What genre, that is, kind of writing, do you want to create? In my own case, It was easy to identify my genre. I have to admit I stumbled into this writing world as the son of two writers. My father was an advertising man and World War II Marine, who created promotional concepts and advertising copy for a living. He scooped the big news of World War II, Japan’s surrender, from his Guam radio station outpost . My mother,a news feature writer, wrote heartfelt and humorous newspaper columns on interesting musical personalities. You might say I was born into my second career, that of a writer. Both my parents attempted creative writing in their day and left hundreds of wartime letters, essays and humorous commentary on their lives. These formed a natural entrée for me into writing their humorous biographies: Ben’s War with the U. S. Marines and Radio: One Woman’s Family in War and Pieces.
Genre and platform in nonfiction
If you’re a psychologist and want to share your knowledge to help people improve their lives, you might want to write a nonfiction, self-help book. You may have professional status, such as an advanced degree, a professional license or recognition by a professional society, which qualifies you to write about it . This professional standing in your field, and the potential audience it can attract, are collectively called a “platform,” or develop into recognition by the general public as an expert. Such a following will help attract publishers and literary agents..
Nonfiction genres vary widely and account for the largest overall sales in the book industry. They include all the liberal arts and sciences: history, with its many eras and specialized aspects (military, social and regional history), biography and autobiography, science, music, art, philosophy, psychology, humor, social commentary, grade-level course books and college textbooks. In addition to these core subjects, nonfiction books also include do-it-yourself manuals, self-help books and technical works on hundreds of topics, ranging from auto repair to computer software.
Many a fiction genre
In fiction, there are many genres: fantasy, romance, historical novels, middle grade or young adult adventure, coming of age stories, mystery and crime, science fiction, suspense, horror and thrillers. A special categories of poetry and literary fiction, which include works which depend, not so much on plot, but on imagery, character development, beautiful language, apt emotional expression and other less tangible factors.
In recent decades, writers have successfully combined genres. The day is long past when you could start a biography with the day your subject was born and develop the story as she grows up. Reading such stories, I seldom stay awake past her graduation from grammar school. The most successful modern biographies and histories start in medias res, in the middle of things: during the key battle of a war, or at a critical turning point in the person’s life. This gives the reader an immediate stake in the outcome and keeps him turning the pages. A good mystery will also integrate emotional obstacles or romantic resolution leading to the main character’s transformation. Historical novels combine history with fiction in fascinating ways. You can probably think of many more instances of combined genres.
Position in the marketplace
It’s important to find the section and shelves in a bookstore where your type of book is found. Let’s say your expertise is in helping disturbed children. When you find other books on this topic, look at them and see whether you have something to offer that hasn’t already been written. Or perhaps you can’t find your specialty at all. This may offer an opportunity to provide new information in your field. Or perhaps you’ve written a thriller in a scientific field that the public knows little about, such as gene therapy. This would set your book apart from all the other thrillers on the shelves. For example in my mother’s autobiography, I discovered that there are many books about war, battles and even humorous stories such as Mac Hyman’s World War II classic, No Time for Sergeants. But there are few social histories of The Golden Years of Radio and very few humorous takes on the home front during World War II. These facts help my story stand out.
Once you identify your genre and understand where your book fits within the vast canon of literature, you’ll find writing easier, identify your audience more easily and maybe even discover a quicker path to publication. I’d be delighted to learn your stories on these issues and share them and your comments with the other readers of this column.
Until next time, good words to you,