When I attended the local Fandom Fest conference in Louisville over the weekend, I confess I spent most of my time away from the zombies, ghost hunters, and hobbits on the second floor. Instead I stayed on the third floor sitting in on assorted panel driven workshops about the Science Fiction genre, what I thought was my newest genre.
After hearing from a variety of published authors, I’m less sure now of what I’m writing. Is the Forced to Serve series romances? Yes. Is that body of work Science Fiction? Yes—soft Science Fiction complete with planets, aliens, parent ships, shuttles, laser guns, and wrist watch type communication devices. Are there some Fantasy elements to the series? Yes Malachi is a demon, but quite different than those in the majority of demon books.
The net effect of the confusion being that I have less idea than ever about who would conceivably be interested in buying the kind of story I have published. For instance, combining Science Fiction and romance on a spaceship was not deemed to be very marketable these days.
Most soft Science Fiction authors felt Fantasy (think vampires and werewolves) has usurped the readership. Many confessed to branching out into books they never intended to write just to gain a following. Adding romance to the mix was just something normal and most books included some of it. Also I learned that even though Space Opera by definition focuses on the relationships, most stories with that label are very military based.
The Romance genre has a lot of rules, but so does Science Fiction. I discovered my sexy covers that I was so proud of were deemed more appropriate only for Fantasy novels. Oh, and having a demon. . .that isn’t done in SciFi either, or at least not by a virtual unknown author in the genre. Most thought the amount of non-Science Fiction in my Science Fiction turned it into something else, but none could identify what any better than I had been doing.
I left the conference somewhat deflated, but reminded myself that George Lucas received many rejections about his Star Wars idea, a story most thought was lame by SciFi standards too. He called his a “space western”. Well, who had ever heard of that? It isn’t a category in Amazon either.
As a Contemporary Romance author, I wasn’t able to stay completely inside the category rules with my creative work, so I focused on the one or two rules that seemed immutable. I’m not going to be able to stay within the rules in this new genre either though I readily admit it would have behooved me to have researched the wide variety of Science Fiction work sooner. I thought I knew the variety after reading Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov in school.
The clarity I thought I would find among fellow SciFi writers turned out to be non-existent among the 30 or so I met. I still don’t know how to categorize the series of books I had so much fun writing. Now I empathize more with Speculative Fiction writers who are lumped into that category because their work doesn’t fit other categories. Did you ever hear a reader say “I love reading Speculative Fiction. It’s my favorite genre.”? There might be a handful out there with that view, but you won’t make a living selling to that small number. With an internet audience, it’s also about finding those readers among the millions and millions online. This is why having your book show up where your interested readers are looking for books is so critical.
I understand the “pick a known category” advice of published authors better now. How can you go looking for an audience who reads your type of book if you don’t know what your type of book really is? I don’t think an author who wants to sell can rely on just hoping that all interested readers will magically see a cover, read the blurb, and plunk down their cash blindly. All readers want some reassurance that what’s inside the covers is the kind of story they like to read.
Donna McDonald's cross-genre book, The Demon of Synar, is free at Smashwords through July.
You can also read her blog here: