Name your favorite brand of cola.
Was that easy? Now, name your tenth favorite brand?
If you are like most people, you can just remember 3 or 4 brands in most categories of products. Similarly when it comes to your book, most readers can accommodate just a few books in each of their preferred genres.
You might counter this point by saying that you can recall more than 10 books in your favorite genre. That’s where the beauty of sub-genres comes in. Each of those ten authors that you are able to recall have created their own little niche in your head. For example, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Harry Potter are all aimed at the same readership but each of them occupy a slightly different part of the readers mind and so stake a claim to being memorable.
This idea of figuring out a way to be different and occupy a place in the mind of your audience is what marketers refer to as positioning. The concept was originally popularized by best-selling business authors – Jack Trout and Al Ries in their book – ‘Positioning – the Battle for Your Mind’. The slide presentation below gives you a brief summary of the book:
One of the ways that writers come up with a positioning for their books is by taking a known popular concept and combining it with another popular meme. Here’s a true story… executives at Hollywood’s big movie studios typically get hundreds of movie ideas pitched to them. A couple of people wanted to get the attention of one of these studio executives. So they pitched their story as “Jaws in Space.” The movie – Aliens – went on to become a blockbuster and win many awards.
As a writer, this idea may be familiar to you as a ‘sub-genre.’ Science fiction splits into hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi and a dozen other sub-categories. And each of these further sub-divide – speculative fiction becomes punk which breaks up into Cyberpunk and Steampunk which further speciate into Clockpunk, Dieselpunk and Atompunk!
Obviously, it’s very hard to create a new genre and you may need a dose of inspiration, an ounce of luck and a ton of hard work before you can do so. In the meanwhile, at least attempt to stretch the boundaries of your genre. As this Wikipedia article says, “The genre continued to expand in the mid-to-late 1980s, as publishers realized that the more popular authors were often those who stretched the boundaries of the genre. A 1984 novel by LaVyrle Spencer featured an overweight, middle-aged hero who had to make drastic changes to his lifestyle to win the heroine, while a 1987 Dailey novel involved an ugly hero and a heroine who was searching for her birth mother.”
Now for a fun exercise. Check out this neat literature map to find out the position of leading authors in your genre to figure out where you may fit in the overall scheme of things.
Seth Godin describes this concept of creating a category in another way: “The quantum nature of remarkability is simple: stuff succeeds today because it’s worth talking about. Things are generally worth talking about because they’re new and interesting–and once something is talked about, it is neither new nor interesting any longer.”
Even if your book is already published, it makes sense to think about your positioning and about what makes you different. As your writing career evolves, you can work at accentuating your differentiation in your future books.