So! You’ve come up with an entirely new kind of fiction! Something the world has never seen before...but which (you hope) it’s hungered for since the invention of movable type. And you’re so excited for its prospects that you can’t wait to present the world with your first efforts in this new genre. Away with the editors! Away with the critiquers! All you need is your word processor’s spellcheck and a stock image or two, and you’ll be ready to rock and roll. Fame and fortune will surely follow.
Slow down there, champ. Have you thought at all about why your new genre is new? That is, why some other bright boy hasn’t explored it before?
The sad truth about new stuff – all new stuff; fiction is just a special case – is that 90% or more of Mankind’s innovations crash and burn. In the usual case, they fail so completely that no one not connected with their genesis ever hears of their existence. Which means that your hyperlink-festooned fusion of Zombie Horror with Medieval Fantasy and Bodice Ripper might have been attempted by some earlier defier of established categories. Some justly forgotten defier of categories.
That’s not to say that your efforts aren’t worthy; just that you might not receive the thunderous acclaim you were hoping for. Well, yes, there are...lesser possibilities, too, but let’s not dwell on those. You’ve put your heart and soul into your prose, perhaps quite a lot of prose generated and refined over God knows how many months or years. Let’s assume that you have something to offer, and muse instead over the possibility that it might not find a readership.
Readers have certain problems that writers don’t. Perhaps the worst of them is choice. If we were to consider only conventionally published fiction, a reader unmoored from other guidelines would have to choose from among roughly 8000 novels published each year. Since the explosion of independently-published fiction, especially as eBooks, their problem has grown by at least an order of magnitude. How are they to determine what sort of fiction entertains and edifies them?
Of course, the typical reader has certain stars to steer by:
- Recommendations from friends and acquaintances;
- Prior familiarity with the works of certain writers;
- Reviews from reviewers he trusts;
- Established awards for fiction;
- The existing genres.
Given that your new, independently-published book:
- Starts life unknown to anyone;
- Comes from a writer without a fan base;
- Is unlikely to gain the attention of a prominent reviewer;
- Hasn’t won any awards (of course, there’s always hope);
- And doesn’t fit into any of the existing genres used to market fiction;
...how are the readers whose tastes would be gratified by your book supposed to find it?
No, it’s not impossible. But it is an uphill battle, and one you’ll probably have to fight alone.
Consider the writers you enjoy reading: those whose books you can reliably find in the stores, who command a fair readership and are likely to be stocked from the day they’re published. How many of them started their careers with a novel that neither they nor anyone else could categorize? I’d wager you can’t name any.
Yes, in part that’s because of the existing system of promotion, distribution, and retailing. But that system exists because those whose business is publishing fiction, and whose continued existence depends upon persuading people to pay money for it, have found that it works better than the known alternatives. Indeed, even if you were to make your book free, you might find it difficult to persuade readers to take a chance on it. When a reader commits his time to a book, he implicitly forgoes any other activity to which he might have given that time. Thus, even a free book exacts a cost from its readers, though there are those who argue that such “opportunity costs” aren’t as meaningful as a monetary price.
I speak from experience here. My Realm of Essences series is a case in point. I was unable to interest a conventional publishing house in any of those volumes for a single compelling reason: they don’t fit into any of the established genres. Rejection letter after rejection letter expressed some variation on “I like it, but we could never market it.”
The path of least agony – always assuming you have adequate storytelling gifts and writing skills – is to start your writing career in an existing genre. Accumulate a readership first; then dazzle the world with your hybridization of Time-Travel Romance with Slapstick Comedy. This is not intended as a denigration of your experiments. You might be a genius; indeed, you might be the next Faulkner, Hemingway, or Steinbeck. But you’ll be far less likely to end as an unsung genius if you establish yourself by first exploiting the foundations already laid: the system of categorization that dominates every bookstore in existence...the system employed by Amazon and other Internet retailers as we speak.