As part of my inventory review, I took down a handful of stories that were genreless. I thought they were literary when I wrote them.

They weren’t.

It was hard with publishing them, too. Without a solid genre anchor, it was hard to find covers and write a blurb.

So when I opened the first one to do the review, I asked why and took them down.

Genre is a surprisingly hard concept to understand. It can get muddled with our personal opinions.

One writer I see rallies against formula, thinking that’s why she’s seeing bad books. More likely, it’s that writers are writing the first idea that comes to mind—and that’s what everyone else is doing.

Genre is one aspect of marketing. It gives the reader what they are expecting to find.

If you want to read science fiction, the world is required.

If you want to read a mystery, a crime is required.

If you want to read a romance, happily ever after is required.

But it’s also easy to overbalance the writing with our personal preferences. I started writing fantasy and not doing enough of the world. I liked many aspects of speculative fiction. But when writers started talking about building the entire world before I started the story, it left me cold.

You know, the three-ring binders with the tabs. A zillion questions.

I’m a pantser. That’d ruin the discovery of the story for me.

So I had to learn how to pants it into the story.

I recently picked up a book billed as a “Sci-Fi Mystery like J.D. Robb.” I like J.D. Robb, so I picked up the first book in the series.

And quickly was disappointed. The first was that it wasn’t even close to J.D. Robb. Granted, Nora Roberts is a best-selling writer with 200 books and mad skills. The other author might have done well still…if she’d understood genre.

I read mystery and speculative fiction.  As a reader, I felt frustrated by the story and stopped reading halfway.

The balance of the genres was wrong. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a mystery, science fiction, or a romance.

  1. There wasn’t enough world in the story for science fiction.
  2. There wasn’t enough mystery and too much world for it to be a mystery.
  3. There was too much romance. It took over the story at the halfway point and forced the mystery into the background. This was where I stopped reading.

The result? I didn’t get a mystery story I wanted, and it wasn’t anything like J.D. Robb. I admit even J.D. Robb confused me the first time I read it. I was looking for more world. But it’s solidly a mystery, set in the near future and with some romance.

Genre is always about giving readers what they want.