Yesterday on the Kindle Boards I ran across and interesting thread. The question was "How Did You Choose Your Genre?"
The consensus was that a) we don't choose our genres, our genres choose us, and b) most of us write what we love to read. There were exceptions, but this was true for a large percentage of those who responded.
This got me thinking about genres and how we like to quantify and classify and box our writing into tidy little bundles.
Or do we?
Last night I had an epiphany. I was beating myself up because it looks like book 2 of my Sunwalker Saga may just have a shorter word count than book 1. It'll still be a full length novel, just shorter than what most traditional publishers would consider.
I kept trying to think of ways to increase the length without adding a lot of filler to the story. And then I realized, I was thinking like a traditional writer. Not Like a writer who is also a publisher!
With the advent of the ereaders and the rise of the ebook (not to mention the sharp increase in self publishing), the rules of length have gone out the window. Yes, there are guidelines based on what we knew. Under x words = short story. Between x words = novella. Over x words = novel. But those guidelines are fluid. As long as we are clear and honest about the length of the tale and price accordingly, readers don't much care if a novel falls within the traditional word count as long as the story is good.
I no longer have to worry about stretching my novel to make sure it fits the over 70k mark traditional publishers want. If my novel hits the 60k mark and it works at that length, so be it. I can write, and publish, any length of story I want with no one to tell me it doesn't "fit" their standards.
So, if word count is fluid and no longer applicable in the way it once was, what does that mean for genres? To me, it means the world is my oyster.
Genre quite simply means "class or category". It was a "simple" way for traditional publishers to sort their wares and for book stores and libraries to stick them on shelves. It had less to do with the reader, and more to do with making the process idiot proof. Instead of having to place a book on three different shelves (though I have seen this done in libraries because librarians are smart), they could shove all the copies of a book in one place and call it good.
The problem with this line of thinking is that if you have a novel that's a thriller, but also has romance in it, where do you put it? You can stick it in romance and that will work, but all the thriller readers will skip right over it. Stick it in thriller and the reverse happens. (Unless, of course, you get somebody who likes both.) And the same goes for any other genre mashup, which meant publishers didn't like stories that got too hinky in the genre department. If they couldn't categorize it, they didn't want it.
But again, modern technology comes to the rescue. Virtual shelves are mutable. Just because a book is on the virtual Westerns shelf, doesn't mean it can't ALSO be on the steampunk, romance and aliens-from-outer-space shelves.
A novel which mashes up multiple genres can now be easily listed in ALL those genres and readers who want to read a Western steampunk with aliens from outer space can much more easily find such a thing. Likewise, readers of Westerns can now be introduced to steampunk and scifi and vice versa.
To my mind, and I reserve the right to be full of crap, this means that genres are going to become less important and more fluid. Instead, tags (or something similar) are going to become more accurate devices for categorizing and locating the books we want to read.
As for me, I just write what I like and worry about the genre later. If the genre turns out to be a scifi paranormal urban fantasy post-apocalyptic steampunk romance with zombies, so be it.