Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Making Up A Genre Doesn't Make Your Story Unique

I have hinted at this before, but I think this twist is also something worth mentioning.

Too often, I have met with writers who tell me, "my story is a contemporary paranormal romantic suspense." Now, I am not using just this group. There are any number of combinations that we have seen in pitches. Apparently, many writers are, in an effort to make their stories stand out, trying to blend stories. Some have even gone so far as to try and create a new term of "genre blending" to identify situations like this.

The problem with doing this is two-fold. First, this makes understanding your story relatively difficult. There is a feel that the story is really going in multiple directions and makes it sound like there is a lack of focus. While the story might not be doing that and you are just trying to highlight key elements, the story still ends up sounding disjointed.

Secondly, stories like this make it difficult for agents to market. We target certain publishers knowing what they like and don't like. If we can't target a publisher, we really run into huge problems.

The reality of your story is that it is likely only one genre. For example, there has been a rise in historical romances with romantic suspense storylines. No, this is not a historical romantic suspense. It is likely a historical. The plot can have suspenseful elements, but the story is a historical.

Your job as a writer is to pin down what you have decided your story has for a central focus. Is it the paranormal, is it the romance. Once you have identificed that focus, you now have your genre.



  1. In regards to romance, paranormal or otherwise, I have heard it said that, even in series, in order for it to be categorized as a romance there has to be a HEA after every book. Is that true? Does it stop being a romance if there is no HEA? Just wondering.


  2. Laila,

    The simple answer is yes, we need a HEA. Think of it this way. If we study architecture, art, music and so forth, and call something we are looking at a particular genre, it has to meet certain criteria. Without it, the item falls out of that genre. IMHO, no happily ever after moves it out of the romance genre. Then we start looking at fiction or women's fiction, depending on the focus of the story.

  3. While I don't disagree with your point, I do think it's a bit cart-before-horse-ish. I understand from an agent perspective that "what is it" and "how do I sell it" absolutely are the first questions. The problem is not every writer sits down asking those questions until they're done writing their novel.

    I have a novel out called Immortal that's doing just fine, sales-wise (for a new novel with a small-market new publisher, without a formal distribution deal yet, especially) but whose genre I couldn't-- and can't-- pin down without doing the genres and the book a disservice. It's a contemporary fantasy, except there's no magic and some of it takes place in historical times. It's sci-fi, except despite the absence of magic, there are creatures one might identify with fantasy, such as the occasional vampire, demon and pixie. And so on. I call it contemporary fantasy, but it's both more than that and less than that.

    And worse, to delineate it more clearly-- to add magic, say-- would take away much of what makes the novel work.

    There IS such a thing as cross-genre work, and sometimes books don't fit into a single box. I grant that this doesn't take away from your larger point (don't give it ten genres because you think it's improving your odds) I do think it's important to note such things do exist.

  4. Another agent telling writers what their job is to make their job easier. We want X but not quite X. Let's fit it in a slot so we can sell it. But then you're like everyone else and we can't sell it. I hear the dinosaurs braying in the tar pits.

  5. Scott, I get your point on focus, and I have read books by aspiring writers that they saw as genre-blending that really did lack focus. Some new writers lack the depth they need, so they just add another element, etc, while they are learning to write.

    That to me is a completely different issue than when an experienced writer takes risks, experiments, etc and is told "write down the straight line because it's easier to sell." Luckily, my agent has never told me that. As a category author, I can definitely do that, but creatively, I like to experiment, and go new places.

    I had a paranormal mystery that my agent loved, tried to sell, but editors didn't want it largely because it wasn't a straight line -- it has historical elements, relationship elements, a large series arc that would take several books to complete, etc. But I don't think it lacked focus at all. However, I either heard, as Bob says, that "this is too much like something we already have" or "this is too different." It didn't fit easily into the genre expectations. However, the book is doing very well on Kindle and I plan to write the second one soon.

    Still, "easy" should not be part of this discussion. I am so tired of hearing about what is "easy" to sell. A book is not easy to write, either. IMO, the market needs to look for what writers are doing, what creative trends are (in this case, genre-mixing) and they need to be looking for the best of that, and things that are fresh and different instead of the same old thing.

    Maybe something won't sell easily -- so tell marketing to figure out how to sell it instead of marketing pushing editorial choices -- and then something new and different could sell very well. That's their job, right? The same way mine is to write it.

    And well, unti, that's figured out, thank goodness for epub and self-pub alternatives.