I never set out to write sci-fi/fantasy. I wouldn’t have thought of myself a particular fan of it and even now I’m nowhere near as voracious a reader of it as my 13yo. Nothing makes my eyes cross in confused boredom quicker than a book which starts with a random star-date and a place I’ve never heard of.
Genre is a massive debate within the writing community (here‘s a long but very interesting conversation about it between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro). In an ideal world writers shouldn’t even be thinking about what genre they’re writing, but just getting on with writing the story and leaving it up to publishers and booksellers to categorise it.
Genre is a difficult issue. On one hand it can provide a useful general indication about the book. But on the other hand – and this is the one that most concerns me – it can be off-putting.
“The Space Between” – my finished story, soon to begin a new round of agent submissions – falls under the gargantuan umbrella of sci-fi/fantasy.
Well, I say gargantuan but sci-fi/fantasy is a very niche category according to an agent I spoke to recently who actually specialises in sci-fi/fantasy. I was gobsmacked. Someone needs to tell that to Waterstones, who appear to be giving it way more space in its shops than it deserves.
Anyway…I’ve found that when I tell people my story is sci-fi/fantasy I instantly see a number of them glaze over. No, no, I want to scream while shaking them. Give it a chance, you might like it! In fact, if I had a pound for the number of times someone’s read bits of it and said “I don’t usually like sci-fi, but I liked this” then I’d have at least £10. Perhaps even £20!
I had hoped that the huge success of the amazing “The Martian” (book and film) last year – not to mention Interstellar, the new Star Wars trilogy and Tim Peake’s stay on the International Space Station – would have stimulated people’s passion for space fiction (the sub-genre I most readily connect my writing with). However, at a conference recently, it was mentioned that supermarkets (one of the key places people buy books) weren’t keen to touch “The Martian” until it was sold to them as a “thriller set in space”.
It makes me want to cry that someone might miss out on a great book just because they let the category it’s filed under put them off.
Plus even if you think you don’t like sci-fi/fantasy then you probably actually do! SO many things fall into that category that you’re sure to have loved something from within it. This fantastic blog post from The Writers’ Greenhouse nails the whole debate beautifully! I dare you to do a quick read through it and tell me you haven’t enjoyed at least one of the books whose thumbnails are included there.
So what should I do? Stick with the Sci-fi/Fantasy tag? Go out on a limb with Space Fiction or Space Opera? Or always just summarise “The Space Between” as a love story and quest set amidst a cosmic battle?