A publisher’s best tip for (aspiring) writers

As a Sweden’s Writers’ Union member, I get their membership magazine a few times every year. It’s always well-written and often informative. I don’t always agree with their politics, but that’s not the point here. In the most recent issue, 4/2022, they discuss some experts’ best tips for PR. In our day, when many of us are published by small publishers who do not have the muscle of the big five (or we’re not the prize horses in the stable), we often have to do most if not all of our marketing/PR ourselves—a great and interesting article. Yet when I read what one publisher wrote, I got upset. I mentioned her in my previous post where she says that her best tip for success is for writers to stick to one genre. Then she also makes some weird comments about clothing and behaving appropriately. Did the statement affect me so strongly because she could’ve meant me? Might I have been more successful if I’d stuck to one genre? Yet what genre would that be?

“Stay in your lane, dress and behave adequately!”

Christmas decoration. It's that time of year after all. Photo: Hans M Hirschi

Christmas decoration. It’s that time of year after all. Photo: Hans M Hirschi

Look, in principle, I don’t disagree that a writer is likely to be more successful if they write one genre only. You build a readership from a pool of readers who love a particular sort of book, and you get to expand upon it, enjoy recommendations from readers who are likely connected to other readers in that same genre, etc. I can see how that can work. And there is a reason that when an author, even super famous ones such as J.K. Rowling (with whom I vehemently disagree on her stands on trans rights) writes in a different genre, chooses a pseudonym. Given her fame and that her pen name leaked (probably because the books didn’t sell enough) it was surprising that sales were as bad as they were. Having said that, I wish I’d have Robert Galbraith sales… Alas, the industry wasn’t impressed. Hers is the case of failing to bridge genres. She learned her lesson and expanded her universe instead with her Fantastic Beasts. Meh!

I went down a different road altogether. My first three books are vastly different. There’s the romantic coming-out story, the troubled family drama, and the one about a father who loses his son. I followed that up with a sort of dark life journey, followed by what some might call a dys-/utopian sci-fi novel, and then on to a story about life with a disability. I write for younger audiences, more mature ones, and even children. Some of my books are easier to peg, like The Golden One into fantasy, or my new one, Opus XXVII, which is a crime novel. Or is it?

What am I writing?

That is a pretty silly question for an author to ask themself. Yet here I am, unafraid as always to make a fool of myself. Yet I’ve honestly struggled with this question for years. I think it has to do with the constrictions I feel with regard to most established genre definitions. I’m a Gemini at heart. I need to spread my wings and try different things, I crave the change, the excitement of trying something new, something different. Not exactly what a publisher relishes. Ask mine! Let me start with the most recent book I’ve been working on. Opus XXVII is a crime novel by my own admission. It is a crime novel because I wanted to write one, and it is a crime novel because it contains a crime that needs to be resolved, a crime that the reader can think about “whodunnit” until the final pages of the novel. It’s also written in a way that is consistent with the rules of the genre in that the solution to the crime isn’t obvious until the end. However…

Queer Social Realism on the streets of Styrsö?

Queer Social Realism on the streets of Styrsö? Yass, bitch!

Opus XVII is so much more than a crime novel. It is an LGBTQ novel. Does that qualify as a genre though? Straight ain’t a genre, so why should LGBTQ be? It is for Amazon, does that qualify as an answer? I also feel, and that is about as much of a spoiler as you’ll ever see from me, that it’s not primarily about a crime. Yes, a crime is committed, but in the story, it acts more as a catalyst for other more interesting aspects of the plot. In hindsight, I’ll admit that I find writing crime quite tedious. I doubt I’ll do it again. It’s just not where my interest lies. Would you be surprised if I called it social realism?

Social realism, say what?

I hear you. You won’t find that on Amazon’s extensive list of genres, I just double-checked. If I were to stick to the above argument, social realism should be disqualified as a genre. Alas, my blog, my rules. 😝 Seriously though, with the exception of my vampire children’s book, each and every one of my stories fits into this description, even my foray into erotica, as fleetingly as it may penetrate (pun intended) the less carnal aspects of life. How do I define social realism? I actually. never have, so let’s see what Wikipedia contributes:

“Social realism is the term used for work produced by painters, printmakers, photographers, writers and filmmakers that aims to draw attention to the real socio-political conditions of the working class as a means to critique the power structures behind these conditions.”

Some of my books don’t necessarily restrict themselves to the working class. However, this is where the letter soup comes in handy! So without further ado, here’s MY definition of my writing genre:

“Hirschi aims to draw attention to the real socio-political conditions of queer people around the world as a means to critique the power structures behind heteronormativity, gender stereotypes, and patriarchy.” In short, call it Queer Social Realism.

Allow me a chuckle, as this sounds a bit grandstanding. But alas, strictly speaking, that is what I do, and I think my books fit just fine within that particular genre. The question is: who cares if the world doesn’t accept it as such, and–pardon my French–if no one gives a flying fuck and buys my books? Anyway, I feel much better about the aforementioned publisher’s suggestion, even if it meant creating my own niche genre. Now to shuffle off to find my readers… 🚶

Comments? Suggestions? Agree? Disagree? Let’s have it…

Until then: happy holidays and a great new year!

Hans