Saturday, February 20, 2010

Does the audience even know the rules?

First I'd like to congratulate myself for escaping that rare but potent phenomenon of having every aspect of my life-- work, family, friends, technology, even pets -- align their needs with such precision that no shred of productivity could possibly escape the swirling vortex. Whew. Gravity readings are once again normal.

Everyone who presents a product to the public knows how important it is to identify your audience. There's no point in selling snow to Eskimos, or to anyone in the lower 48 states right now. Words like demographics and focus groups are wielded like weapons in the war for attention. In radio, there is a push toward pinpoint programming, narrow target decisions that honestly make me nervous. The idea that every 34 year old female with a college degree and two children wants/thinks/needs the exact same thing smacks of a Soylent Green factory in reverse. Grandmas can like rap; teenage boys can want love songs. Sure, listeners, like readers, need to know what to expect in the broad picture. I don't want to turn on an oldies station and hear a heated political diatribe, how hard and fast are those boundaries?

I'm thinking fiction right now. As I mentioned earlier, I'm trying my hand at mystery after romping madly in the world of urban fantasy, and I can almost hear sighs of relief around me. Many folks who have read Storyteller and its sequel enjoyed the story and provided me with priceless feedback. When I told them I'm considered an urban fantasy writer, more than one sort of grimaced and said "Oh, I don't read fantasy." Uh...well...yeah you do. You just didn't know it.

So I'm curious. You genre writers and readers out there, all of us who have to tag our work to keep it out of the sacrosanct waters of "Literature" do you ever feel limited or chafed under your label? Do genre markings help or hurt your cause? Do you wonder if your paranormal romance crosses the line into horror? Is your YA carrying around a thriller? Do you think hard-boiled mystery lovers might groove on your urban western if they could only find it on the right shelf?

When I want a mystery, I like knowing it's a mystery, but I've been happily surprised before to find one that's also a travelogue or a western or a romance. How do you broaden your base appeal if your work does cross a few lines?

8 comments:

Cassy Pickard said...

Great post! Yup, the challenge of fitting in a category is, well, a challenge. I have been asked if I write romantic suspense, suspense with romantic elements, mystery with a romantic overtone, and mystery-period. Not sure even to this day if I can quite answer that with clarity.

Thanks for reminding me to think this through! Best, Cassy

SG Redling said...

It's an interesting topic. In some ways, it helps marketing. In some ways, I wonder if it limits it. I think writers with romantic overtones have even larger challenges with this. Good luck and let me know if you get anywhere with it!

Jeromy said...

I am amazed that it has to be so specific in the type of writing that you do. Personally, I am simple minded, and the covers are what usually draw me in. Granted, that has prompted many readings of Harlequin romances. When I choose a fiction book to read, I want it to have many elements, horror, mystery, maybe a little love, or even fantasy. Isn't that what reading is for? Fantasy? In my own personal opinion, if you opt to write a mystery novel, why pigeonhole it just to be mystery, its more of a classification for the bookstore on where to put the book. I think readers like to be surprised somewhat, we don't always want cookie cutter genres that are all the same. I prefer mutt books, ones that have little bits of several genres.

SG Redling said...

And now I'm my own devil's advocate - if you go into a bookstore, don't you look by section? It's this tough back-n-forth for writers and publicists. However, I too am a mutt reader!

Debra said...

I do look by section, and it's hard because I read such a wide variety of authors that sometimes you never know how the bookstore will have them sectioned. I go from horror to fantasy to thriller, etc. Oh well, that way I find other interesting things to read! Also...Soylent Green is PEOPLE...don't believe the hook!!! :)

SG Redling said...

At last! Someone who knows the truth of Soylent Green!!!

YS#1 said...

Rules, schmules.....

SG Redling said...

*ha-ha-ha* I'm sensing an uprising here!