You've written your story, you've polished it until it shines like a gem in full sunlight, you've got cover art, a website, and you're sitting in front of your computer, filling in the publication information, staring at the little line that asks you what categories your story belongs in.
For many of us, this is the acid moment, the second where we have to finally declare what genre our story is.
Some of us have it easy. You've written a three hundred page story with one main character and two secondary characters about a war between the elves and dwarves. You click fantasy, and head onto the next question.
But a lot of us don't fit easily into one block or another. What if you've got a story set half in the real world, half in a steam-punk alternative reality, and there's a romance in there between a vampire and a fairy. Is that Steam Punk, Urban Fantasy, or Paranormal Romance?
So, you sit there, finger hovering over the mouse, debating which to pick. As you sit there, you start to get annoyed, why pick a genre? The stupid things are just nasty and constraining. You're an artist, telling the story the way it needed to be told. Only half-baked hacks write for a particular genre. And who the hell gets to determine what makes a genre? Who says a Romance has to have a happy ending? And why do Epic Fantasies have to be set somewhere other than Earth?
Well, maybe you didn't do that. I did. I was pretty annoyed that I had written this brilliant work, and it didn't quite fit. And trying to shoehorn it into categories that didn't really fit bothered me.
Time and talking to readers has changed my opinion. I am no longer in a snit about genres.
Here's the thing: genre does not exit for you. It's for the readers. Readers want to read certain sorts of books. They like different types of plots, settings, character types, and endings.
Genre is a marketing tool that allows you to find the readers who like the sorts of things you write. And the number one thing to keep in mind about being a successful writer is that you've got to find your market. Genre is the first step in targeting the people who want to read your book.
Imagine, if you will, a group of clubs. Each club has members, and the members all agree on the same things. One club wants stories that focus on the building of a relationship, with some sort of magical aspect, and a happy ending. This is the Paranormal Romance Club, and if you write a story that follows those rules, you can have access to the members of that club. The PR Club has cliques: some of them like erotic romances, some like chaste romances, some like elves, some like vampires, some like fairies. Follow the rules of the clique, and you can get access to those members as well.
Now, if you've not followed the rules, but barged into the club anyway, you're going to annoy the members. They are going to start writing bad reviews of your book. Remember, for most of us, the way we are going to sell books is to make readers happy, and then they tell other people about the book, and on and on. Give the readers what they don't want, and you'll soon find your writing career torpedoed.
Lucky for you and me, there's an almost limitless number of clubs out there. The work is finding which ones will welcome you, and then working with them. It's much easier to get people who want what you wrote to like it than it is to convince people who are looking for something else that they want your book.
Let's put it this way: if you are selling Orange Juice, it's not helpful to label it Diet Soda and hope that when people taste it they'll be so blown away that they decide they want it anyway. It's a much better plan to make up a big Orange Juice label, and then go hang out in the Citrus section of the Fruit Juice aisle. If you're feeling like cross promoting, go over to the Fruit section and let them know what you've got there.
Same thing with genres. No matter how brilliant your romance is, if it doesn't have a happy ending, you don't get access to the Romance Club (and if you barge in, you aren't doing yourself any favors). You need to go find the Love Story Club, Women's Fiction Club, Chick Lit Club, or something else that fits and go there. That way you'll have happy reader, writing great reviews, and spreading the good word about your story.
So, genre is your friend; it's just your job to go off and find which ones you belong in.