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?