A recent review on Amazon called my debut novel, Who Is Mr. Plutin?, Kafkaesque. Naturally I was thrilled to have my book compared to a world literature classic. Then I looked up my Amazon ranking, and also the ranking of various editions of Kafka’s works. My book’s Amazon numbers were nowhere near Kafka’s; I didn’t expect them to be, of course. But it made me think that, though a metamorphosis worked wonders for my book’s main character, Vika, it did nothing for my sales.
In the book, Vika wakes up transformed—much like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa. Without giving away details and spoiling it for the reader, I’ll just say that the success of her mission depends on how she navigates this new state. She doesn’t become a bug as a result of her transformation—in fact, she stays completely human—but everything has changed. Her thinking is different, her decisions surprise friends and family, and her questions make people around her wonder aloud if she’s fallen off the moon. Even her style has changed: her closet is now full of clothes that seem much different from those she usually wears.
The novel mirrors the predicament of its protagonist. Who Is Mr. Plutin? has a foothold in several genres, morphing from one to another, sometimes even within the span of a page, which created an enormous marketing conundrum.
Until the release of Who Is Mr. Plutin?, my publisher, Curiosity Quills, specialized in genres that are as far from my novel as Kafka’s Amazon rankings are from mine. Its list was populated with fantasy of all kinds: paranormal and supernatural, horror and science fiction, and mysteries that traverse time and space; its covers were for the most part dark and surrealistic; and its marketing strategy was clear, especially when it came to genre stratification.
I sent Curiosity Quills my manuscript at a time when it was developing plans for a new imprint: Curiosity Thrills was supposed to introduce romance and contemporary fiction to the publisher’s roster of speculative titles. After a few false starts with my cover, we settled on one that transmitted the mood of the novel.
In June 2015, Who Is Mr. Plutin? hit the shelves—under two primary categories selected by my publisher: Mystery/Crime and Romance. I began to visit my book’s Amazon page on a daily basis. Amazon soon caught on and began sending me marketing emails. “If you are interested in Who Is Mr. Plutin?,” they read, “we thought you might be interested in the following titles.” What followed were books in the Mystery/Crime and Romance categories.
The covers of the recommended books were either very dark or very romantic, and they didn’t look like the cover of my novel, which to me meant that people interested in those two genres wouldn’t buy my book, and, if they did, they’d be very disappointed.
Who Is Mr. Plutin? contains some mystery, but the kind that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It contains romance too, but very little of it. Overall the novel can probably be classed as a spy-fi: a Bridget (Jones) Identity, a Sex and the KGB, a Spy and the City, a Sophie Kinsella in Gary Shteyngart’s Russia, and all of the above at the same time. It’s a light, fun read with a bit of Austin Powers–type espionage and some social satire. Who Is Mr. Plutin? spans many genres and doesn’t fit completely in any one of them.
While I was writing this piece, another reviewer compared my novel to Kafka. The Metamorphosis ends with Samsa dying and his family relieved that he is gone. While the end of my own heroine’s journey couldn’t be more different, I admit that I am concerned about the fate of Who Is Mr. Plutin? I don’t want the book itself to suffer Samsa’s fate.
My book’s genre-morphing nature makes it a colossal marketing challenge—especially when it comes to categorizing it on Amazon and targeting the right audience. But a challenge can be a good thing, right? I certainly hope so.
Rebecca Strong is the pseudonym of a writer and artist living in Madrid. Her debut novel, Who Is Mr. Plutin?, was published by Curiosity Quills Press in June 2015.