For this month’s column I decided I would not write my usual “Notes from a Story Editor” but instead have a chat about genres and the impact on reader responses. For those of us who sell on Amazon, the genre often equates to the category that your book is listed under. As categories and the top 100 listing in the category is the way many readers will find our books, there’s plenty of advice out there for indie writers (some of it conflicting), such as:
• write in a genre which appeals to the buyers of indie books,
• write in a genre that suits you,
• list your book in Amazon’s categories that are not so large you have no chance of being seen,
• list your book in a category that has sub-categories ,
• list your book in categories that are not dominated by well-known names.
To my mind one of the best bits of advice is: don’t mislead your buyers. By this I mean don’t play the category game without thinking about how someone will respond when they buy a book and find it is not the genre they thought it was. They might just end up giving you a stinking review.
Unfortunately for me, I often write in a genre, magic realism, which defies Amazon’s category system. Is it fantasy? That is a question that proves hugely divisive among fantasy fans. Some consider it not fantastical enough, a cop-out, a betrayal of fantasy in an attempt to get critical approval. Is it literature? Again some literary critics are scathing about it. Why is this? They want unadulterated realism, some regard the magic in magic realism as lazy.
Last August I set myself the challenge of reading one magic realism book a week. It’s been a fascinating five months and hugely helpful to me, not just because I have seen a huge variety of books appearing with the magic realism tag, but also I have read some “interesting” reader’s reactions.
Take this one from a Goodreads review of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
the book is about a man turning into a big bug, like who wants to read something like that, it’s just nasty.
Other one-star reviews of the same book attack it because it doesn’t give an explanation for the metamorphosis. One of the rules of magic realism is that the fantastical element is not explained, it is accepted as real. Despite the fact that other reviews on the site are talking about metaphors and surrealism and the book being about far more than a man turning into a bug, such people cannot see it. We are up against the literalist view both of fiction and, one suspects, the world. I know people like this.
Does this matter? People have very different likes and dislikes and should be free to express them. I have been known to read the one-star reviews of books and then buy the books involved, because the reviewers are criticising something in the book that I will like. Nevertheless, as a writer I am conscious that not all potential buyers do that and that one-star reviews bring down my average. In response I have started looking carefully at my book description, adding elements to it to put off people who don’t like magic realism. It is not enough to say that the book is magic realism, many people, including me a year or two ago, do not know what that means.
I have only talked about magic realism in this piece, but I know that the same is true of other genres. I would be delighted to hear about other people’s experiences of other genres and the reader’s responses, so please comment.
**Please note that guest posts and columns reflect the opinions of the individual author and not The Indie Exchange as a whole. Also note, The Indie Exchange uses affiliate links to offset the costs of hosting etc.**
Latest posts by Zoe Brooks (see all)
- Notes from a Story Editor – The Importance of Home - March 20, 2013
- Writing for eReaders - February 20, 2013
- Genres and Readers’ Expectations - January 20, 2013