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Friday, September 23, 2011

MULTIPLE GENRES—DO READERS TRULY KNOW OR CARE?


I’m an avid reader. Always have been. I love books that make my heart go thump-thump-thump. I treasure books that make me laugh. Any author who teases me with an intricate puzzle has a reader for life.

Okay, so what does that mean in terms of genres? My bookshelves are packed with romantic suspense and romantic comedies, mysteries and thrillers, adventures and absurdist humor (guess that’s how I’d classify Carl Hiaasen’s hilarious romps). Now throw in titles from a smorgasbord of Westerns, fantasy, paranormals (especially with ample doses of humor), memoirs and erotic romance.

Funny how I never identified myself as a multiple genre reader until I started writing. I simply knew I enjoyed great stories, captivating characters, good books. So this whole genre compartmentalization puzzles me. The elements that make a novel a standout don’t really differ across genres. I also must admit that while folks have explained to me the nuanced differences between thriller, suspense and mystery, I remain hard pressed to decide which label fits a book—even when I’m looking at my own manuscripts. Who cares?

When I began knocking on agent doors, I learned the industry pros cared. They wanted to know where to pigeonhole my book. Where would it be shelved? How would it be marketed? How did I plan to “brand” myself?

I THINK I write mystery/suspense/thriller and romantic suspense manuscripts. All my manuscripts include strong romantic elements—as they say in contest land. All feature mysteries and suspense. All have what I consider thriller encounters. When prompted to come up with a branding tagline, I chose “Chasing down killers, locking up love.”

But my mind isn’t disciplined enough to devise plots that fit neatly into a single genre or subgenre category. DEAR KILLER, the first book in a mystery/suspense/thriller series, features a 52-year-old heroine. So I guess this classifies the series as “hen lit” with strong romantic elements, too.

While I know my genre identity crisis may make my books tougher to market, I don’t think crossing or blending genres is the deal breaker it used to be. Today, authors have much more freedom to escape genre handcuffs. If one publisher only wants their romance titles, they can offer mysteries to another publishing house. Growing numbers of small traditional presses and digital-only publishers multiply options. Of course, the indie route is another possibility.

What’s more, if a multi-genre author chooses to use a single pen name, fans can check online and find all the novels by that individual in seconds. I’m convinced these publishing world changes are helping to blur genre distinctions and encourage more authors to concentrate on telling great stories regardless of where the storylines take them. That’s certainly true of my terrific critique partners, who seem to take me on a visit to a different genre territory every month. And I love it.

My hope is there are many more readers out there, who—like me—care more about the fabric of a story than where it hangs on the rack.

Do you agree that genre definitions and rules are becoming less important?

15 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Linda,

You've brought up something that involves me as well. My Kim Reynolds mystery series has been referred to as "romantic suspense" and "romantic mystery."
I also dislike being pidgeon-holed. Hopefully, I write a good novel that readers enjoy. That's all that matters.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH

Linda Lovely said...

Good to know others feel they're in the same rocking boat.

Donnell said...

Linda, not only do I think publishing marketing departments have limited their scope of putting great books out there, I think they've done readers a disservice. There are a lot of top-notch books that cross genres. How many authors are rejected because they simply didn't know where the book fell. (Raising hand here ;) Funny, but I've always been invited back to submit anything else I have...

Great post.

Ellis Vidler said...

I'm a cross-genre writer too. I don't fit with the current romantic suspense style or the suspense genre. I'm delighted with the freedom small presses and indie publishing offer. As a reader, I'm especially pleased to find something with a little difference. A good story and good characters are much more important than being a good fit with current marketing slots. Good post, Linda.

Sarah Raplee said...

Great post, Linda! I feel your marketing pain. This is an area where art collides with the cold hard truth of book sales.

I agree that with today's many publishing opportunities, authors have a lot more leeway to cross genres. Good thing, because I love to read and to write books that are a little different.

Tam Linsey said...

I love the line "The elements that make a novel a standout don’t really differ across genres." Bullseye!

Betty Gordon said...

Linda, a thought provoking blog. A writer has so much more freedom these days and rightfully so. It's difficult to tell a good story in genre handcuffs. So, cross the lines and create a good story.

Loretta said...

Linda,
I really enjoyed your blog:)...and I whole-heartedly agree. Times are changing, and with it has come freedom, on so many levels. I've written a couple of indie short stories this year (some the rights have been returned) and both are different. One is a YA paranormal, the other, a paranormal thriller, with the second part in the series releasing soon. I tend to move around a bit more in what I want to write...and that, to me, keeps my mind stimulated. I also agree with your thought that the reader wants a good story and may drift from genre to genre to find books to add to their shelves or their e-readers:)
Great post,gal!:)
Lo

Robin Weaver said...

Hi Linda,
As always, great post. I think the definitions are important to the publishers, editors, and agents trying to place a book. As a reader, I only care about a good story.

Linda Lovely said...

I've really enjoyed reading everyone's comments. Now if we could only come up with a marketing solution. Maybe something along the lines of the film industry codes? Contains (check what applies) romance,thriller,suspense, mystery,paranormal, sci fi, sex (PG through X), inspirational, etc. For DEAR KILLER, I'd check romance, suspense, mystery, thriller, and R-rated sex, or R,S,M,T,Sx/R...

Susan M. Boyer said...

Linda, sorry I'm late to the party, but we've been in the car all day.

I totally agree industry pros care far more about which genre your manuscript fits neatly into than does a reader.

I think ebooks, small presses, and (perhaps most importantly) online retailers who allow you to easily find the author you're looking for without worrying about what shelf her books are on are rapidly changing all of that.

My bookcases are like yours--filled with many genres. And I didn't give genre a second thought until I had to write my first query letter.

Kaye George said...

Good topic and I agree, totally. Maybe we should just make up a new genre for ourselves. But we might have to make up a new one for every project. I used to think it was an agent's job to decide how to sell a book, but we're supposed to know how before we start the process! Then, of course, we have to sell it. :)

Judith Ashley said...

Linda, I love the idea of coding a book! That would solve lots of things from my perspective. It would make it easier for debut and newer authors to be found if a reader is looking for Authors/Titles with certain elements or genres.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks for the yes vote, Judith. While I initially was (sort of) kidding, I may approach my publisher about doing something along these lines--at least on the L&L Dreamspell site. I also may try selling the coding concept (if I can come up with a rational list) to Romance Chapters that list books by their published authors.

Judith Ashley said...

I think that's a great idea! It may be something the RTG authors would be willing to try out, too. Although I know you have other resources :)

Keep us posted!