I have not forgotten how little I understood of the publishing world when I started writing. In fact, I remember not even knowing those little things like what does “WIP” or “HEA” mean? Acronyms I saw constantly flitted about on various writing sites. Neither have I forgotten my struggle with the proper placement for my first completed novel as far as genre, even though I was an avid reader. Research and checking with actual authorities on the subject was one of the most important things I did for myself as a future author.
Over the last year I have joined numerous Facebook groups particularly geared toward writers; places where both new and seasoned writers can find not just comradery but hopefully some help when it's needed. And I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have seen some relatively inexperienced writer ask for either advice or information and receive nothing but a jumbled conglomeration of opinions rather than honest facts.
Johnny stopped off after work and had a few drinks with his friends. On the way home, he was involved in a traffic accident. The officer at the scene smelled the alcohol on Johnny’s breath. One thing led to another (roadside tests and follow-up blood test), and Johnny was cited for driving while intoxicated. His friends would tell you he was in no way impaired when he left them. Johnny himself would tell you he felt perfectly fine and had drunk the same amount of alcohol on many an occasion, then subsequently drove without any problem. That’s their opinions. But when Johnny’s blood test comes back showing his blood alcohol content to be 1.02%, and 0.08% is considered legally impaired in the U.S. the facts are the facts. Johnny was impaired.
Now, as a reader, I have preferred genres that I enjoy, as I would guess most readers do as well. When choosing my next book to read, and if considering an author I’m not familiar with, I’m going to check the genre identification and the description of the book to make sure I get what I’m after.
Just as when I choose a movie to watch, the first thing I ask myself is: what am I in the mood for? Do I want to watch an action film, a comedy, a romance, what? Maybe I’ve got children watching with me. I come across a movie getting ready to start: the title has a comedic ring to it, the cover shot is colorful with bumbling looking characters. I check the “movie info,” and it says “comedy” with a brief description of teenagers going off to camp and finding trouble abound. So we pop our popcorn and get comfortable. Thirty minutes later naked girls are running for their lives (where there was nothing about “adult content” listed) and the actors left behind are getting sliced and diced before our eyes by some murdering psychopath (and I don’t see anything here that says “horror” either).
I’m going to be royally pissed, I can tell you. I might even write a letter to the television station who mislabeled the film, and I will without a doubt make sure everyone I know is appropriately warned: “This is not a movie for a six-year-old.”
There are many genres to choose from when defining your work, but please, please, please, do not make the mistake of labeling your book what you or your friends think will sell, rather than what the book actually is. The former will not serve you well in the long run.
Just as there are ratings for movies:
G General Audiences - All Ages Admitted
PG Parental Guidance Suggested - Some Material May Not Be
Suitable For Children
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some Material May Be Inappropriate
For Children Under 13
NC-17 No one 17 and Under Admitted
there are specified genre definitions.
So, please, for your sake as a potential published author who hopes to build an audience, as well as for the sake of those potential fans, learn and understand these definitions before seeking out agents and/or publishers, or before publishing on your own.
And please, do not rely on what other writers, readers, fans, friends and/or family members tell you is their opinion of where your book falls. Check the facts and genre rules from a reputable source like a publishing house or literary agent. Someone who is in the business, who knows and understands the genre rules. Because it does and will matter to your overall success.