So I was talking to my content editor a while ago, and we had a minor scuffle over genre classifications for exactly WHAT Urban Fantasy is. I thought one of my books fit into the category, and she heartily disagreed.
UF, according to Wiki, is this:
"Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Urban fantasy exists on one side of a spectrum, opposite high fantasy, which is set in an entirely fictitious world. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city."
It certainly matches my reading experience. But readers themselves have different ideas about UF. Some complain when the setting isn't contemporary. A lot, actually. Noire is also an expected element. And, as noted, the city setting is quite important. That seemed a bit off to me, because while the city bit only makes sense, what about steampunk that runs on magic? But no, most readers would not call that an urban fantasy. Where does the line between urban fantasy and cyberpunk stand? That's another tricky question.
The thing is, after I whined and moped a bit, I realised that what I thought wasn't as important as what readers thought. Definitions change and evolve, and while it's impossible to read minds or make everyone happy, not ignoring the blatantly obvious can be quite helpful. I quarrelled and protested, but ultimately, the modern setting rule--especially with paranormal elements--won out over my personal definition and Wiki's. After perusing Reddit and Facebook and surveying people, I found that they tended to fall in line. I took the "urban fantasy" tag out of the book's tag list.
And then I got to thinking...
The thing is, it still bothered me that I was changing the classification of my book away from what *I* thought it was. Between that and contemplating the necessity of trigger and content warnings, I was quite torn about something.
When does the marketing of a book become selling out? Is "selling out" even an applicable argument when it comes to marketing and classification by genre?
It's hard to explain this to authors who are starting out, but it's important not to get too married to your categories--because you'll have to change them anyway. Categories for books are there to serve you, not worship. Does a book have most features of a romance but end tragically? Don't stick it under romance unless you can find a 'dark romance' or 'bittersweet' category; the readers will eat you alive. (Romance readers, in particular, are a special group.) Does your book about a half-angel, half-demon going to high school have a lot of queer themes and involve a diversion into horror territory in a big way? Cool. Give it a try in the horror listings as well as YA and New Adult or Paranormal. The key is to rotate.
No. Put down that "How to Write a Whatever" book. Pick up a new book instead. Read that. Take notes on what you liked, what you didn't like, and what worked, as well was what didn't. When did you find your attention drifting? That's a pacing issue. Kindles have a note-taking function. Use that sucker. It's not about selling out. It's about reaching readers.
Before I'd released The Underlighters as a stand-alone, outside of its place in The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming, I almost ended up launching it as a tidied-up, de-sexed and lower violence YA version. Yes, this really happened. Miss I-Hate-Censorship herself almost caved and censored a book to make it fit people's needs. I even considered the advice one author gave me, to "put a girl with a flaming sword, fighting a Sandman" on the cover.
That might have worked, but readers who came to it would have been annoyed by the unreliable narrator, literary styling and pacing, and all the queer and equality issues that "interfered' with the action story. Ultimately, I'm not an author who writes that kind of fantasy, and misdirecting readers to think that it would conform to those expectations would only have pissed off everyone--the readers, and me. I left The Underlighters as it is, in all its convoluted glory. If I was doing it again, I'd put a more post-apocalyptic cover on it and chop that sucker in half, because I'm better at novellas than writing novels--but that's a discussion for another day.
So, wait, when does "selling out" happen? What does that even mean?
People seem to mistake "success" or change for selling out. I know I've done it. I've seen friends do it. But as long as you're not rewriting your book entirely to serve the market, even doing things you hate in order to sell books, you're okay. Ultimately, only you will know whether you've trespassed on your own integrity.
However, actually trying to sell books, talk to readers, pay for advertising, and read books on categories and niches isn't "selling out". Even now, there are still a lot of indie authors who seem to think that recognition will just happen magically and that art will somehow be self-sustaining, solely on the power of being an awesome, well-written (or well-crafted) piece of work.
I can confirm, first-hand, that it doesn't work like that. However, marketing and genre-classifications don't have to make you feel like you need a shower. The important thing is to focus on serving your vision and your work, and getting it into readers' hands.
Have you ever felt unreasonably upset about doing something for your art? Have you changed something that you later regretted? Did you get upset when a favorite author or artist changed something? I want to know, so tell me in the comments.