People have been bending genre for a long time. I think it goes along with the post-modernism frame of mind. My vision of a boat is not your vision of a boat and all that. Technology certainly has a hand in this. No longer do the big publishing houses control what is released to the world. Anyone can publish and thus the concept of genre has become more blurred than ever before. Even in my own writing, I find myself looking for ways that I can bend genre and create something new. Even though we have the apparent freedom to create virtually whatever we please, is there something that suffers in result?
Some people would argue that the quality of literature available has sunk considerably. A portion of those people would be the stuffy academic type who thinks that only the big five are worthy of being called writers and grouped under the guise of literature. (Not all academics think this way, by the way.) All five of them are great in their own way, but I personally found myself delving into the sensationalist literature of the period which was not thought of as being high and mighty. Gothic, as most of you know, became my area of expertise. Dracula. Frankenstein. The Penny Dreadfuls. Detective stories. All of them filled my reading time and became the subjects of my term papers and my master’s thesis. Poe, of course was my ultimate focus and he himself is a grand example of the argument for literary quality. People have written entire books on why he is a bad writer and other famous writers, such as T.S. Eliot despised him. In today’s world, one would argue: What business is it of theirs what he writes? Art is what the heart makes it; be it dark or flowery or beautiful to only a single person in the world. But, of course, these are the same post-modern sensibilities I referenced above.
But what about grammar? I enjoy a good physical book but do occasionally delve into the e-book realm and I frequently find mistakes. And not just in self-published works… There have been a number of big five publishers (why is everything in fives today?) in whose ebooks I have encountered mistakes. Grammar seems to have become more fluid in recent times and I even find myself wavering on occasion when I am editing something. I’m all about freedom of expression, but I also appreciate good editing and grammar. Does that make me a genre-bending hypocrite? I’d like to think it doesn’t. Language has been standardized for a very long time and even though we have the freedom to publish as we please, a polished product is the ideal. But…maybe that’s just me being a hypocrite.
And then there is genre which still exists, albeit in a more fluid form than before. Despite the post-modern mindset, there are still people out there with prejudices against other types of stories. Romance is a genre that gets the criticism more than most. But, I ask you, what about art and beauty being in the eye of the beholder? The romance realm is not my genre of choice, but I know a number of romance writers and their work is fabulous. I respect them as writers and I appreciate the skills they bring to their storytelling which differ from my own strengths. All genres, just as all writers, bring something new to the table. Romance hasn’t been popular for nothing and there is a reason why it occupies such a huge section at the bookstore.
It would appear that we are free to create…but as writers we are not free from prejudice and thus we create with a caveat hanging over our heads. The hierarchy of writing and publishing is still strongly in place and, I hear, that it is next to impossible to find a literary agent or a publisher. I would qualify this as evidence in some respect. You still must squish your story into a genre for marketing purposes, even though our post-modern era all but says to hell with genre.
I personally have not yet tried to find a publisher or an agent and am tempted to go the self-publishing route to achieve my desired end despite the encouragement of my writer’s group which believes my current project to be worthy of publishing house publication. Seeing my book on a shelf in a bookstore is the ultimate dream but the heartache of seeking publishing might be too much. Though it is easier than ever to publish, thanks to technology and the growing self-publishing business, finding a place for my book on a shelf (even IF I self publish) may yet prove to be more difficult than I imagined as the mountain of other books out there is just unfathomable.
Do you find your experiences as a writer to be hindered by the expectations of those around you? How do you deal with it or do you even care?
2 thoughts on “The Art of Genre and Genre Bending in the World of Publishing”
I asked an agent what the industry thinks of those who self-publish. He thought a moment and answered: impatient. This is what keeps me from diving into e-publishing–the censure of the traditionalists, the editors, agents, publishers who still call the shots.
Thanks for sharing! This is a really interesting view of self-publishing that I haven’t thought of. I’m going to have to let that one mull over for a while!
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