P is for Pigeon-Hole! Stop trying to put me in a box!

So many genres, so little time by Wayne Kelly
So many genres, so little time by Wayne Kelly

I think we would all agree that the Internet has brought with it a plethora of benefits for both the consumer and the producer of products, music, books and art.

As a musician, I can record a song in my garage and 5 minutes later I can have it online ready to be enjoyed by my masses of adoring fans (ahem. Well maybe just my mum and some weird bloke called Gideon, that refuses to leave me alone and says he knows where I live). The point is, there is potentially a massive audience that I can now sell or promote to directly.

The same can be said of books – never has it been easier to self-publish your work and release it to the public, eager to consume your literary genius.

However, we all know you can’t just throw it out there, willy-nilly. No. First it needs to be categorised, labelled and put in to one of the now countless genres and sub genres that have sprung up to worship the god of Marketing. It used to be Romance, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Horror, Comedy, Crime and maybe Literary. Now, one look down the genre list of Amazon is enough to make you wince. And that’s before you get in to all of the cross-over and sub genres.

Don’t even get me started on music!

Being Typecast . . .

Don’t get me wrong – I love that there is such a diverse range of material to choose from – what I object to is having to get everything I produce to fit, very neatly, in to one of these little boxes. And once I shoehorn it in there . . . that’s it – I’m now typecast as the Horror Writer, the YA Author or the Indie Musician.

I’ve had some personal experience of this with songs I have written . . . being criticised for being too eclectic! We wouldn’t know how to market that, mate, they say. Shouldn’t variety in our output be a good thing? This is why many popular artists and albums of recent times stick very rigidly to one genre, one style, one sound to ensure continued success. Apart from some notable exceptions (David Bowie, Stephen King et al), our mastery of Marketing has been to the detriment of making interesting art.

From The Beatles to The BFG

Have a listen to Revolver by The Beatles, or take a look at the range of books by Roald Dahl – no two songs or novels are the same. They didn’t bother to hang around trying to categorise what they were doing – they just wanted to produce work that interested and inspired them and that’s why their music and stories still resonate today and will continue to do so for a very long time.

I know using genres and labeling your work is a necessary evil and now impossible to avoid – but don’t let it dictate what you produce for the rest of your career.

What are your thoughts on the rise of classification and the complexity of genre? Is it good for your audience and good for you? Am I whinging without good reason? I would love to hear your comments below.

This was my 16th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and more songs with audio recordings. Next post – Q – It’s always the Quiet Ones who are Writers.

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22 thoughts on “P is for Pigeon-Hole! Stop trying to put me in a box!

Add yours

  1. I did Zoology so Classification rules all!! However, I’m also trying to write romcom.. not sure it’s even a genre in writing as it is in film and my novels don’t appear to be romantic or humerous.. i thought it might have been chic lit but then found out that meant the MC was a woman and in my first novel he’s a man!
    Now, I’m writing however I write and will let others work out what my genre is if and when this red pen is finished..

    1. Your story is a perfect example of what I’m talking about – there’s too many rules! You are quite right, just write the story you want to write and worry about it later.

  2. I’ve always admired artists for experimenting and trying new things. For example, it strikes me as odd that Queen’s album ‘Hot Space’ is often considered to be the runt of their output just because they tried a different musical style (for what my opinion is worth, I quite like it!).

    I can’t put it any better than your line above: “…they just wanted to produce work that interested and inspired them…”. Is it fair to say derivative work might be fine for the masses, but I’d seek out something original any day of the week?

    1. I love Queen, Paul. Other than the obligatory Greatest Hits, I only own 2 of their studio albums – Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera – both of which are brilliant. Both of them are also great examples of diversity across an album. Night at The Opera has loads of different styles and studio tricks on it, and yet it always sounds like Queen. I think all of the best artists can do that – try lots of different things, but their unique voice always shines through.

  3. Mr Kelly,

    I’m in you camp, I generally do my own thing. My latest novel will be a nightmare for anyone to categorise, and I’ve had many naysayers tell me I’ll have trouble ever getting it published, because it doesn’t fall neatly into any genre slot.

    Ah well…so be it. I’m having fun writing it.

    And another thing, supernatural crime with elements of romance might just be the next best thing agents and editors are looking for – so there!

    Love the Beatles, my personal favourite is ‘And I love Her”

    http://www.firstdraftcafe.blogspot.co.uk

    1. I agree – and your novel sounds great.

      I could have written a whole series on The Beatles – love ’em – but my X post is indirectly related to them, so stay tuned!

  4. I think the main reason my book wasn’t taken up by traditional publishers was they couldn’t see which shelf to put it on (the table at the front of the shop would have done…) So I have done a huge amount of work, and at last it is published online, but I had to choose only two genres…. Impossible. So maybe I’ll go in every now and then and change them, till I see what works! At the moment it’s under romance and paranormal, but hat doesn’t really give an idea of what it is about. Anyone who would read it, or even flick through it, and advise me would become a good friend!!

      1. My book is at amazon.com/dp/B00C438T0E or amazon.co.uk/dp/B00C438T0E. The back cover blurb is there with it. Thanks for responding! Madeline

      2. Hi Madeline, thanks. I had a look but I’m really not much of an expert in this field. To me, it sounds like a paranormal comedy romance – but, having poked around google, I think it would probably fit in to the popular Urban Fantasy genre? I found an interesting blog post for you to take a look at that gives a good overview: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/04/03/urban-fantasy/

        Do you have a link to your blog, or are you on Twitter?

    1. Yes, indeedy! My days of trying to push my music anywhere, other than on my blog, are long gone. I’ll slide on over to trying to push my writing now – at least I know I’m not too old for that!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read. Yes, it’s a tricky one, but as others have said here – prob best to just keep writing and ponder over it when we have something to publish! I look forward to swinging by your blog too.

  5. I don’t think that being pigeon-holed into a genre is new. I do know that there’s a lot of unnecessary class issues within the writing community. Detective novels are not as highly viewed as ‘literary’ novels and as for the Mills and Boons type of stories, those are looked down on by most other writers. It’s unnecessary and sad.

    1. Hi Ros. You’re right, genre issues aren’t new, but I do think that as Marketing has become more refined, so the pressure has increased on artists to fit in to one genre for life. With regards snobbery towards certain types of books, films or music – I don’t think that will ever go away unfortunately. Unless someone has actually tried to write something in one of those genres, they will have little appreciation for the skill involved.

  6. Ahh, the pigeon holeing post!

    I have to say, the comment about Gideon made me LOL!

    It’s a tricky thing, because on one hand, genres are very useful for consumers. And, of course, is is the very fact that so many people are now producing books and music that DON’T fit into the existing genres that have lead us to have so many! But they still don’t have a place for everything.

    Rinelle Grey

    1. Hi Rinelle – I know you are quite right, they are a necessity for consumers. I actually still get annoyed that I can’t always find the exact thing I’m in the mood for when I shop for books or music online! I’m a hypocrite – but, I guess what I was trying to get at, was more the pressure that can be placed on us by those in the industry to conform to specific genres and tropes at the expense of what we really wanted to express.

  7. I think it’s there so readers can find you. They have the search facility so the more information you put in about your book (metadata) the more likely you are to reach your target audience. Because let’s not pretend everyone is going to love our books. Someone who loves cozy crime is definitely not going to enjoy my work.

    I know it feels like labelling, but I think it’s supposed to be about marrying. Think of it as a dating website if it helps 😉

    1. I know you are right, Rebecca (see my response to Rinelle too). I am the epitome of the impatient consumer wanting everything categorised neatly so that I can find it quickly! But, it’s more about not feeling like you have to sacrifice the overall vision to fit in to a particular slot. This is a big thing in cinema in recent times – many films that would traditionally be rated 18 Years and over, are now being heavily edited to get a 15 or even 12 rating – because that’s such a huge slice of the market. It’s difficult to find a film that is rated 18 in the cinema these days – even horror films!

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