partly because I thought of another idea for one more book in the series). Suddenly the story is coming together, now that I care!

      We have to write what is in our hearts, or it won’t be all that good. Bottom line!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s very difficult to write well when your heart isn’t in it, and I believe it shows in the final project, too, coming across to readers as well. Glad you were able to get re-inspired, and that it’s all coming together, now.

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    • Oh, absolutely. As I say, maybe I should worry more about what’s hot and what’s not, but then I’d be trying to write someone else’s stories and not my own. So I can’t do that. I just want to find the best ways to tell the stories in my own head, and then market them. Starting with finding the right categories and even genres, to make it all work better. I DO want them to sell, after all. Thanks for sharing, Linda! I appreciate your that and your thoughts on the issue, as well.

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  7. Great discussion. I have a different problem, as I write for children (preteens). How to I reach out to them–or their parents. I’ve tried mom’s blogs and Instagram. My book is about ice skaters, second in the series to come out early December. The book is in the winter sports, skating category category, plus family issues. Any idea to market middle grade books?

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    • I know nothing about marketing for preteens, Evelyn. Sounds like you’ve covered the non-fiction areas for categories, but have you hit the best pre-teen/children areas? I’ve never even looked at those, since my kids were well grown with kids of their own before I started writing. Maybe someone else has thoughts on this?

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  8. I’m definitely not a trend writer, and don’t think I ever will be. At the same time there’s a fine line between writing what you love and writing something that readers will enjoy. If an author can find the happy medium between both, that’s golden.

    As for romantic suspense and books that don’t quite fit a genre, that seems to be an ongoing struggle for a lot of authors. One nice aspect of indie publishing is that you don’t need to stick with formula genres the way a traditional publisher expects a tale to go.

    One of my earlier novels (ECLIPSE LAKE) is what I categorize as a romantic-mystery. I knew that book would never fly with a publisher (I did pitch it to one). The publisher was looking for romantic suspense but turned it down because I had too many characters and too complex a plot for romance readers. Interesting, because that book is the one I get the most praise for from readers (other than my current release). At that same time, I’m sure readers who love mystery will say it has too much romance for them. In fact, I do recall one reviewer who mentioned that.

    Going forward, I admit I am toning the romance angle down in my books. The thread is still there, but with each successive book I write it seems to take more of a back seat. That’s a decision I’ve made based on the stories I want to tell. Hopefully, I can reach the right audience without losing the readers who have enjoyed my work to date. It’s definitely a tough balancing act for authors who cross genres!

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