Question on Book Genre Marketing

OK… so my third novel will be out soon, on the back of the second. This is the one I was writing until last November, when I put it aside to write Destroyer. There’s about another month’s worth of work to do on it to get it ready.

(There’ll be a bit of a glut of stuff coming out from me over the next few months. I’ve been a full-time writer for nearly a year now, and a lot of the things I’ve worked on are all coming to fruition simultaneously).

But I’m worried it won’t find its audience, because it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. I talked with Paul Magrs about it, and he coined the term techno-cosy for it after I described the basic idea to him.

So I’m going to talk here a bit about the book, The Basilisk Murders, and hope people can give me some pointers as to where its audience might lie, and in particular what other books I might pattern its marketing after.

The idea came to me after reading The Name of the Rose, and it reminding me of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Both of those books use conventional genres (the murder mystery and the fantasy quest epic) as a framework, and do something almost like a Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, or Michael Crichton book in a strange way. Those authors use a thriller framework as an excuse for infodumps which are the *actual* point of the book for many readers — finding out about guns, or art history, or chaos theory. Except that because Stephenson and, especially, Umberto Eco are far better writers than any of those people, they’re not doing infodumps — they’re not talking about *facts*, but about *ideas*.

I wanted to do something like that. Not a “novel of ideas” in the conventional sense, but a pure genre novel that talks about ideas. I was thinking also, a little, of Greg Egan’s first three novels.

Both Anathem and The Name of the Rose are set in monastic communities devoted to ideas, but I wanted to do a book that talked about some of the ideas that the San Francisco-based “rationalist” community has — these very science-fictional ideas about the nature of reality, intelligence, consciousness, and mortality, but which are combined in many of them with an “alt-right” or “neoreactionary” political worldview. A scientific conference would be the perfect place for discussion of that kind of idea, and after reading about a blockchain conference on Richard Branson’s private island, I had a setting of sorts.

The obvious genre for the plot would be the cosy mystery — after all, a bunch of unpleasant people on an island away from everyone else, that’s pretty much the archetypal cosy setting. But I wasn’t going to do And Then There Were None. Rather I realised that in terms of plot events and feel, Nev Fountain’s Geek Tragedy, a short novel about a script editor from an old 80s SF TV series investigating murders at a science fiction convention, would be a good basis for the structure.

(I haven’t actually used Fountain’s structure — the only thing that remains from his book is that many chapters are preceded or ended by an excerpt from the conference’s programme of events. But reading through his book and noting the plot beats down allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do with my own plot).

My main character, the journalist Sarah Turner, has the same writing voice as Rachel Edwards, the journalist character from my first novel, Head of State, and I think of them as being the same character, just in different fictional universes. But that character immediately takes the story away from being a cosy mystery in genre — cosies now have a very, very, tight formula, and that formula doesn’t allow for bisexual polyamorous sweary women as the lead character.

This book isn’t finished yet, but I think it’s going to be one I can be proud of (far more so than Destroyer, which I wrote almost grudgingly because the idea just wouldn’t let me go) — there’s a lot of good bits of writing, and I think it genuinely manages to be an interesting, light, fun whodunnit while dealing with some real ideas.

So I want it to find its audience, but people find books by genre branding, and I don’t know any genre this fits into. The closest I can think of in plot and tone are Fountain’s Mervyn Stone books, but when I went to Amazon to see what other books people who bought them bought, it was all Doctor Who stuff rather than anything else in the same genre. I can imagine people who like Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, or Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers series might also like this, but it’s definitely not an actual science fiction or fantasy novel.

(Stephenson’s the best example, actually, for the way most of his work is not SF, but clearly appeals to the same stuff SF readers look for. “Like Cryptonomicon but only around two hundred pages” would be an apt description for the general feel I’m going for in the writing).

So… given that, can anyone point to other books that they think this sounds a bit like, so I can see what they do in terms of genre positioning, cover, blurb and so on? Any help would be useful.

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7 Responses to Question on Book Genre Marketing

  1. MatGB says:

    Hard to say overall: I do know of authors that have stuff switch genres sometimes, when I first met Jon Grimwood it was in the run up to Effendi being released and his publishers were talking about reprinting the entire Arabesk as Crime not SF when it was finished, he currently has three pen names to cover the crossover stuff he writes.

    It’s my understanding that crime sells better than SF, but that’s not what you’re asking obviously.

    doesn’t allow for bisexual polyamorous sweary women as the lead character.

    I looked up Greenwood’s Miss Fisher books, Amazon lists them as Crime/Mystery and Crime/Thriller, beyond that not really sure.

  2. Wesley says:

    A couple of things come to mind:

    * The “genre novel talking about ideas” approach reminds me of Adam Roberts. His genre is SF rather than mystery but what you describe, with its SF-adjacent ideas, sounds like it would appeal to a similar audience.
    * Nick Mamatas moves back and forth between crime and horror fiction and sometimes includes overt discussion of politics and other ideas, although he’s usually going for “edgy” rather than light and fun.

  3. Zapatero says:

    Maybe call it an uncozy cozy? Then again, I know a couple of writers who essentially market their books as thrillers even though they’re “not quite” thrillers — and readers still appreciate their books. A term like “techno thriller” might not be completely accurate, but it might be the best term to use in order to reach the audience that will most appreciate your book.

  4. davidgerard says:

    You could do what Phil did and market it hard to the rationalists themselves ;-)

    We’re about to have this problem, or Arkady is – I think I know what to do with my blockchain book (there’s at least one FT writer waiting for it avidly and I’ll be actively pursuing the crypto podcasts etc, and Phil’s trick of offering a freebie in exchange for a blog post about it, good or bad), but she’s writing fantasy and needs to work out how to market a self-published book when she’s allergic to all forms of marketing or even putting oneself forward. It’s a tricky one.

  5. Why label your book a cozy mystery, rather than just a mystery? I haven’t researched the subject, but there are probably more fans of mysteries than of cozies, and I would imagine that cozy fans are more likely to look at plain mysteries than vice versa. But I’m from the US; maybe the terms are used differently in the UK.

    As for books similar to what you describe, I feel like I should know a lot of them, but hardly any occur to me. The best I can think of right now is Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. Michael Innes’s mysteries don’t discuss philosophy, but they do have a strong literary and academic flavor, and I can see Innes fans being interested in your book.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      It’s not just a matter of genre labelling, but of things like cover design, blurb, that kind of thing. People tend to form very strong ideas about what kind of book something will be based on that kind of signal, and often don’t even realise that’s what they’re doing.

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