Sledge-Lit: Break it Down – The Value of Sub-genre in SF and Fantasy

Sponsored by Verse Publishing

Chair: Steven Poore, Epic Fantasist author

Guest speakers: Susan Boulton, Gaslight Fantasy author; Rod Duncan, Gaslight Fantasy and Crime author; Julia Knight, Adventure Fantasy author; Gavin Smith, Space Opera author

Break it Down was a discussion about the relevance of the sub-genre within science fiction and fantasy, whether it is helpful or a hindrance, and whether sub-genres benefit the reader or the author.

Chair, Steven Poore, began the conversation by asking where these relatively new fantasy sub-genres have come from. Why and how did they come into being?

Generally the authors agreed that, as Julia Knight put it, sub-genres had come about to help the reader, “find exactly what they are looking for within a broadening genre”. Fantasy is now recognised as having greater breadth than just the Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones style of High Fantasy, so publishers have had to adapt with their marketing.

But can this cause problems for the fantasy author?

Susan Boulton commented that this type of, “pigeon holing can restrain authors”. The more specific and specialist sub-genres become, the less scope there is for authors to be creative. She spoke about her early draw to the fantasy genre, “The original appeal for me was that fantasy was different, it was rebellious and unexpected. Now it feels more mainstream, the reader wants defined edges.”

Rod Duncan concurred that readers are becoming too concerned with defining sub-genres. When talking about Steam Punk he said, “People are trying to define it, and get fixated on the definition, which is not good for genre, to get that constrained.” This would mean that the readers, and not just publishers, are constraining authors with their expectations om sub-genres.

However, not everyone felt this to be the case, with Gavin Smith saying if he were writing a space opera,”I don’t feel I can’t add elements of horror if I want to”. Despite this he did express the view that, “Communication with your audience about what genre you are writing, and when is important, so they know what to expect.”

Julia Knight disclosed that she writes under two different names depending on genre. For her, this means she has great freedom to write what she likes, but it is also evidence of limits enforced by publishers, who, for marketing reasons, don’t like authors to cross genres. Something Gavin Smith claims he would be reluctant to do. “I would resist changing my name as an author just to write another sub-genre.” He also expressed his intention of writing in another sub-genre in the near future.

So is there any sub-genre the authors really don’t like to be associated with?

Well, Rod Duncan doesn’t much like his writing to be categorised as Steam Punk, though not because he has anything against it, “My books are often labelled Steam Punk, but I get complaints that it isn’t Steam Punk, but Gas Lit.” He went on to say that, “A lot of things are labelled Steam Punk because it is a trend.” Suggesting that publishers are trying to sell books as Steam Punk wherever possible, purely because of its popularity as a genre.

As you may or may not know, the online world of Amazon has its own special way of applying sub-genres, so how does this pigeon holing effect authors?

As Julia Knight explained, on Amazon “Readers file a book in the genres they think it fits into”, normally several genres for one book. This means her books often end up appearing under a sub-genre, which in her view has nothing to do with what she has written.

Susan Boulton admitted to getting “addicted to the different rankings” Amazon gives you in different sub-genres. The system means that your book can be doing well in more than one genre at a time, which can get an author hooked to their computer screen, to monitor their progress.

Overall the opinion seemed to be that sub-genres are useful to help readers find what they want to read. Although there might be some issues over constraint, the authors expressed that they never sit down to write thinking, “I’m going to write a Space Opera today”, or any other sub-genre. They write the story they want to, and the genre is decided later when the book is being published.

Before I finish, I feel I should mention a moment in the discussion you may find amusing. I can’t remember exactly how we got onto the subject, but I hope it is enough to say, it ended, as this blog will, with…

“50 Shades of Gandalf the Grey”



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