As I said in my last post I find the genre thing for novel classification rather tricky. As a writer, I don’t want to mislead prospective readers by getting the labelling wrong. But I also want to make sure my books appeal to and reach my target readership when they’re browsing the shelves in their local bookshop or scrolling through an online book selling site.
Of course, the book’s front cover and the summary of the story on the back are very important too. And, along with my editor and cover designer, I work hard to get those things right. But it will be the place the book is shelved – online or in the real world – that will get the browsing book buyer or library borrower to my book in the first place.
So what’s my genre and what are the keywords that best describe my previous and my about-to-be- published books?
And does the fact none of my books fit neatly into one category and that they have ‘serious’ themes woven through them mean they are literary novels?
Let’s get the literary thing out of the way first. I’m not sure I even know what literary means – this despite having studied English literature at university (back in the Stone Age). It seems to me to apply to fiction that doesn’t fit into any of the genres, e.g. crime, science fiction, thriller. But it also seems to imply clever content by a clever writer for an intelligent and educated readership. And I have a problem with that. There’s good and bad literary fiction just as there is with genre. And the term gives very little away as to the nature of the story.
So, I tend to favour John Updike’s view that all fictional works are literary because ‘they are written in words’. Therefore I’m not going to apply the literary tag. I take that as a given.
Contemporary Romance Plus?
At the heart of my books there is a romantic relationship set in the present day. The romance drives the story. So my genre is romance. But it would be more accurate to describe it as romance-plus.
My first novel Change of Life has romance + problems within a marriage, + bereavement due to suicide + facing up to a cancer diagnosis.
My second novel Displacement has romance + consequences of war + Middle Eastern politics + bereavement + infidelity + difficult family relationships.
And Settlement – my soon-to-be-published sequel to Displacement – has romance + crime thriller elements + more Middle Eastern politics where the personal and the political are seen as intertwined + the conflict between romance and realism in relationships.
So, to clarify – I hope: genres are wide concepts. Crime novels can be thrillers or police procedural, and they can be gritty or cosy, and they can feature relationships – romantic or otherwise. Science-fiction novels can deal with/predict scientific developments and their implications, they can include politics at an interplanetary level, and they can include mystery, war and even romance.
And the romantic genre is the same. It can be historical or contemporary, and it can include other issues relevant to the protagonists’ situation. Yes, it can be a straightforward tale of two people meeting, falling in love, overcoming some obstacles and then finding their happy-ever-after. But for me, I like to write and to read books with a bit more going on.
What can my readers expect?
I like reading romantic fiction that is entertaining, intriguing, and that maybe educates or makes me think along the way. I like being taken to new and interesting places, and I like the story to be both satisfying and unpredictable. And yes, I do like a happy, but also realistic, resolution.
So I write the sort of romantic fiction that I like to read, and I hope my novels are as described in the paragraph above. But I should also add that the term ‘plus’ could also apply to the ages of my novels’ main characters as they’re in their forties and fifties rather than their twenties and thirties.
And it’s the topic of genre and age group – of the author, the reader, and the main characters – that I’ll be looking at in the third and final part of this series of posts.
In the meantime, do let me know how you like your genres. Do you like pure genre fiction that sticks to the rules and formula, or do you like a bit of a mash-up? Please do leave comments below.