Romance Genre Challenged! Is There a Support Group?
Let me preface this by saying I don’t care what anyone else reads or does in the privacy of their own bedroom or spaceship.
But the new sub-genres of romance books are downright confusing and sometimes I have to think really hard to imagine, envision or even process the categories of cross-genres. As I was trolling the other day on a book selling site, I found an author that billed herself as LGBT Dystopian Paranormal author. Doesn’t it get crowded with this many people or vampires in the same bed/coffin? Will the government be watching and take away one of the participants leaving . . . uh . . . . I’m not sure who we started with or who they had an affinity for.
One part of me just wants to tell folks, hey, read the jacket blurb and see if you’d think you’d like the story. Don’t be hemmed in by search sorting on the internet. On the other hand, there are just so many books out there, especially with the boom in the self publishing world, that a poor reader needs to narrow down the 20 gazillion books to ones they might be interested in. So authors try and help the reader along by identifying their book in a variety of searchable categories.
But when we tell a reader that the book is about time traveling shape shifters (don’t get what shape shifters are at all-except the obvious) that are into bondage do we help the reader by defining the book or do we tell the story before it begins? In other words as authors add more descriptors does the story get narrowed to a skinny plot path to fulfill the expectations or confines of multiple categories? Do we write towards categories or for characters?
Stick with me while I tell you a little story. One of the very first writer’s conferences I ever went to, I signed up for an evening event where a small group of aspiring authors read the first page or two of their books aloud and a published author did some critiquing. I have no idea any longer who the author was but she had published many, many Harlequin romances and one or two big historicals. I nervously read my first page and I remember her saying she liked my writing and she proceeded to ask a lot of questions about the book. I described the book, as I still do, as a story about a spinster librarian in the late 1800’s who after receiving news of the violent death of her brother travels west to rescue her newly orphaned niece and nephew.
I remember very vividly this author asking me to repeat my description and then she asked me what I thought was the strangest thing I’d ever heard. ‘Which of the 22 approved plot lines does this book fall under?’ I’d never heard of the approved plot lines. I looked around the room and all the other women (authors) were nodding and staring at me like, ‘What are you waiting for? Answer the question!’ I said I’d never heard of such a thing and didn’t know I was supposed to use one of them. Everyone chuckled and tittered. Then one of them began counting off on her fingers, ‘Boy hates girl, girl hates boy, parents hate boy, secret pregnancy,’ and on that they all sighed and started talking at once. ‘I love secret pregnancies! They’re my favorite! Secret pregnancies are the only ones I read!’ I had no idea then and still don’t know how anyone keeps a pregnancy secret.
I think it’s interesting that these approved plot lines were specific and individual and weren’t mushed up together. There was no ‘neighbor meets sister who hated the cat that tripped the milkman while he was hiding a secret pregnancy.’ I think the vast amount of genres in the romance world today indicate a broad spectrum of readers with varied tastes and tolerances, which is a good thing, a great thing, in fact. But all in all, I’ll still encourage readers to read the blurb and step outside your genre comfort zone.
Writers – challenge yourself to write the story or book you feel. Readers’ favorite stories are the ones where they connect with the characters. If the character in your head prefers a certain sex or sexes, are from another planet, time or world, write thatcharacter. Write the change or the action for that character that makes the reader connect to them regardless of whether they suck blood, roam graveyards or have multiple partners. Write the characters’ story first and then identify the genres that may help readers find you.