Blogger: Rachel Kent
Location: Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference, Philadelphia, PA
When a writer creates a book that’s outside the boundaries established for a genre, the book can lose its place in the market. But this can be a successful technique in a few, rare cases.
One instance that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This book isn’t a true Jane Austen-style story, and it isn’t horror, but because of the book’s tongue-in-cheek humor, it has sold well. The books that cross genres and do well typically need to have a little something extra to help reach the right audience. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it was the humor and the Jane Austen connection.
When we review submissions at Books & Such, we see books that are well-written–great reads–that, unfortunately, we must pass on because they’re not in a defined genre and don’t speak to a specific audience. One project I remember is a story about a woman whose sister became a cloistered nun, and the two end up switching places by the end of the book. The sister who was the nun in the first place commits suicide once she’s out in the world.
The story was beautiful, the writing was exquisite, and the themes were heart-rending and thought-provoking. The problem was that it didn’t fit anywhere. How was it to find its audience? It wasn’t a book for the Christian market or the general market because of the strong Catholic themes. Nor did it fit in the Catholic market because of the suicide and the way it explored faith and nuns’ lives. This author had written a beautiful story, but the risk associated with publishing it was huge because it’s audience wasn’t clear.
Now, if this writer were a New York Times best-selling author, the risk would be reduced significantly because of the built-in audience–though you run the risk of losing some of your audience if you change your style and genre. So the goal is to write a book different enough to offer something to the market without being SO different it ruins your chances of connecting with an audience.
Have you ever read or written a book that broke the genre rules? Did it work? If you need a little help, think The Shack. 🙂 That book has an amazing publication story.
The genre rules for romance have ruined a lot of it for me in CBA.
I admire Travis Thrasher because he breaks all the rules, has a unique voice whether or not he writes bona fide romance or horror. He writes outside the tight lines and still gets published in CBA. We need more who will allow writers to break the genre rules, marketing teams who know how to market anything, and publishers who will take a chance on readers. Right now they only publish for a segment of the available audience.
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson is a love story not a romance and is written like a memoir. It’s a profound and meaningful novel.
June Bug by Chris Fabry is written primarily from a young girl’s POV and tells of her travels in an old RV while discovering who she really is. Touching, heartbreaking, redeeming story.
James Andrew Wilson
Dean Koontz is constantly breaking the stereotypes of genre. He is a master at weaving so many different elements together while doing justice to all of them.
One of his books, Relentless, is both hilarious and terrifying, heartwarming and weird–it is a comedy/thriller with a slice of sci-fi thrown in. It’s told from the first-person perspective of a successful author, and has a supporting cast that is diverse, quirky, and wonderful all at once.
The book has received mixed reviews. Most of those who didn’t like it are comparing it to previous Koontz novels. I suppose this points to the fact that you mentioned–if you do something different, your audience might not like it.
Well, I loved it.
James Andrew Wilson
I’ll echo what Nicole said about Travis Thrasher. He’s excellent.
Everything I read is non-genre. I can’t recall the last time I read a book that fell into a neat category.
ManBooker winners. Orange Prize winners. Pulitzer winners.
Genre is helpful, but books that don’t fit the mould are always going to be the ones I look for, buy and keep. The world is too big and wonderful to squeeze it into tiny boxes.
From the way you describe the story of the nuns, it sounds to me like it would be “Literary.” Yes? 🙂
Ok, second comment, because you got me thinking with what you said about Catholic themes. What’s coming to mind is the popularity of Andrew Greeley. I don’t think you’d call him a CBA-centric writer, and at the same time, I don’t know of one more obviously Catholic, in life or in his fiction.
So how does he blend religion (which is mostly not popular in the mass market) with a very obvious general appeal?
The whole time I was reading your post, I was thinking, “The Shack.” I smiled when you mentioned it. The publication story for The Shack always makes me dance a little because it is a success story that illustrates just how important “story” truly is and how “story” and word of mouth sold that book.
But I also appreciate the reminder to stick to the rules if you’re still trying to break in to publishing. It’s easier to stray from rules once you’re established.
Thanks for this great post, Rachel.
Brian T. Carroll
ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan, changes genre a couple of times midstream, which ultimately puts it in “literary.” It was the most interesting book my MFA program introduced me to.
‘The story was beautiful, the writing exquisite, the themes were heart rending and thought provoking…’ If you’re looking for a niche I’d say it sounds like a literary novel, and rather a good one.
And why is Catholicism off-putting as a subject? Hasn’t the way already been paved by scores of writers – Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, to name just two?
If someone had served that book up to you in covers with a publisher’s imprint on it, you’d have said ‘great book’. Isn’t that what readers are looking for?
I know that you’re trying to gauge what will run in today’s market. I know that what sold in the past is no guarantee of what publishers will take a risk on now.
But the industry is in a sorry state if excellent works are turned down in favour of what will slot into marketing-led pigeon holes. And if the pinnacle of literary risk is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Never mind, even if you weren’t able to go into battle officially for that novel, you’ve done an excellent job of selling it here. I think we’d all like to see it published!
You’re so right that a bestselling author can get away with writing more original books than an unknown. But what a pity that is! I’m constantly finding the old books I read are more rewarding than the contemporary works because so much new fiction is all about the gimmick. I’d love to see an imprint raise their standard with a USP like: “We publish interesting fiction – period.”
What I’ve discovered is that the circumstances are different for every book. Especially in genre- look at JK Rowling. The first ‘Harry Potter’ novel got rejested 50 times because there was no current demand for wizardry in YA books at the time.