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Before you can write (or attempt to write) the next bestseller, there’s one thing you have to master before anything else. No, it’s not descriptive writing. Nope, it’s not a unique voice. Guess again, it’s not a great understanding of building characters. It’s none of those things.

The first thing you should think about, whether you’re writing your first book or your one-hundredth, is the genre you’re writing in.

Now, this may seem a little easy. What could be complicated about considering what genre you’re writing in, right? How could that possibly act as this know-all phenomenon that poses as the doorman of the gateway to publication?

Well, you’re about to find out.

* * *

No Genre? Oh Dear…

There’s a common theme within the writing community these days, and common themes aren’t usually good things. Common is not a nice adjective. Sadly, this common theme is no exception.

There are a lot of writers out there who simply don’t know which genre their book fits into. Now, don’t get us wrong… we get that it’s tough – what with the (seemingly) millions of possibilities – but still, this is something you should be aware of before you even write the opening sentence.

If you don’t know what genre your book fits into, how can you possibly write anything that’s close to publishable? You can’t. Well, unless you’re David Baldacci. Quick question: how many of you reading have that name? Oh, one of you? Really? Well hi, David! We hope you’re well!

But for the rest of you… learn your goddamn genre!

* * *

It’s All About Presentation

You might be wondering why this is so important, and well, we’ll get to that. But for now, consider this: if you don’t understand your genre in and out (or worse, don’t even know which genre your work fits into), then how on earth do you plan on marketing your work? How are you going to describe it?

“Hi, my names Sally and my book is called ‘Coffee On Doomsday’. It’s a *quietly mumbles random sub-genre* that explores the actions of human beings when they’re close to breaking point.”

Can you see how that might put a publisher or agent off? And if you elect to self-publish, how it might ruin your chances of securing someone’s dedicated time and attention? If you don’t understand your book when pitching or advertising, then what sort of message do you think that’s portraying?

Well, let us tell you… it’s not a good one.

* * *

Because The Industry Says So

Look, we hate rules as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re there. Even creativity has rules and conventions, and just because you don’t like that fact doesn’t mean you’re free to ignore it.

We don’t believe in rules as such, but we do believe in form. We see rules as guidelines, and if done right, they can definitely be broken. It just depends on what way they’re broken, the delivery of the break, and how well it works from the perspective of a reader.

But… in order to break the rules of form and genre conventions, you must first understand them. There’s no way you could dive into a random genre and pull off something spectacular on a whim. In order to do that, you’d have to understand the conventions of that genre in more detail than you could ever imagine.

The industry is a rough old beast. And like it or not, it doesn’t care about your feelings.

The industry doesn’t care if you believe that historical romance should have less focus on history and more on romance; it doesn’t care if you think that cozy mysteries should have ruthless death scenes and more cursing, and it definitely doesn’t care if you think steampunk sci-fi should garner most of its steam from lustrous sex scenes between a couple of AI robots.

The industry is the industry, and the sooner you realise this, the sooner you can accept the rules of form and genre conventions. Once you’ve mastered the craft of your genre, maybe then you can break those rules. But until then, keep your emotions out of the equation, and instead, react to the reality that is.

That’s not just a piece of writing advice, either. That’s just life.

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