Will self-publishing kill the fiction genre?


So, there’s this gold rush of self-publishing going on. Lots of writers are excited about the chance to make a living, and I’m one of them.

But it’s not all about the money. Lately I’ve started to wonder about how much this publishing revolution is going to change what we write. At the tip of the iceberg is the concept of the fiction genre. If there’s no bookstore, no physical shelf, no corporation – what kind of work are individuals going to create? It’s still early, and most of us are still dancing around within the old categories: romance, mystery, fantasy, sci fi, thriller, horror.

Like most restaurants, we pick one and hope we get an automatic customer who knows what to expect from a taqueria, a pizzeria, a deli, or Chinese take-out. The really popular places that excite people and have us lining out the door, though, do something new. “Fusion” is still a hot idea here in California – we’ve got an Indian burrito place and a Thai bistro right in my little town.

I expect to see more writers, like modern chefs, throwing out the categories and inventing their own. Already there are writers turning to digital self-publishing for the work they’ve already written that doesn’t fit any classification. I see threads on writing forums like Kindleboards with authors struggling to define their time-travel horror romance, their YA fantasy mystery, or their romantic erotic comedy (like my novella Quick Study). It’s a challenge to market, even online, so most of us are in the habit of choosing a genre to get an audience.

Maybe this is a mistake. Maybe the really good stuff, the great stuff, is going to be the most undefinable. I don’t mean like the stories that might come out of an MFA program – that too is a genre. I mean the really wild ideas that wouldn’t fit in any of the slots we currently have. Maybe it will be multimedia, maybe it will be the length of text, serial stories for a cell phone, or a choose-your-own adventure mashup. I don’t know. Just wondering and imagining.