Not everyone likes to read the same types of books. Some like romance, some like mystery, and some are open to the blending of both. However, if a book is more than one genre, what will make it successful and what will make it fail?
The ice-cream analogy
Let’s say that mystery, horror, fantasy, and romance are all ice-cream flavors. In different combinations, these genres can blend well together, like the way chocolate, caramel, and vanilla complement one another. Combined, each new flavor highlights something unique and different to the base-flavor. But there’s a point when too much is just that–too much.
Once, at a casino buffet, I watched a woman put savory selections like pasta and crab cakes on her plate. She then proceeded to pour soft-serve all over her food, then she walked away. Yes, I stared at her activities with an open mouth. No, I couldn’t bring myself to see if she actually ate her strange concoction. My point is this, people like different things.
Many people will say that they are loyal to one genre or one flavor. Some of these people, and this number is increasing rapidly, will dabble in blended fiction. Yet, to the contrary, most people do not enjoy mixing all the flavors together–a la strange casino lady.
Why only one flavor for so long?
For years, books needed to be shelved in their respective genre sections. That way, the mystery people could swoop in and buy their latest tomes and the romance peeps could do the same and never would the twain meet.
But everything is different now. People don’t buy books solely in bookstores any longer. Cross-over or blended genres have transcended their shelves, rising the NYT best-seller lists without the stamp of being just-romance.
Diana Gabaldon ran into the just-romance wall when she first sought to publish her first Outlander book:
… the publisher asked [Gabaldon’s editor], “Well, now what kind of book is it? We have to think about marketing.” And [the editor]stared at it and said, “Well, I really couldn’t tell you. There’s a wonderful love story …” And they’re like, “Oh! That’s romance. Bosoms. Fabio.” And she said, “Oh no, it’s also got time travel and it’s a historical novel …” The historical aspect is accurate, but you don’t want to market it like a Ken Follett novel.
How does one genre-blend successfully?
Good story-telling and excellent writing craft will get you pretty far in this world, but you do need some guidelines.
- Don’t overwhelm people with too many genre choices just for the shock value of putting soft-serve on a crab cake. I mean, you can do it, but are the masses going to read it?
- Like the ice-cream analogy, have a base flavor, then add to it. Paranormal Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Supernatural Romance. The base is the second word in each of the previous sub-genre examples. If you’re writing Paranormal Mystery, make sure the actual mystery is the star of the show, not the ghost.
- Know that there’s nothing wrong with one flavor. If your book has undertones of other genres but is primarily a romance, market it in romance and call it a day.
Charlaine Harris, a well-known, highly-successful genre-blender, had some good advice about committing to a blend in this article:
There are several different ways to approach blending any two genres, but in the case of blending fantasy and mystery, I think the best tactic is full frontal fantasy. Don’t over-explain, don’t apologize, don’t backtrack. Go for it! If you have to blend in some background (“Ghouls had been known to eat the dead, but mostly they preferred the living”), fine and good; but never sound tentative. If you treat the supernatural as natural, so will the reader.
In the end, quality matters
You will need to pick a genre and stick with it once your book is finalized. If you plan on successfully marketing the book, you should know your audience to ensure your novel ends up in the hands of those who will appreciate it. Have some blending going on? Make sure the quality of your story transcends the tedium of choosing a genre, otherwise, why write at all?