publishing, Stories, Writers Co-op Anthology

A weird problem

genres

Not long ago, I did a Freebooksy promotion for Mystery Manor, fourth in the Magali Rousseau series. To do it, I enrolled the book in KDP Select, then ran a five-day promotion during which it was free. For the second day, I booked a slot with Freebooksy, who promoted the promotion to their email list.

Now, the question of whether a book should ever be offered free arouses a lot of debate, and it’s not my intention to go into that here (I will in a forthcoming post). Suffice to say that although I didn’t recoup what it cost for a slot on Freebooksy, the result in terms of purchases of the other books in the series was encouraging enough for me to think that it might be a good idea to do the same with The Rabbit Hole (RH).

There’s one problem. Freebooksy doesn’t have a ‘weird’ genre, nor even one for anthologies. They stick to highly mainstream genres like ‘mystery’, ‘fantasy’ or ‘romance.’ Similarly, there’s no ‘weird’ category on Amazon, where RH1 is in Fiction: anthologies and Fiction: fantasy: collections and anthologies, and RH2 is in Fiction: anthologies and Fiction: short stories.

Nor is there any BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) for ‘weird’. Draft2Digital, which incidentally does a great job if you’re going ‘wide’ (i.e. not giving Amazon exclusivity), uses the BISAC categories; RH there is in Fiction, anthologies (multiple authors) and I recently added it to Fiction: Absurdist. Whether that’s accurate is debatable, but authors as diverse as Sartre, Vonnegut, Murakami and Kafka have been classified as absurdist, so it could be said that it’s a very broad church. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to be in company like that. I could also add dark fantasy, humorous or alien contact, as each of those pertains to at least a couple of stories in the two volumes so far published. But with multiple authors, there are multiple themes and topics, and no single category covers them all.

For RH2 we defined different themes: weather, science and entertainment. But although these produced some excellent contributions, they don’t fit into a genre. Of course, it’s not because you do fit into one that you make your life any easier, because it’s then that the competition gets fierce. But for RH3, I’m thinking it’s worth a try.

So here’s the idea. When the call for submissions for RH3 goes out in January, it will be for a specific genre, one of three I’ve selected from the Freebooksy list: thriller, romance or horror. Many thanks, then, if you could fill in the poll below. To test this isea out, which of those genres would you like to see adopted in RH3?

Note that whatever genre is chosen, ‘weird’ remains the defining feature of The Rabbit Hole. So if, say, horror is the genre, a story about a psycho hacking people to pieces won’t make it. Because weird as that may be by the standards of normal behaviour, it doesn’t include the surreal, wondrous or out-of-this-world element that makes a story qualify as weird. Similarly, there are many ways for romance to be weird, but a kinky sex story might not be the best way to set about it. Not that we’re averse to sex, kinky or otherwise, but if that’s the only weirdness in the story, it’s not enough. Weird romance, of course, wouldn’t be the same as mainstream romance, so that would need to be made clear in the blurb, but at least it would fit somewhere into the genre. As for thriller, plenty of scope there, though I must admit that handling a thriller, weird or not, in a short story is quite a challenge. But hey, all writing is.

Over to you, then. And feel free to chip in with your own thoughts.

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25 thoughts on “A weird problem

  1. victoracquista says:

    “Weird” is not a genre since you can have weirdness in just about any story. Part of the appeal of an anthology is to have a collection of stories that expose readers to new authors and their own unique style. An anthology of weird stories can be themed around a topic or topics such as weather, or time, or whatever subject(s) you choose. I, for one, think that an anthology that is not boxed in to a particular genre has a different appeal than one tailored to a particular genre. Granted, such a collection might appeal to readers of fiction and not appeal to readers looking for stories in a particular genre only.

    The issue points to a somewhat larger dilemma in the requirement to pigeonhole a title into a category/subcategory (BISAC, Amazon, or other). I have struggled in listing my few books with the proper tags. And, I have also struggled at times with designating the proper category or tag used by a specific marketing and promotion company. I have used Freebooksy among a handful of other similar services so I understand the challenge. Some promotional services allow you to stick with the broad category of fiction and not designate a particular genre or sub-genre. Listing books on Amazon requires designating categories (at least I think it does).

    I must admit I feel a sense of resistance in being forced into a specific genre. If I had to pick one of the three you have listed I might be forced to flip a three-sided coin. Unfortunately, I lost that weird coin a number of years ago. Now, the circumstances of that loss could be a story–thriller, romance, horror? If I had the creativity, perhaps I could combine all three elements. Got it! A former jilted lover who lost the coin toss and commits suicide, returns in ghostly and ghastly fashion to find and destroy the coin and the coin tosser and the winner of the coin toss in heart pounding drama. Tag: paranormal romance thriller.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Ha, ha, I like your idea at the end, Victor! I get the message though and I’m with you in its essence. It’s just that there’s a tension between the unbounded creativity you mention and marketing forces. Anthologies are a hard sell anyway, and ‘literary’ anthologies even more so. We’ll see how this experiment works out, first in the number and quality of submissions, then in the marketing.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Interesting discussion of an ongoing marketing conundrum: the writer writes, but then how best to categorize the resulting output so that interested readers can find it? Perhaps “speculative fiction” as the general tag would work here, with an editorial focus re: story atmosphere as “weird”–that is to say, within each RH story consensus reality is somehow challenged, subverted, or undermined. I don’t like to close off possibilities for either writers or readers. There are much more proscriptive, content-regimenting technical definitions of what a “weird” story should be (for instance, that there must be a supernatural component to such a tale), but I prefer to allow for the broadest possible range of authorial freedom and execution of craft in terms of plot and thematic content. (For instance, Henry James’ weird masterpiece The Turn of the Screw can be read and understood on many different levels, in many different ways.)

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for the input, Carl. ‘Speculative’ is certainly a useful tag or keyword that can be used for marketing, though with a slightly different angle from ‘weird’. I think within any given genre, the creative possibilities are still pretty endless, so I’m curious to see how contributors might bend or stretch the genre to suit their purposes.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    I vote ‘Romance’. I would begin to develop my Sly/Sha-Sha episode, only extensive notes at present. I can see her swinging from the chandeliers, singing . . .

    A strange romance, with no kisses, a strange romance, my friend, this is . . .

    Or something. I’d probably have to rewrite it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I share Victor’s sense of resistance. While I can appreciate the marketing conundrum, to choose a genre to accommodate categorization is like deciding what to cook in order to match the color of the plates.

    Oxford Research Encyclopedias has a lengthy article about Speculative Fiction which supports Carl’s suggestion. The article’s introductory summary states Speculative Fiction “includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured fairy tales, and more.” There it is: weird fiction. (https://oxfordre.com/literature/literature/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.001.0001/acrefore-9780190201098-e-78)

    I don’t read romance novels. I don’t write romance stories, although I have been known to include romantic currents within, say, a fantasy/adventure story. But as I sat here confronting the rebellion that roiled in my gut at the idea of voting for one of the genre options in your survey, a weird romance story unspooled in my brain. But so did an alien encounter that doesn’t fit in any of the three choices, but is clearly speculative fiction.

    What to do, what to do?

    Liked by 5 people

    • victoracquista says:

      “…to choose a genre to accommodate categorization is like deciding what to cook in order to match the color of the plates.” Love how you put this! Thanks for the link!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the input, Sue. Does the ‘what to do?’ refer to your own quandary or to the positioning of next volmue of the Rabbit Hole? It’s true that (sneaky as I am) I didn’t include an option ‘this whole idea sucks’, and we could just let it quietly drop. But my curiosity is now aroused as to where it could lead. Though it might turn some people’s creativity off, it could have the opposite effect for others, as with flash fiction prompts. I have every confidence in your own creativity to get round any constraints that might be imposed. All genre distortion, warping, bending and twisting is permittted, nay encouraged. Aliens are known to be very romantic at times.

      Liked by 2 people

      • In my mind, “what to do?” encompassed how to categorize, which genre to vote for, and what to write. Should I have asked, “What to do? What to do? What to do?”?

        I fully accept your decision to place RH3 in a genre, Curtis. I agree wholeheartedly with your reasoning. But it seems to me that the genre you select should reflect what people who like weird fiction would most likely be looking for. I think horror and romance both have rabid fans, but also alienate larger portions of the reader pool than they attract. (Unfortunately, the same seems true for science fiction.) Still, I think “horror” aligns more closely with “weird” than “romance” does.

        Right now, Romance carries 55.56% of the votes in your survey. However, I suspect far fewer men than women would search the “romance” genre when looking for ANYTHING to read. And most women looking for “romance” stories would feel misled when arriving at an anthology touting “weird” short stories with a romance theme. “Shaun of the Dead (A smash hit romantic comedy. With zombies.)” aside, “romance” conjures steamy, titillating, guilty pleasure reading.

        Thank you for your kind confidence in my creativity in getting round restrictions. That’s a frequent goal of mine. So I intend to write both stories, and with your permission submit both for consideration for RH3. But the alien encounter story will be a warped-beyond-recognition version of any of the three survey genres.

        Fair warning.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Thanks for your response, Sue. My apologies for the delay in responding.
          ‘I think horror and romance both have rabid fans, but also alienate larger portions of the reader pool than they attract.’ The same could be said of any genre, in that any single one will be outweighed by all the others put together. But the three most widely read genres are romance, mystery and fantasy, with romance (the last time I checked) at the top. Your other main point – that mainstream romance readers might feel misled – is correct, which is why I wrote that the blurb would have to make it clear. But even if 90% then go no further,the remaining 10% will be more than we would otherwise get by just tossing it out there in the hope someone will see it.
          I look forward to your submissions. The call will go out in January and I’ll try to work on a suitable formulation that will allow us to put it in a genre but be broad enough to permit all sorts of interpretations.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, Carl, that’s the one tempting me to spend my livelihood work hours tapping away on the keyboard. If you’re not going to be a judge for RH3 submissions, I’d be interested in your feedback. May I send it to you when it’s ready? It’s okay to say no if you’d rather not.

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      • @Sue: I can’t be a judge for RH3 because I intend to submit something for that volume. As regards your proposed short story, I’d prefer not to read it before it’s ready because (a) I loathe, abhor, and dread passing judgments on the work of others, and (b) my plate is over-full now with my own projects (squeezed in after 70+ hours spent in work and commuting to a six-days-a-week job). I do cheer you on, though, and hope to read your story upon its completion!

        Liked by 4 people

  5. Thanks for the comment, Liz. Yes, ‘speculative’ is pretty close and can no doubt be used as a keyword or in other ways. Maybe even on the cover if there’s room, though ‘weird’ should remain probably, now that we’ve got it on the first two. They are slightly different, I think: Murakami could certainly be classed as weird, though not speculative. Margaret Atwood prefers to reserve ‘speculative’ to things that could actually happen, which makes sense – speculating about a possible future. In that sense, 1984 was speculative but not weird. As to whether we must categorise, not at all – we can continue as is. It’s just my own trial and error attempt to get more eyeballs on what we produce.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Sad to hear that RH-3 may need being crammed into a genre category.  Categories oversimplify, and the good stuff is often near a vague boundary.

    Sadder still that the poll uses radio buttons rather than ranking.  It looks like plurality-wins in political elections.  Would much rather have voters rank all the candidates and then have the rankings processed by the Borda count (or by instant runoff) to pick the winner.  While Arrow’s Thm tells us that no voting system is mathematically perfect, BC and IR are much better than plurality in common situations.

    My own ranking is Romance > Thriller > Horror, with Horror as a distant 3-rd.  I have a mild preference for Romance over Thriller because it seems to be a stretchier category.  We say that a child playing with a soldier doll “romanticizes” war, that composers in the 19-th century wrote “romantic” music, and so on.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. While the BISAC genre category

            FIC003000 FICTION / Anthologies (multiple authors)

    is not a turn-on for anybody, it is not a turn-off for anybody else.  It is also an accurate description of RH-1 and RH-2 and projected future volumes.  Among the available categories, it strikes me as the best of the bad lot.

    As a contrast, consider the Horror category.  I am fine with horror that advances the plot of a thriller, as in RH-2’s excellent *Storm Child*.  A horrible situation could also be the setting for an improbable romance.  But Horror as the star of the show?  Feh!  I can just check the news for that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for those considerations, MC. Yes, I’m not overly enthusiastic about horror myself. But I had a story in a horror anthology a coupe of years back and it didn’t do too badly – promos at Halloween and so on bringing it to the attention of fans of the genre.
      But on the strength of an admittedly not representative sample in an imperfect voting system, it looks lile we’ll go for romance. If it works out (by which I mean a significant boost in sales compared to the current issues), then we can consider pursuing the idea with a rotation of genres for further issues. But we’re not there yet by any means.

      Liked by 2 people

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