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Scratching a Niche

In a short post entitled, Specialization and Books, Becky Miller ponders the trend toward “niche-ing” (or is it niching?) in contemporary fiction. At some point, a writer is asked to identify their niche, what genre they write, and where their stories fit in the market. Nowadays, this is Writing 101. But Becky reflects upon the inherent deficiency of that demand:

In the effort to target an audience, we lose some who don’t know to look in a niche they do not necessarily identify with. Perhaps this communication problem is why so many books take on a dual tag: romantic suspense or adventure thriller or science fantasy. Are the tags helpful? I don’t really know.

I haven’t seen bookstores expanding their sections to include the new dual tags. Christian books, even in Christian book stores, have yet to be sorted into “sub genres.” And I find the niche concept confining. I love fantasy, but I also read mystery, romance, even mom-lit, though I am not a mom. I don’t really fit as a niche reader.

Other than the romance and mom-lit, I concur — especially about “the niche concept” being “confining.” I don’t read that way, so why write that way? I’m currently splitting time between Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends by Avram Davidson, Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet, and The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Eighteenth Annual Collection by Link, Grant, and Datlow. Yeah, I lean toward weird, but I’m not “confined” by it.

Is this unusual? Are readers, for the most part, hedged in by genre? Do the gurus and gatekeepers have their pulse on an undeniable, unbending reality?

For the aspiring author, the question can be very confusing. On the one hand, the novice novelist is told to write what they want to read, write what drives them, ignore trends and follow their heart. On the other hand, we’re told to find a niche, a genre, a market brand, and build a base of readership. And, according to conventional wisdom, you can’t build readership by being all over the map.

So which is it? If, as a new writer, I aim for a specific genre and target the market, I may end up writing something other than what I really want. But, hey, I’ll gain readers who will, perhaps, follow me into uncharted terrain. Yet if I write what I want to read — what my heart tells me to write — I may feel satisfied, but I’ll never get published or have the opportunity to build readership. So which is it?

My first novel is “niched”; it’s a supernatural suspense. But my current novel (the one in process) is wigging out. It keeps veering into speculative fiction, sci-fi and (egads!) romance. Of course, I keep trying to steer into back into genre. But, to my dismay, the story has a mind of it’s own.

So what do I do? Follow my heart or the market? Follow my story or conventional wisdom? Right now, I’m just scratching a niche but, in truth, I’m far from satisfied.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • janet March 14, 2007, 11:55 PM

    I sure don’t read one genre! And my novel ideas are from several. I say just write Mike. Be an artist for now and just create.

  • Ame March 15, 2007, 4:49 AM

    “I lean toward weird, but I’m not “confined” by it.”

    Really?!!!

    😉

  • SolShine7 March 20, 2007, 8:25 AM

    I visit Becky Miller’s blog as much as I can because he has a lot of thoughtful points to share about Christian fiction, hence the title of her blog.

    I think a really good story defys niche, because in the end that’s what people want.

    p.s. I found your blog via Relevant Magazine.

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