The Challenge of Writing in a Different Genre for the First Time

The Challenge of Writing in a Different Genre for the First Time

I’ve never been what you’d call a genre writer.

In fact, I’ve said this for years: “I’m not a genre writer.”

Problem is, we live in an age where everything must be classified.

It’s weird. I’m a guy who grew up listening to a lot of rock (the genre formerly known as “rock ‘n’ roll”). When I got into my late teens and early 20s, I noticed a strange trend: the stuff I thought of as Rock was now being labeled Classic Rock, and the newer rock was called Alternative or some other vague label.

So when I went to a record store—yes, I used to frequent such places—I found it confusing. And I kept trying to figure out where the new rock was, where the old rock was, and…. well, you get the idea.

 

Books, Too?

The same thing happened with literature. Growing up, I’d go to a bookstore and look for fiction. That was the name of that section of the store: Fiction. Over time, something weird evolved (or devolved) there, too. The categorization fever that overtook my favorite record store began to overtake the bookstore. Where once was only Fiction, now there were shelves and shelves of Detective and Romance and Mystery and…again, you get the idea.

I was confused. I grew up on Dickens, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Faulkner, Balzac, and a slew of other writers who wrote Fiction. No one ever suggested that The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins should be categorized as Detective Fiction or that A Tale of Two Cities was an Unrequited Romance novel. We had Fiction and Non-Fiction. Oh, and Biography. Can’t forget Biography.

When I started publishing my own novels, I was pained to learn I’d have to classify them as the snobby-sounding Literary Fiction. After all, my books were about pretty regular people. There were no zombies or werewolves or vampires interfering with their character arcs. In the brave new world (Sci-Fi!) of mandatory categorization, anything with regular people had to be classified as either Literary or Mainstream Fiction. My stuff wasn’t exactly mainstream—guy gets dosed with LSD at a party and has his hand chopped off by a speeding locomotive—so Literary Fiction it was.

 

What Sort of Genre Is This?!

Time went by, and I started a novel with something a little supernatural about it. Now the challenge wasn’t so much “How do I write in a different genre?” It was more like, “What do I call this book I’m writing, when the time comes?”

And time was a primary consideration indeed, because the book has a time travel element. Would it be Time Travel Fiction? Was that the category, or sub-category?

I had to step back from my project and figure out what people would call it. Ultimately, I researched the broad category of Speculative Fiction, aka, SpecFic, and learned all sorts of stuff about what people consider Science Fiction. In the end, it seemed like the best categorizations for Whizzers, because of its spiritual considerations, would be something called Metaphysical & Visionary Fiction.

I added Time Travel Fiction and Action and Adventure Literary Fiction to my IngramSpark listing. But Amazon didn’t seem to go for it, and sub-categorized the ebook as Metaphysical Fiction and Metaphysical Science Fiction ebooks—straight from the Department of Redundancy Department. They went to the extra extreme of sub-categorizing the paperback as Fantasy Action & Adventure (a dubious category at best) and Time Travel Fiction (Yay! Got one!).

The reason all this stuff is so important? Obviously, if you don’t categorize your book, Amazon will do it for you. Even in my example, I still don’t think they got all the sub-categories right. Imagine what a mess they might have created if I hadn’t got my IngramSpark listing dialed in properly. And when books aren’t categorized properly, the wrong readers find them—readers who dislike that genre, maybe even feel they were misled into buying your book.

So now you know: writing in a new “genre” isn’t necessarily the hard part; categorizing and sub-categorizing it may be the hard part. After all, that’s what the book business is now, in some fashion, all about.

And So The Tour Ends

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Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

Free books—who doesn’t love that idea, right?

Me. I don’t love that idea. In fact, I think it sucks.

Now, you might wonder: why, Mike, are you so against free books? I mean, don’t you want more people to read? You’re not against libraries, are you?

No, I’m not against libraries. Remember, they only loan you books. They don’t (usually) give them away.

But there are a couple reasons I truly loathe the idea of giving away my work, and why I rarely recommend doing such a thing.

 

The Newsletter Hook

Although none of my novels are what you would call perma-free, I do have one book that is. And that is a special situation.

When I put together my short story collection, Rides From Strangers, I decided to make it available for free. The difference? It’s available only to people who subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. You can’t buy it anywhere.

So, even though I recommend against giving books away, I give a book away? You may well ask, What gives, Mike? (Pun intended.)

Well, there are two factors at work here. First, I didn’t feel it was worth spending the money on printing a new short story collection when I don’t have any other short stories. It made more sense to use the free short story collection to “enroll” prospective readers, who might then buy my novels. And second, I wanted something to expand my newsletter list.

Would I do it again? Probably not. It’s a small story collection, so the price point would be low anyway. But the real problem is that, although I built my list up, I think most of those new subscribers just wanted a free book. They don’t engage with me, they drop off the newsletter list one by one, and I doubt many have bought any of my books. Free book seekers tend to seek more free books.

And that’s the reason I don’t love the idea of giving my work away. It took years to write each of my books—why would I advertise their value as zero? They are already very competitively priced.

 

But What If You Write A Series?

There is one exception where I believe it might be a good idea to offer one free book, and yes, that’s if you’ve written a series.

I’ve seen more than one author write about successfully enrolling new readers with a “teaser” freebie—that freebie being Volume One of their wonderful ten-book series.

And I totally get how it works. Sure, you take the hit giving away Volume One, but then readers are so hooked on your storytelling that they’re going to pay for Volume Two, Three, Four…

It’s a perfectly valid model, and if it works, good on you. But it’s of no use to me: my books are all standalone novels, only related to each other by virtue of the fact they all have the same author. (Sidebar: I do wonder how many people have tried this method and failed…giving away a lot of Volume One, but selling few of the rest.)

For me, I’ll continue to ask for a price for what I produce. And if someone wants to join my newsletter list, I’ll still gladly send them a free e-book of Rides From Strangers. I don’t seek those readers via a giveaway-as-promotion any longer, though. It just doesn’t seem to be the kind of reader I want.

What about you? Do you get a lot of free books, or give away many books you’ve written? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Florida Drivers, Beware

Florida Drivers, Beware

This weekend I had to run out for essentials, which I’m only doing when absolutely necessary. But it seems like plenty of other people were out there, too, and I can’t help believing some of them just didn’t want to be bored at home. So when it came time for me to get going on a blog topic for today, the main thing on my mind was Florida drivers.

Why, you ask, would you write about such a thing on your author blog? After all, isn’t this supposed to be all about your readers? Well, sure. And I want you all to get to know me better, and what I’m thinking about, and so, if you have pet peeves like I do, maybe we can share a few of those here. And one of my biggest pet peeves is—you guessed it—the way people drive here.

I spent a whole twenty minutes on the highways and byways this morning, and it was almost enough to make me, not my car, blow a gasket. See, Florida has so many people from all over the country, even all over the world, that there is no such thing as a typical Florida driver. Florida drivers come from everywhere, and then when they get here, they drive the way they drove back there. Did you ever think that a driver from a small town in Texas might take a slightly different approach than a driver from Miami?

You know what that means in real life terms? It means wildly inconsistent behavior on the roads. Speeders and turtles, No-Signal Nellies and Tailgater Terrys. You will find yourself stressed out here when you’re driving…a lot.

I’m especially nervous driving in my adopted state, and for good reason: I was rear-ended four—count ‘em, four—times over a period of about a decade. Yes, about every two-and-a-half years, for a while there, someone just rammed right into the back of my car. Oopsie!

Now, when I’m out on the road, I’m as defensive as they get. And I constantly see what people do wrong, or don’t do right. (Just ask my wife…she’ll tell you I complain every time I get behind the wheel.)

So for all you tourists planning on visiting Florida, are my Top Five Tips for How to Drive a Car.

 1) Use Your Turn Signal – Whether you come from the part of the country where they call it a turn signal or the part where they call it a directional, you should know why that little stick on the steering column is there. It’s for signaling your intention. That means if you are changing lanes or making a turn onto another street. Really, we’re not all mind readers out here. Capisce?

2) Ten MPH Over the Speed Limit Is Par for the Course – Okay, you came to Florida to relax, right? I get it; I really do. But remember, there are people who live here who actually have jobs and places to go and people to see. Some of them have bumper stickers reading “If it’s called tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” I believe part of the reason for those stickers is the drivers from out of state. Some go ten MPH below the speed limit, some go exactly the speed limit—even if everyone around them is going faster—and some go about 100 MPH everywhere. It’s maddening. Keep it around ten MPH over, everywhere you go, and you should be fine. You won’t get pulled over for that. Seriously. Oh, and if you truly can’t bear to go so fast…at least have the decency to stay in the slow lane. That’s the one on the far right.

 3) Tailgating Is A Swinish Behavior – You know that guy in the SUV right behind you on I-75? He’s in the far left lane like you, and you’re doing ten MPH over the speed limit, like I said, and he’s on your butt like white on rice? Like, two feet from your bumper? You’re that guy? Okay, then you are a jerk. Back. The. Hell. Off. If it’s that important for you to go 100 MPH, maybe you should be over in Daytona, on that track they have there. Tailgating is extremely dangerous, not to mention obnoxious.

 4) Don’t Be Passing on the Right, Weaving In and Out of Traffic With No Signal – That should cover pretty much everything else, right? You would not believe how often I see this: incredibly aggressive driver, speeding up until he has to slow down, braking to avoid hitting the person ahead of him in that lane, changing lanes like crazy in an effort to pass everybody, all with no signal, of course. We have names for people like this, but I don’t want to use them here. Check Miles of Files, in the scene where Mac is swearing at his lawyer.

 5) Feel Free to Accelerate – One thing about merging onto the highway: you have to start building speed before you enter the highway, where people are doing, you know, 80 MPH. That’s why they have those nice, long on-ramps. I can’t tell you how many times I have been stuck behind some turtle, knowing we have to merge onto the highway, and they are building speed from, say, 30-40 the whole way. So maybe you’ll be doing 45 when you reach the lane…where everyone else is doing 80? My favorite phrase for this situation (and yes, I say it aloud often): “Feel free to accelerate!”

And there you have it—driving tips from a writer who gets a little nervous knowing he’s going to be surrounded by idiots every single time he hits the road. “Goodbye, friends, and happy motoring back on the freeway, which is already in progress!”

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