My Novel is Having an Identity Crisis

7 May

There is an entire world full of advice for new authors out there in the blogosphere and twitterverse.  Some will tell you to know your genre and market before you begin to write your book – and there’s plenty of good sense in that, especially if you’re hoping to make money! Others will tell you to let your creativity guide you. After all, we write to tell great stories, no matter what genre lines get blurred along the way.

But take it from me: if you’re in the second camp, get ready to deal with your genre identity crisis!

I fall into that confused second category. I started to write for fun, with no intention of actually publishing my book. Which means I gave absolutely no thought to what genre I was writing in, and consequently there’s no perfect label for it. Which means it is a marketing nightmare!

Ok, I’m overstating the case. Every book has a genre, right?! Based on what I’ve read so far, it seems that Goddess actually falls into the category of historical fantasy. Some elements of the book are taken from ancient Rome, specifically ancient Roman religion and mythology.  But because the task of writing real, well-researched historical fiction is such a huge challenge, I decided to cheat when I wrote my book. I took my characters and put them in a fantasy world (I even changed the name of the country the story is set in from Rome to Parcae [which is a cool fantasy country name, huh?]).  And many of the details of everyday life that I included in the story are totally anachronistic or just plain historically inaccurate – or they’re just wild guesses that are not backed up by research!

I had hoped this would be obvious to readers of the book right away.  Without getting into any spoilers, the plot of the book hinges on something so blatantly historically inaccurate that readers couldn’t possibly think I was going for 100% accuracy. The trouble is that, in my quest to find an audience for the book, I promoted it everywhere I possibly could – and I lured historical fiction fans into reading my book with promises of ancient Rome. In a way it was false advertising! But historical *fantasy* is a small enough niche that there aren’t very many Facebook or Goodreads groups dedicated to reading it. And it’s common wisdom that the more genre-specific you can get, the more likely you are to find your niche audience.

I had hoped that my road was paved by books like The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and by the way, if you haven’t read it (and who hasn’t?!) you must get a copy right away. Lynch’s fantasy world is part alien city and part medieval Venice, and incorporates quasi-historical elements to fantastic effect. It sounds disorienting, but thanks to his talent it works like nobody’s business, and at least I can point to one successful book that has a similar half-history-half-fantasy recipe. If you can think of others, by the way, let me know in the comments! I always love a great read.

I still struggle with putting a genre label on the book, but I’ve decided that Goddess is mainly a fantasy story, not historical fiction.  I simply stole my world-building from ancient Rome! A convenient cheat for a new fantasy writer. But I hope it was all in the service of a good story.

What I really should have done was written an appendix detailing all the elements of the story that I know to be true. That way I could have confirmed for curious readers that yes, the rest is totally made up! Ooh, maybe that’s good fodder for a future blog post, I should make a note.

So, in conclusion, my apologies in advance to anyone who buys Goddess and wonders why they’re using paper and ink in ancient Rome!  🙂

Until next time!

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