Our Pages

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is it Necessary to Fit in?

Not all books fit nice and neat into a particular category. Some writers can say, without a doubt, their story is a historical romance, a paranormal romance, a mystery, or a mainstream novel. You get the point without naming every category. However, if you have blended several categories you may find yourself, as I have, wondering how exactly to categorize your book.

Is it important to know where your book falls in the market? Some writers will say no and others will tell you yes. Personally, I think it is important in several instances. First, it can be important when trying to find an agent. You may spend a year targeting strictly romance agents who reject your book, not because it is not good, but because they do not sell what you have written. You may send all your queries to romance agents and label your manuscript historical romance, when in fact you have written a book that is more mainstream with romantic elements.

Have I utterly confused you yet?

The other time I know it is important to understand what category your book fits into is when your book is actually bought and the marketing team has to know how to market your book. Take, Diana Gabaldon for instance. In a 2002 interview for January Magazine she said after her first book was bought, the publisher sat on it for a year because they were not sure how to market it. They eventually decided on historical romance and later, once the sales were going strong, they moved her over to mainstream fiction. She is quoted as saying she cannot classify her books, but they had to be classified to release them. She is also quoted as saying that her Outlander Series is “uncategorifiable”, but that is possibly the reason for the series success.

So if you have written a book or books that blend several genres and you need to put a classification on your book to find an agent or please a marketing team what should you do? I asked a dear friend of mine this very question. She is a VP with one of the major bookstores and she thought the best thing was to look at other writers on the shelves and see who is close to your style and then go with that classification. I think this is a good idea. In addition, you might ask yourself what is the most prominent thing in your story. Is it the suspense or the romance? Is it the history? Another writer suggested to me to classify my blended baby as a historical romantic suspense.

I’ll tell you this; I had an editor at the National RWA conference this summer tell me there is no such category as historical romantic suspense. It has to be one or the other. I think a good example of this is The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne. This book is sold as historical romance but anyone who has read it knows it is a blend of historical romance and heavy suspense.

Maybe there should be a category such as historical romantic suspense. Maybe my book or yours will be the bestseller that creates this new niche on the shelves. My friend who works for the bookstore told me that romance is the one area of the market still growing and that their stores are creating more room for romance. This is good news for all of us, especially those of us who want to be trailblazers.

Have you written a book that is a blend of genres? How did you classify it when time to find an agent or sell it? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Writing,
Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. Great topic, Julie!

    I write pretty straight-forward Regency-set historicals, so I've never run into this particular problem. But I know you're not alone. A friend and fellow author spent 9 years trying to get her book published - it's a Victorian paranormal steampunk romance - kind of a Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets Sherlock Holmes. At Nationals, her editor, Chris Keeslar of Dorchester, said that if you have a manuscript that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else, then Dorchester is probably a good home for you. They seem to be at the cutting edge of genre-invention. :)

  2. I've seen this become a problem for a number of writers. My stories tend to fit neatly into historical romance, but I know that isn't the case for everyone. If you write historical romance merged with paranormal romance, where does it fit? Or have they officially named a new subgenre for historical paranormal romance yet?

    I know many of the agents who blog tend to advise for writers to call it whatever they think it is, but not to worry so much about the specific label. If the manuscript is right for the agent, they will want to acquire it, regardless of whether you thought it was a historical romance or a romantic suspense (when really it might be more of a historical romantic suspense--if only there were such a category).

    The one thing I've noticed in recent years, is that those specific subgenres are always changing and expanding. We haven't always had paranormal romance, urban fantasy, steampunk, etc. So maybe the historical romantic suspense subgenre isn't in existence yet--but you could be the one to blaze that trail for future writers.

  3. Julie,
    Your topic is so spot on as far as my writing is concerned. It's not purely historical fiction, neither is it a clear-cut romance, nor is it purely a mystery. I now (after years of wondering which box it might fit into) call it historical romantic mystery. Took me a while to get there but that's what I write.

    So, yes, I agree there should be a category just for us. ;-)

  4. Stephanie,
    First of all thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love to hear from other writers and it is nice to know I may have struck a cord with someone else with my topic. Someday, and I predict in the near future, we will have a category. In the meantime, us cross genre writers just need to keep plugging away.

  5. Great blog, Julie. I think this is a common problem for authors who are trying to write something truly unique. Your novel is excellent. I'm sure it will find a home soon.

  6. Julie, I just ran across this blog posted today at Query Tracker. There are some ideas here that you and Stephanie might want to keep in mind when trying to narrow down your genre.


  7. Thanks, Catherine. I'll look at it tonight when all is calm and quiet.

  8. Excellent blog, Julie, and it comes at just the right time for me as I am re-evaluating one of my manuscripts to determine which genre, then subgenre it really fits into--rather than the one I'd like it to fit into.


  9. Well, my series is a mix of genres. Historical and Paranormal. There are some out there, so I did have that going for me. And my editor loves things that are cross genres.