Saturday, July 22, 2006

Publishing World

Genre hopping as a writer, I was told when I got into the biz, is like visiting foreign countries. You have to shift gears when you cross the borders, speak the language fluently, understand the native philosophy, humor and customs, and try not to piss off their police. What one does in the U.S. of Romance one does not do in the People's Republic of SF.

As a rookie I thought this was remarkably stupid. Like the Berlin Wall was. I still do, but I've slammed into enough genre fortifications that I've developed unwilling respect for how thick and immovable the isolationism that built them is.

Every time a book appeals to readers of more than one genre, it kicks a hole in the wall and expands a readership. Sometimes this is deliberate on the part of the author, but generally it's the readers who smuggle the book across the borders. I think the reason for it is simple: the majority of readers may have a favorite genre but are not exclusive to it. People who love books will read anything and everything. I know, I'm that type of reader.

Among the many challenges writers face, shrinking readership is one of the toughest. Genre walls aren't helping; they're adding to the problem. We have viral marketing; what we need now are viral novels.

I some ideas on the writing side, which I'll get into next week, but what element(s) in a story, if any, do you all as readers think makes a novel jump over those genre walls?

22 comments:

  1. I'm not sure if this is the answer you're looking for, but the only time I jump the genre fence is when a) a friend or family member strongly recommended a book to me or b) I really loved the movie. There's enough books within my chosen genre (science fiction/fantasy) that I haven't read and want to that I have never felt the need to actively look outside.

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  2. I think it depends on how much of each genre is included in the book. If you have a book that is 1/2 science fiction, 1/4 romance, and 1/4 mystery, you've got a wall jumped.
    Who decides what percentage is what after the book goes to the readers? The readers. Depending on what their preference in genres is, it could be raved about as any of the three categories. Or so I've noticed.

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  3. Interesting topic. I think it depend son your appetite and it depend son your source. If you are more prone to a WH Smith or Waterstone's you are likely to stay on genre but independants are better at promoting/making visible a larger mix.
    Keep writing
    Will check back
    Cityslicker

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  4. For me, I'm more likely to choose a book in a genre that I don't normally read if it's got elements of a genre I do read. For instance, I normally don't read romance (I'm not prejudiced against it by any means; it's just a personal preference), but I picked up the Darkyn books because they have a lot of urban fantasy elements, and urban fantasy is one of my favorite subgenres. I'll also try out books from a different genre if they look like they have themes that I enjoy reading about. (For example, I don't generally read historical novels, but I might pick up a historical if it looked like it was about oppression and fate, two of my favorite themes.)

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  5. Like you, I read everything. Although there are some things I only read a little of, and others I read a lot of.

    Zoe makes a good point, the 'mix' (a favourite genre mixed in with one you don't read often/normally) would heavily influence enjoyment/choice.

    For me 'character' is probably the number one factor (part A) re choosing a book. Give me an interesting compelling character, then tell the ingrossing/entertaining, emotional 'true' story and I'm there. Voice is the number one factor (part B) that also plays a big part in drawing me in. There have been many books I wanted to like, I could 'see' the authors skill in crafting. The story/characters were interesting. But the voice failed to engage, or worse, held me at a distance.

    I think that's what you were asking. lol. I look forward to reading your upcoming posts this week on writing/craft.

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  6. emotional growth along with the kick ass space opera. The proportions don't matter as much as the impact on the reader.

    MacAvoy helped me over to romance. I'd only read fantasy, SF and mysteries for my mass market diet.

    I could see Evanovich's Plum pushing people who thought they were picking up a mystery towards (away?) from romance or sort of chick-litty humor.

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  7. One of the best examples I could give is the StarDoc series. It's definitely science fiction, but with the romance between Cherijo and Duncan, I think it would appeal to a lot of romance readers. Plus, it's not one that the story of them ends within the confines of one book. Romance readers love a good romance, and almost dread the story ending because they have to say goodbye to the main characters, but not with this series.

    I'll read a thriller or mystery if it involves romance, and I'd love some horror type books that had an underlying romance.

    I tend to stick within the romance, sci fi, and fantasy genres and romance is the one I usually read the most but if somebody puts a sci fi or a fantasy in front of me and mentions it has romantic elements, it jumps straight to the top of my list.

    I think the key to writing cross genre is making sure you appeal to more than one set readership group. If you're writing a romance and want to appeal to paranormal/scifi/horror/suspense readers, make sure the story is going to appeal to these other readers. It can't be all about the romance, otherwise the non romance reader may not be interested.

    Just my two cents~

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  8. Anonymous11:13 AM

    Morgan Hawke has a great article on this topic --

    http://darkerotica.blogspot.com/2006/04/crossing-genres.html

    I think this blending of genres is happening more and more in romance, and I'm loving it.

    Michele

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  9. I read about everything provided it's good, though I have genres I read more than others. It goes like that:

    -Historical Fiction
    -Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery (though I don't go near Jordan or those Shannara books)
    -Historical Fantasy, Alternate History
    -18th - early 20th century Literature (Eliot, Henry James, Balzac, Thomas Mann and such, though there are some writers I don't like much, like Dickens)
    -SciFi
    -Mediaeval literature (chansons de geste, Icelandic sagas etc.)
    -Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
    -Mystery/Thriller, Romance
    -Modern Literature

    Those lower in my list stand a better chance with other elements mixed in (like Tamara Siler Jones' Fantasy Forensics of Peters' Cadfael mysteries) and I rely more on recommendations (found lots of good stuff via blogs of late).

    Some authors, I read for the author no matter what genre (Sheila, except the Inspirationals, though) but in other cases I only read part of their work if they write in multiple genres*. I sometimes like one series of a writer and don't get into another even if it's the same genre (I love Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles and King Hereafter but never finished the Niccolò series). And even Must Buy authors produce books that don't end up on the keeper shelves (I have the complete work of Thomas Mann except Felix Krull).

    * There's one sub-genre I don't like: the mix of Fantasy and This World. I love Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy but never got into the Otherworld books, I read everything by Guy Gavriel Kay except Fionavar Tapestry.

    Can we say, eclectic tastes? :-)

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  10. Ouch, that post really misuses those poor parentheses. ;)

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  11. A storyline that deals with one of my interests will make me hop genres. For instance, The Da Vinci Code dealt with religious conspiracies--something that intrigues me.
    I don't read a lot of fantasy but I love Tamara Siler Jones' books because of the forensic aspects.
    Books that break some of a genre's rules will also catch my eye--the Darkyn vampires don't spend the day in coffins, for example.
    And good writing will get me to read just about anything.

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  12. I'm one of those that will read pretty much anything and everything...

    A couple years back, I was thinking a fantasy/mystery/thriller sort of thing would be good... and wondering why I hadn't seen any, since it seemed a natural combination to me... and then I ran across Ghosts in the Snow. It was one of those "Hey, cool! This is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of" sort of moments."

    I'm sitting here mentally analyzing the types of books I prefer, and I just realized something interesting. I'll read straight mystery, but it's not my preference, and can get on my nerves at times, even when it's good. Same thing for romance. Same thing times about 10 for science fiction--- hard sf, the technical details get in the way of the story for me. And then I started thinking about that "technical details". That's the extreme end--- where the conventions become more important then the story... a lot like too much gushy romance, or too much description of sex, or too non-essential historical details.

    For me, if it gets in the way of the story, it's too much. And that's where the genre conventions go from being ridiculous to a bad thing.

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  13. What makes me jump the fence can be varied. If I find an author I like (and I've enjoyed your Darkyn books very much) then I will try other books by the same author (I've read two of your Jessica Hall and have just finished the first Gena Hale). Also if I find a subject that interests me, I tend to read almost anything I find on that topic (the most recent survey is of paranormal chicklit- vampires, werewolves, and witches-oh my). Or if someone whose opinion I trust recommends a book, I am likely to at least try it, even if it is in a genre I don't normally read. Ann

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  14. I admit that I tend to stick to a certain genre. If I see a story outside that genre but that has elements of it, then I'll pick it up. For instance, MaryJanice Davidson bringing chick-lit and vampire together, or Shirley Damsgaard's "Ophelia and Abby Mystery" with the hint of paranormal.

    For me, the important thing is how believable the characters and the plot are. If I can relate to the characters, then it's all good.

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  15. Anonymous3:10 PM

    An interesting, familiar character makes the crossover easier. When I say "familiar" I don't mean the specific character, but rather the character type. A strong, capable woman, a good man struggling against his past ... that sort of thing.

    I think a good character can jump genres.

    On the other hand, I think we're seeing quite a bit of genre crossover between romance and both paranormal and scifi. There's also some crossover between mystery and romance with the so-called chick lit.

    D

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  16. A backass way to answer your question:
    I like SF/fantasy, romance, thrillers and mystery genres.
    The ones I like best within those genres always have strong elements of the other genres.

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  17. Anonymous5:08 PM

    As a reader, I'll jump genre walls for character, pace, and complexity in a novel. I think the books that are most successful at cross-genre pollination are those which combine the 'best elements' of those genres. Thrillers need pace, fantasy/sf generally needs either strong characters or massive scope (my preference us for the characters), and what romance and mystery need are fairly self-evident. :-)

    I recently read a novel - Point of Honour, by Madeleine E. Robins - that combined mystery, elements of romance, and alternate history, in a style that owes a lot to Austen. It hopped across genres very adroitly, but some books try to genre-hop and end up, unfortunately, landing on toes.

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  18. Wait, wait, wait. You mean there are people out there that read just one genre? o.O I must be out of the loop. I read almost everything. I even almost picked up a western once. I still might. I dig the films. I might like the books.

    If I know one writer writes more than one genre, I might skip to the other genre depending on the story. But it isn't all that hard for me to skip over. I do more to chicklit, romance and fantasy somewhat, but I have SF, mystery, horror and I put in the occasional mainstream on occasion.

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  19. I'll follow a writer that I like.

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  20. Really good question! Here's a guess.

    A crossover needs to keep all the defining elements of each genre, but scrap the ones that make the genre unappealing to other readers. In a sci-fi romance, it should have cool technology (definitive) but not long, academic technical explanations of how it works (prohibitive). It must also include a central romantic plot with happy ending (definitive) but leave out the cheesy, purple accounts of bodice-ripping (prohibitive).

    It seems to me, though, that a lot of genre-crossing just produces new subgenres: urban fantasy, magical realism, space operas, paranormal romances, magical alt-history.

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  21. Lleeo1:15 AM

    I'm going to have to agree with what several others have said defines a good book for them; characters.

    You've also brought up a very interesting topic for readers because we're faced with the fact that fiction (and non-fiction?) is categorically organized and defined by certain elements of its storyline everytime we walk into a bookstore or library.

    In fact, the genre of many books is listed prominently at the top of their spine. While I do appreciate that there is some kind of ryhme or reason to the organization of today's fiction books, and that I can actually navigate my way through a bookstore, the fact that writing across genre lines is like having to cross strict border lines into a completely different country seems ridiculous to me. I find authors that I often read--like Nora Roberts and Linda Howard--whose roots would be considered traditional romance, with their books spread across at least three different genre sections in bookstores.

    I discovered from an early age that romance, paired with engaging and memorable characters all combined in a story that never failed to make its characters shine. I've tended to stay primarily within the romance genre because along with a good story, I want an emphasis on romance and real character interaction, and I'm mostly guaranteed to get that in the romance genre.

    But the truth is, I'm finding a definite lack of variety in the romance genre, and I have not been afraid to actively seek out more of the variety that I want in other genres. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect character-driven stories with a bit of an emphasis on romance in every genre, paired with any type of story there is to tell.

    I also agree with other commenters that you don't have to strictly adhere with all of the elements that generally make up the formula of a novel written in a particular genre. For example, male writers are just as capable of writing a good romantic story as women writers. Young adult fiction is very capable of producing riveting romantic plotlines, and even romance readers with reservations about "elderly characters" will find little to complain about if your romantic heroes are just as fun and engaging as your storyline.

    As wonderful as it is to see so many different varieties of sub-genres popping up (I heard urban fantasy mentioned above), I'm afraid even these sub-genres will begin to erect their own immovable border walls. As liberating as it is to see more African-American romance novels, I find a disturbing wall trend happening there too. It's kind of like romance writers are drawing a line and saying: "Okay, so since I'm a Caucasian romance author, I'm going to write primarily about Caucasian characters. Since you're an African-American romance author, you get to write primarily about African-American characters."

    I mean, I know it's important as a writer to write about things that are of particular and personal interest to you, as well as certain elements that you can personally relate to, to make your characters and story more believable, but things don't have to be so black and white in the world of fiction (pun intended). Too many rigid formulas and guidelines that try to define exactly what a particular genre or subgenre is leaves a decreasing amount of variety and creativity to be used by other authors.

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  22. This is a problem I'm struggling with right now. My book KISS HER GOODBYE is, without a doubt, a crime thriller, but it has a definite twist that sends it into another genre. My editor has told me he's never read anything like it. That, I've come to realize is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it's something different and a curse in that finding a way to market it may be difficult.

    When I wrote it, I wasn't even thinking about genres. I was just writing a story I wanted to tell, with characters I enjoyed hanging with. Coming from Hollyweird, I knew nothing about publishing and marketing books, etc., so I didn't know it was WRONG to cross genres. My agent told me that it would be a tough sell because of the cross, but then it sold very quickly, so I have no idea what that means.

    As a reader, I simply like good books. I lean toward mysteries and thrillers, but I won't hesitate to pick up a great SF or romance or mainstream novel, if the storyline and the writing call out to me. I realize that publishers and booksellers need to categorize in order to sell books, but I usually ignore the boxes and just go for whatever appeals at the time.

    The deeper I get into this business, the tougher it seems. But not in a bad way. I'm enjoying the hell out of myself.

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