Writing in Two Genres

Nancy J. Cohen

It’s not an easy path to follow to write in two separate genres. You have a different readership to satisfy. You have different reviewers to court. You have to promote to two entirely different audiences. And you have your own branding to consider. So why diversify from the original path you’ve chosen?

In my case, it was more a matter of career survival than choice. We didn’t have the publishing options present today when I made the switch from romance to mystery and back again to romance. If I wanted to keep my career alive, I had to write what would sell. Besides, I found that writing too many books in one genre makes me restless. I get the urge to do something totally different, and this switchover helps to keep my writing fresh. If I write so many mysteries in a row that I can’t come up with another single motive, then it’s time for a change.

HangingbyaHair

My mysteries are grounded, logical, easily researchable in my surroundings. In contrast, my romances might proceed in a logical manner but they include wild adventures, scenes of passion, and imaginative forays into scifi and fantasy realms. I can let loose in these novels in a manner that’s not possible in a modern day mystery.

WarriorLord_w8513_750

So how do you brand yourself when you write in different genres? By sticking to your core story. My readers know to expect fast-paced action, suspense, and mystery. There won’t be anything truly horrifying happening in my books or any favorite characters killed off. Humor is always a part of my books and so is romance. And I like to write a meaty story, not mere fluff. Even my romances have complex plots.

Is there hope for cross-readership? Of course there is, but I know my most vocal readers want me to write more mysteries. This feedback matters a great deal to me. So perhaps I’ll offer a second mystery series once I have time. The best part of publishing today is having options.

Even though some seasoned authors might advise you to stick to your brand and continue writing the same types of stories to build your readership, I say that once you have a few books under your belt, write the book of your heart. It’ll refresh you, lift your spirits, and diversify your repertoire. However, don’t lose sight of your loyal readers and continue to produce the stories they request. Be responsive and grateful for feedback. But above all, love what you write.

Do you feel it’s best to stick to one genre to build your brand or to diversify?

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Writing in Two Genres

Nancy J. Cohen

It’s not an easy path to follow to write in two separate genres. You have a different readership to satisfy. You have different reviewers to court. You have to promote to two entirely different audiences. And you have your own branding to consider. So why diversify from the original path you’ve chosen?

In my case, it was more a matter of career survival than choice. We didn’t have the publishing options present today when I made the switch from romance to mystery and back again to romance. If I wanted to keep my career alive, I had to write what would sell. Besides, I found that writing too many books in one genre makes me restless. I get the urge to do something totally different, and this switchover helps to keep my writing fresh. If I write so many mysteries in a row that I can’t come up with another single motive, then it’s time for a change.

HangingbyaHair

My mysteries are grounded, logical, easily researchable in my surroundings. In contrast, my romances might proceed in a logical manner but they include wild adventures, scenes of passion, and imaginative forays into scifi and fantasy realms. I can let loose in these novels in a manner that’s not possible in a modern day mystery.

WarriorLord_w8513_750

So how do you brand yourself when you write in different genres? By sticking to your core story. My readers know to expect fast-paced action, suspense, and mystery. There won’t be anything truly horrifying happening in my books or any favorite characters killed off. Humor is always a part of my books and so is romance. And I like to write a meaty story, not mere fluff. Even my romances have complex plots.

Is there hope for cross-readership? Of course there is, but I know my most vocal readers want me to write more mysteries. This feedback matters a great deal to me. So perhaps I’ll offer a second mystery series once I have time. The best part of publishing today is having options.

Even though some seasoned authors might advise you to stick to your brand and continue writing the same types of stories to build your readership, I say that once you have a few books under your belt, write the book of your heart. It’ll refresh you, lift your spirits, and diversify your repertoire. However, don’t lose sight of your loyal readers and continue to produce the stories they request. Be responsive and grateful for feedback. But above all, love what you write.

Do you feel it’s best to stick to one genre to build your brand or to diversify?

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What’s wrong with ‘genre’ fiction?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I read two articles in the last couple of days which has caused me to mull over, yet again,  the perceived gulf between ‘literary’ versus ‘genre’ fiction. In her piece in the New York Times, Karen Gillespie describes how, after losing her publisher, she enrolled in an MFA in creative writing to improve her skills only to find her work derided as being ‘parlour fiction’ (she was the published author of five humorous, romantic books). For those who want to read the article in its entirety the link is hereSuffice to say, her journey was one from ‘genre’ to ‘literary’ and right back to ‘genre’ again after discovering writing so-called ‘serious’ pieces actually meant losing her author voice and all commercial viability. I especially liked her description of how an agent flew in to be a guest lecturer in the MFA program, only to be greeted by an outraged faculty who deemed the agent’s advice (have a distinctive voice and a decent plot) as somehow ‘cheapening’ the art of writing. This made me smile, for who amongst us has not had someone ask “so when are you going to write a serious novel?” (to which I assume they mean a literary tome of immense weight and authority…)

Then I saw an article on the Guardian book blog arguing that ‘literary fiction’ is really nothing more than clever marketing (see the link here) and I smiled again – because, as the article points out, many famous writers like Jane Austen never imagined their work would one day be deemed ‘literary’ (she wrote, after all, to entertain and make money). It seems ridiculous to me that we are still having the debate over ‘genre’ versus ‘literary’ fiction but if Karen Gillespie’s article is right, many MFA programs still believe that somehow they are creating ‘literary’ writers to trump those who delve in crass commercial fiction.  

For me the important message I got from her article was that it is vital that, no matter what course your career takes (or what writing course you may take) that you never lose sight of your own ‘voice’ and writing strengths. In other the words, there’s no use trying to be the kind of writer you aren’t. In many of the writing groups I’ve attended, there is a pervading sense of the need to produce ‘literature’ rather than focusing on simply writing the story you want to write. I certainly felt this pressure and, for many years, it stymied my progress (I never felt I could live up to this amorphous literary ideal)- I only felt comfortable in my own writing skin when I decided to ignore all that and just write the book I wanted to write  The article in the Guardian concludes (quite rightly I think!) that rather than getting hung up on all literary marketing, that we should just accept that “all books can be thrust into a genre, and lit fic is simply one of many. As a tag, it tells us nothing about the intrinsic value of any individual title. There are good books and bad books, and both are to be found from one end of the fictional horizon to the other”.

So what do you think? Do you still feel there is a distinction between ‘literary’ fiction and genre fiction? Is the divide lessening or do you still find people looking down at writers of mysteries or other genre fiction, as if they are somehow less worthy, less ‘artistic’ than their so-called literary counterparts?



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Writing a Mystery is no ‘Joke’

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Today I can’t help but weigh in on the latest kerfuffle caused by Isabel Allende’s assertion in an interview with NPR that she wrote her latest mystery novel, Ripper, as a ‘joke’. 

She said that she wasn’t a fan of mysteries but decided to “take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but is a joke”… I had to digest that statement for a while before I let the full impact of it sink in (and to read the full interview you can visit:  http://www.npr.org/2014/01/25/265246811/author-interview-isabel-allende so you can see I’m not misquoting or taking her out of context). Then I sat back and fumed because writing should never be a ‘joke’.

Sure, writers can be ironic and tongue in cheek (which is also what Allende maintains she was doing) but they should never disrespect a genre they don’t read or like, by making it sound as though you can fool readers by simply following the ‘formula’ and get away with it. You can’t. Readers see through that. Readers want writing that is authentic.

Once, when I was young and naive I thought I could write a romance novel. I didn’t read them. I didn’t like them. But I actually thought ‘what the hell’ and so I went to a class on how to write a romance…until I realized (after two classes and one failed attempt at writing the first 3 chapters) that I couldn’t. Not in the strict genre sense of a Mills & Boon or Harlequin novel. Why? Because I couldn’t write them authentically. I didn’t love those types of novels and if I attempted one it would probably be with a less than pure heart (I would have been tongue in cheek perhaps or ironic, but not genuine). To the instructor’s credit, he made one thing very clear right from the start: If you thought you could just make money out of writing a romance then you’d come to the wrong place. If you didn’t love reading romances, you would fail. Why? Because you wouldn’t be true to the genre or to the authenticity required for the true writing process.

Back to Isabel Allende – who, I might add, is an author whose work I used to admire.  I loved her magic realism novels, The House of The Spirits, and Of Love and Shadows. But now I’m not sure what to make of her as an author, because I don’t understand what she thought she was doing writing a book in a genre she didn’t like as some kind of ‘joke’ (I’m also totally bemused as to why she would tell someone that was what she was doing in an interview!).

My take away from all of this is that you have to be authentic in all that you write. Your heart has to be in the right place. If you intend to be humorous, ironic or satirical that’s fine – just don’t pretend otherwise, and but don’t use that to disrespect genuine readers and lovers or a particular genre. To do so makes me cringe. 

So, Isabel Allende, you have now lost both my respect for you as a writer, and my love for your books as a reader.  Tell me TKZers, what was your reaction?



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Who Am I?


by Carla Buckley

Thank you to The Kill Zone authors for letting me sidle in here today, and thanks especially to John Ramsey Miller for hauling out the soapbox and giving up his day to me, and for the many ways he’s championed me these past months. One of the things I’ve been delighted to learn on my path to publication is that although thriller writers create the stuff of nightmares, they themselves are the kindest, most generous people around. Maybe it’s because they get all the ugly stuff down on paper and all that’s left is the good stuff.

My debut novel is about to be published. After writing full-time for fifteen years, working hard at my craft and producing seven novels (four of which were agented), I would have thought I knew a thing or two about the publishing business. But the only thing I’ve learned as my publication date approaches is how very little I know. Take for example, the concept of genre.

When I submitted The Things That Keep Us Here to my agent, she cautioned me. “I’m not quite sure where it fits. It’s part family drama, part thriller, part dystopian novel.” “Oh,” I said, brightly. “That’s not a problem, is it?”

I laugh at my naïve self. I truly do.

In order for an agent to pitch a project, she has to know what she’s selling so she can find the right editor. In order for an editor to drum up in-house enthusiasm, she has to know how to describe to sales, marketing, and publicity, what it is they’re going to be supporting. In order for those various departments to reach out to their various markets, they have to know what they’re pushing. In order for bookstores to buy in, they have to know where they’d shelve the book, so that in turn, the right readership can find it. Then we can all live happily ever after.

The thing is, I didn’t really know what I’d written.

I’m a huge mystery reader and so I started off by writing traditional mysteries featuring, in turn, an art investigator, a female firefighter (the research for that was fun), and a female implosion expert. It wasn’t until I became consumed by media reports that mankind was due for another pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Great Influenza Pandemic, that I threw mysteries aside. I wrote instead about a family caught up in a pandemic and it unraveled directly from my heart. Try explaining that to your agent.

“Well,” I said. “You sure it isn’t a thriller?”

“Not quite,” she said.

It wasn’t until it landed at Bantam Dell that my novel, whatever it was, found a home. My editor, who specializes in thrillers and mysteries, agreed: “This isn’t a thriller. It’s cross-genre, both family drama and thriller. It’s new.”

The last thing I wanted to do was sound stupid to my editor so I said, “Oh.” As if I understood exactly what she was saying. Was it because most of my action takes place within one family’s home, instead of sprawling across the world, taking the reader from the White House to the Kremlin to German scientists feverishly working on a cure? By telling the story from one family’s perspective, and therefore playing out the drama of a pandemic threat in every reader’s own living room, I thought it would make the ride that more thrilling. Don’t other thriller writers do the same thing–focus their story so intimately on the characters involved that you’re helplessly caught up in the story? Maybe it’s because I give equal weight to the thriller part and to the family part. Maybe that’s what makes me a hybrid.

I’m not the only author straddling two genres. As a member of the ITW Debut Author Program, I’ve gotten to know some other debut authors who are facing the same quandary: releasing a book that doesn’t quite fit onto one genre shelf. How their publishers handle finding a place for them in the book world varies, with some books being pushed closer to one category than another. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to watch cover art and titles adjust to reflect a dual personality, and it’s a learning process for everyone involved. My own novel was submitted under the title, Flu Season, and went through numerous incarnations before settling into The Things That Keep Us Here.

I’ve come to think that cross-genre is yet one more demand on the current publishing model, a world that is learning to adjust to ebooks, nontraditional publishing modes, social networking, and so on. As the world moves to a faster rhythm, how do publishers cut through the noise to position their products, and doesn’t having an unusual product make that process more difficult? Aren’t cross-genre books a bigger risk for authors and publishers and booksellers, alike?

An unpublished writer contacted me recently. She’s in the process of submitting a mystery to agents, and while waiting to hear back, has ideas for various other projects that intrigued her, some of which are hard to categorize: middle school vampire story verging on YA, women’s fiction with an element of horror.

“Do you have to stick to one genre?” she asked me. “Can’t I just mix it all up?”

What do you think I should tell her?

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