GENRE & ME: MIKE MCCRAY DISCUSSES HIS PLACE IN THE MARKET PLACE
Hi. My name is Mike.
I write thrillers.
Whatever the hell that means. A story’s genre is basically something, a term someone created way back whenever to tell everyone where that story belongs. Books stores need to know the proper place in the store to put it. Readers need to know where to find what they want.
It’s a nice, simple agreement between the writer and the world.
That writer agrees to write something, and the rest of the world will be given some idea of what that something is before that world devotes time and money to that thing. It works most of the time, and the world keeps moving.
Of course, like everything, it’s more complicated than that.
Genre means a lot in today’s book biz, but at the same time, it means very little. When you start writing, you’ll hear advice from lots of people. That advice will fire at you from every direction imaginable. Fellow writers. Agents. Publishers. Friends. Trolls on the internet. Folks writing blog posts. Some of it good. Some horrible. Some well-meaning and kind, but still shit advice. One thing I’ve heard recently is that a new author needs to pick a lane and stay in it. Meaning they need to find a genre and stick with it. No matter what.
Deviate from that path and risk a slow but certain author death.
Not sure it’s all that dramatic, but I am sorry to say I’ve seen some truth to this. Writers that choose to write a type of story that they enjoy, one that they write well, and one that has a wide audience, well, those folks typically do better than an author that jumps from genre to genre like a 20-something hops from a bad relationship to a worse relationship.
Nothing wrong with any of that. Been through all of it, but if you’re a writer that wants to do many different types of stories, it can be a problem for readers to know what to do with you. As I said before, most folks like to at least have an idea of what they’re getting before spending their precious resources on your words. And I’ve heard that time and money are two of the most precious ones out there.
Of course, readers will say they want something fresh and new. They are tired of the same thing over and over, but it seems that what they really mean is they want something that’s familiar but juuuust different enough to be interesting. Nothing wrong with it. I’m guilty too. And to be clear, not every reader falls into that description, but if you look across the vast ocean of books, movies, streaming shows, and so on, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that familiar is consistently consumed more than fresh, new, and unknown.
Now, you can come up with examples of successful authors that have written across several genres—Stephen King comes to mind. Hell, JK Rowling writes mysteries under another pen name—so there’s no reason a writer can’t do other things, but I think the rationale is that it’s much easier for publishers, readers, and yes, algorithms to know what to do with you if you find that lane stay in it the best you can.
So, as I said, I write Thrillers.
That’s a bit of a cheat in the genre game because Thrillers can mean a lot of things. I’ve written Action Thrillers, Psychological Thrillers, Suspense, Crime, Noir, and even a Techno-Thriller series set in the near future. My first books were pure pulpy, noir goodness. Those, of course, had a heavy dose of crime to them as well. Then I started writing more psychologically twisting stories. Some with more of a Suspense / Thriller feel. As time has gone on, I’ve morphed my stuff into a mix master of all these tasty delights. In my mind, the stories I write have taken bits and pieces of all the wonderful, pulse-pounding things that fall under the massive umbrella called Thrillers. I mean, take a look at some of the category strings on Amazon for one of my books:
Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Suspense Thrillers
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Pulp Thrillers Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Action Fiction > Action Thriller Fiction
That’s only four of the genre categories for my new book, TABLE 13. To be clear, that’s one book, and all of those are completely valid. I can’t argue with any of it.
It’s taken years—more than I care to mention—for me to find that much-discussed lane to roll within. It’s a wide, winding superhighway that has some steep, steep uphill climbs and some screaming free-falling downs, but I’ve found it, and this lane, for better or worse, is mine.
The ride can get rough, but I’ll keep rolling as long as I’m having a good time and folk are having fun reading all my crazy shit. If those things come to an end, then what’s the point of the ride anyway.
So, my well-meaning and kind but still shit advice?
Do what you want. What the hell do I know? The rules aren’t rules, and they are fuzzy at best. Writers write, and readers read. They’ve found each other for centuries.
Not that complicated, is it?
Mike McCarry will be one of our readers at our Austin Noir At The Bar, April 21st, 7PM, at Vintage Bookstore and wine bar.