In a previous blog post, I lamented the fact that genre labels can be limiting for writers, both creatively and when it comes to publishing. But as I’ve thought more about the issue, I’ve also realized that there’s a related problem–clear larger market distinctions.
The book I’m currently querying stands as an example. It has strong themes of faith, but also of violence. So who do I send it to? The secular market will take the violence but not the faith, and the Christian market seems to want the faith but not the violence. Because multiple agents have told me they like the story, praised the proposal and told me it has a lovely feel for its historical period, I do not question my writing. Instead, I suspect an uncertainty about which market to classify it in as the problem. I cannot “fix” that without fundamentally changing the story.
So, should I? Should I conform to fit a specific market, similar to how I might try to hit all the tropes of a specific genre, just to be more sellable?
If I really want to be true to my own voice as a writer, then I have to say no.
The reality is, life is messy. Stories can be, too. They are, in many ways, a reflection of real people and experiences, even if they contain fantastic, imaginative elements. And just like there are many people who are in the center on the political spectrum, there are stories that don’t sit right or left. They can contain gray moral ground, complex beliefs and caveats.
So why? Why assume that this middle ground does not exist, that there are not people who can see both sides of the coin or who are able to see the world in nuance instead of black and white?
My argument here is less for the elimination of poles, which have their place, and more for the acknowledgment of the center of the curve. Books that could be marketed in either direction, in my view, can get ignored, simply because they do not meet all the requirements of one side or the other. Again, it’s not unlike the situation Republicans face right now–many are leaving the party and want to form a new political group that’s more in line with what they believe. They’re not saying eliminate the GOP, but rather that they want to have their own party that reflects who they really are and that offers an alternative to so-called Trumpism.
People by nature want to categorize and label. It helps them feel more in control and make some sense of the world so they’re not overwhelmed and anxious all the time. I totally get that. And I understand the practical efficiency of classification. But sometimes there is no neat box to put something in and it’s impossible to take sides. Acknowledging this bigger picture will let the writing industry bring a much larger number of great authors and diversity of content to readers and ultimately, make money. So let’s see the whole spectrum. We all deserve a choice about where we want to sit on it and read.