“Cowboys and outlaws,
Right guys and southpaws,
Good dogs and all kinds of cats.
Dirt roads and white lines,
All kinds of stop signs,
But I’ll stay right here where I’m at…
‘Cause I wear my own kind of hat.”
Merle said it with the song “My Own Kind of Hat”. It speaks loudly of the desire for indie authors to create their own brand, regardless of how the literary world has elected to categorize them.
Writers want to stand out from the rest, to be seen as unique artists in their own right, presenting work in their own style. Few authors today will place themselves firmly into any one genre. Doing so tends to associate their work with other “genre branded” authors. It means their work is stereotyped. Tagged. Pigeonholed.
We conjure all kinds of preconceptions when we have a label applied to anything. Our experience with classifying things teaches us to expect certain behavior when we encounter similarly labeled products. Associating a label with specific traits subconsciously embeds this information in our minds. This conception is tempered by an individual’s unique experiences associated with the label. This alone is enough to give everyone a totally different slant on any given category.
Some things are indelibly woven into our concepts. For instance, if you see two men with guns facing each other in the street. One is wearing a white hat, the other a black one. What things come to mind? Most of us think of a good guy about to duel with a bad guy. Why? Because it was hammered into us from the time we watched that first episode of Gunsmoke. Good or bad, you can tell by the color of the hat.
Attempts to define specific genres suffer the same drawbacks as any classification system. They specifically include some things while excluding others, and so it becomes necessary to understand the limits of the system you are using in order to appreciate how to best utilize it.
An author might try to qualify their work by adding a note that further defines it, but the truth is that genre classifications tend to blend into each other at the edges, making it difficult to pin some types of work down. In any case, aligning oneself with a generic or general classification could result in an unfavorable brand that limits the scope of your work.
Plato started this genre stuff, and Aristotle elaborated on it. Down through the ages, others have massaged the concept and expounded and debated the subject until it has mushroomed into a complex set of loosely defined definitions that cannot be agreed upon by anyone… completely, that is. Some authors have been driven to try spanning two or more genres in an effort to categorize their work, but this angle might serve to cloud their image even more.
Just as there are the crossover musicians which appeal to a broader cross-section of fans with individual tastes, so there must be authors with the same kind of charisma, ready and willing to cross the lines and make their work available to a wider and more varied audience. Branding yourself as a “one-size-fits-all” kind of writer might tend to dilute your image. I don’t believe there are any genre police going after authors inventing their own classifications, but I expect there are penalties.
To play ball with the big guys, you have to first learn their game. If you are working through an agent or otherwise publishing traditionally, this means you will need to discover the genre that best fits your work. The reason is that there are already institutions, campaigns and tried methods in place that are geared to marketing these predetermined broad-class genres. In order to fit, you may need to… conform (ouch!)
But if you are truly an indie, you won’t be encumbered by traditional rules. You will bravely stick to your course and hope that your social media effort will gain enough followers to see you through. You will realize that there is a much bigger audience out there if you don’t confine yourself to any one genre. But one thing is certain. It is difficult for readers to make any kind of judgement about your work unless they can either compare it to something familiar or experience it firsthand.
Try to connect with and appeal to folks that have similar likes and preferences. .. those with their own kind of hat.
Do you have some thoughts about assigning a specific genre to your work? I’d like to hear how some other indie writers out there seeing this problem and what they are doing to avoid it… or maybe they totally disagree. What do you think? Let’s hear your side.
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