In search of a genre

I knew going into this that The Affix was going to be tough to pigeon-hole into a genre. Now that I’m so near publication, I need to settle that question. Novels are categorized in all online platforms, as they are in bookstores as well. Even the nebulous world of literary fiction is itself a genre—usually a very artsy genre.

When I wrote the book I thought of it as a sci-fi, but I realize now it has no technology or space elements that would really apply to the way readers normally think of science fiction. I don’t consider this entirely a deal breaker, because if you look back at classic work like The Twilight Zone, you see that every episode was little more than a whimsical what-if expanded to thirty minutes. Many episodes had nothing that would peg them as definitively sci-fi, but they definitely weren’t fantasy either. Sci-fi readers can be a broad-minded bunch and as a rule I don’t think they have a problem with accepting these kinds of stories into the fold.

The book has some action thriller elements. I don’t know if I’d go far enough to throw it into that category as a secondary choice, because I don’t know the genre and its expectations well enough. Reading through Wikipedia’s description of the genre, there are definitely a lot of thriller elements to work with, and there is a film subgenre that would probably suffice: supernatural thriller. This is not a generally recognized subgenre of books, and it has no BISAC code (the industry standard for categorizing books), plus Amazon doesn’t even use a lot of the newer codes anyway.

I have many people telling me, based on the blurb, that the book should be listed as fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal fantasy. None of these sound right, and I’m not sure if it’s the blurb or my understanding of the genres or both.

Every genre has its own rules, some more flexible than others. Romance for example is very strict; the ending must always be a happily-ever-after or happy-for-now. Anything that falls short of that isn’t considered a romance, merely a love story, and it probably belongs in lit fic or women’s fiction or some other genre. Authors who have ignored this have been savaged in their reviews, and they probably deserved it because they unintentionally deceived their readers by placing it in the wrong category.

When I think of fantasy I tend to think of high fantasy: dwarves on a pilgrimage, elves and men in political machinations, and dragons. But generally I know fantasy fans are looking for mythical creatures or magic and/or a fantastical setting. Urban fantasy, and apparently contemporary fantasy which is a parent genre, skips the setting requirement by bringing the mythology into the real world; but I would think it almost demands the presence of vampires or magic or ghosts or whatnot. Strictly speaking, The Affix is probably best described as low fantasy, but that’s not a subgenre that’s been graced with its own category.

Of the fantasy subgenres, paranormal fantasy is the best fit by far. Yet still, my preconceived notion of what to expect in a paranormal fantasy includes actual magic, some kind of creature like a vampire, psychic abilities, or something tied into the spirit realm. There’s none of that here. As in the romance example, I fear that picking a genre whose readers expect something in particular will lead to disappointment. Perhaps that isn’t the case; very few genres are as strict as romance.

This same fear, though, applies to throwing the book in a thriller category. Amazon lets me pick two. Clearly the thriller factor is strong, but I can’t say if it’s strong enough to really belong there. And many thrillers bend in noir, crime, military, and espionage directions. There is also often an expectation of a mystery to be solved, but there is no mystery present beyond the nature of the MacGuffin. Yet with the tone of frequent danger and the way the villains push the plot forward, I can’t help but see this as a potential thriller. At least one person has told me that general thrillers are set in “our world”, which by my understanding means anything out of the ordinary is completely out of the question; that would imply this category is a bad fit.

My first instinct was to put the book in general sci-fi and possibly consider it as a thriller as well. Now I’m seriously questioning whether I should mark it as a paranormal fantasy and/or contemporary fantasy, but the expectations of readers in these genres are still unknown to me. The opening paragraph has the main character pondering that it’s the kind of night a man could believe in werewolves; if someone reads that and expects a werewolf, they won’t be happy when none show up.

Darn it, why couldn’t I just have written a nice, easily classifiable fantasy? That’s almost definitely the next thing on my list, but it doesn’t help me now.

About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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