I’ve had a difficult time lately trying to figure out what kind of writer I am. Do I write horror? Am I a scifi writer? What about fantasy? Does it even freaking matter?
I’m not sure what’s prompting me to pigeon-hole myself to a particular genre or not, however maybe it’s best if I gravitate toward something. The phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none” keeps coming back to me.
Of all three genres, I think the one that I most identify with is horror. It’s what I’ve read the most, watched the most, and what interests me the most.
I don’t feel I have the credentials to call myself a scifi or even a fantasy writer, though my background in medieval history does give me a foundation for the kind of fantasy I enjoy. I’ve not read many of the scifi classics. I have tried to navigate my way through some of the mainstays of the genre to have a working knowledge of what’s been done before and the major players in the field. Still, it doesn’t feel like I’ve “paid my dues” and learned enough about previous authors to jump into their genre. Does watching a lot of scifi shows count? I don’t know. Maybe? Do I have to have those works read in order to write my own stories?
I imagine purists would scoff at the idea of someone with a basic knowledge of science fiction calling themselves a scifi writer. I kinda agree. Start throwing questions at me about Heinlein or Asimov, I might give you a blank stare and change the subject.
Same goes for fantasy. I know a few pillars of the genre, but I’ve not read many of them. My first real introduction to fantasy was through Robert Jordan and I know there were many before him like Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett and more. I love fantasy for the idealized medieval worlds they tend to portray (and yes, I’m aware of the Euro-centric bent of most fantasy) though I’ve not read extensively in the genre. Do I have to in order to call myself a fantasy writer?
When it comes to horror, I do have a greater background through reading and movies than the other two genres I gravitate toward. King, Barker, Jackson, Oates, Ramsey Campbell, and countless other authors have all been my go-to authors when I want something to read. I love the dark themes and ability of authors to scare the crap out of me. I feel much more confident calling myself a horror writer though to date, I’ve not written much more than several flash fiction and short stories in the genre.
So why question all of this? What’s the point?
As I continue to grow my readership and reach out to new readers, I don’t want to confuse them. I love using elements from all three genres in my writing. One day I feel more like writing fantasy, while another I want dark, scary horror. I don’t want to be forced into a genre I’m not entirely 100% all in on (or at least don’t feel like I belong because of a lack of rudimentary knowledge of the field.) Yet, readers and especially other authors want to know “what do you write?” Damn good stories? I mean, that’s how I want to answer.
Lately I’ve come to use the term “Speculative Fiction Author” to describe what I write. It’s a term not without its drawbacks and controversy, though for the most part, it encompasses all that I enjoy writing. It allows me the freedom to flow between genres without feeling stuck or unable to try something else. It’s like when King wrote the Dark Tower books. He’s known as one of the most popular horror authors ever, yet he wrote a fantasy series. Of course, it sold because his name is on the cover, but in my case, I have a long way to go to establish my name. If I call myself a “Speculative Fiction Author,” readers generally understand I genre-hop and can pick and choose what stories of mine to read.
If I take a big step back, this entire discussion about genre really is all about marketing anyway. When bookstores sell books, they need to know where to put books to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for. When Amazon categorizes books, they get down to fine detail about the genre. It all goes back to marketing: How do we sell this book? Who is the market for this one? Have a monster in it? Good, call it horror. Is the protagonist a seventeen year-old girl? Call it young adult. It makes it easier for readers to discern what to buy and not buy. I get it.
The more I can figure out who I am as a writer, the easier it’ll be for me to market myself. If I claim “Speculative Fiction Author” as my title, then I’m open to marketing myself in all three of the genres I enjoy depending on the books I’m writing at the time. It’s not that I’m chasing the latest trends, but writing stories I enjoy and hope others will too. I don’t even know what the latest trends are! Reverse harem? Who knows!
I hope to figure this out soon. I’d like to sell a few books and begin making a profit off my work. I haven’t yet, however I have earned a few new readers in the process.