Friday, August 05, 2011

Genre 101

As you probably already know, I'm a big fan of the indie publishing movement. That's not to say I don't read traditionally-published books -- in fact, I read way more trad books than indie books -- or that I don't ever want a traditional contract. But I really like the freedom that authors are experiencing and the ability to control their product and profits.

It's also exciting as a reader, because backlist is coming back, and you're starting to see books that NY wouldn't take a chance on, even if they're really good books.

Of course, with the good also comes the bad. It's not secret that some indie books are, how shall I put this diplomatically? A bit lacking in the editorial department. Many indie authors hire freelance editors (often these are NY editors moonlighting on the side), but some simply finish typing THE END and then put it up without running it through a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes.

I'm not going to go into the blunders of poor editing, because that has been rehashed countless times before. Today I'm going to vent about something different, but still related to the issue of losing the gatekeepers: not classifying your book properly.

Nearly once a week, I have to explain to writers on what exactly constitutes "romance fiction." Seems lots of people want to call their book a romance (because that's a hot-selling genre) simply because their main characters have sex at some point in the book. I (and the other RWA members and romance fans) explain that for a novel to be considered a "romance," it must contain two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

From the RWA website:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

If your book does not have these two elements, it is not a romance novel. Period. It may or may not contain strong romantic elements (for example, my book Codename: Dancer would be categorized as a YA mystery with romantic elements -- the romance is a subplot that will follow the arc of the entire series and will not be resolved until the end of the series, but the mystery is what is primary in each book).

Another genre that some authors seem to have trouble defining is the Legal Thriller. I read a blurb yesterday for a book that the author (a lawyer in his day job) was touting as a legal thriller, but to me, the description just read as a novel where the main character just so happened to be a lawyer. Now, admittedly, he was having some trouble with his blurb, so it's entirely possible he didn't get the full premise across.

But that's a pet peeve of mine. Just because your book may have suspense elements and the main characters are lawyers, that doesn't make it a legal thriller. Don't call something a legal thriller simply because "thrillers" are hot on Kindle.

A legal thriller is a sub-genre of thriller and crime fiction in which the major characters are lawyers and their employees. It may or may not focus on a courtroom battele, but the justice system itself is always a major part of these books. In fact, one could almost argue that the law almost functions as one of the characters. The legal system provides the framework for the legal thriller in the same way that the the system of modern police work does for the police procedural. (You wouldn't call a novel a police procedural simply because the main character is a cop, would you?)

So what about you? Have you seen any books that you feel are improperly classified lately? Or have you read any books you just want to rave about?

What are you reading?

Since I mentioned Codename, I feel like giving away an e-book copy. Just a comment and you'll be entered to win! I'll draw the winner Sunday night, at 6 pm EST.


Cindy Nord said...

Excellent post, Amanda. And just because a book contains romantic elements, does not a ROMANCE make. ☺ It's difficult to adhere to 'THE FORMULA'. Indeed, some authors have to kill off the hero to garner the tears. WE, on the other hand, must twist and plot and scheme to see that everyone makes it through to the happily-ever-after payoff!!

Happy Friday, Pixie pal.



Nicky P said...

Great post, Amanda. One book I recently enjoyed was The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas, though I'm glad I didn't have to decide where to put it on a bookstore shelf. It's set in "Borgias" time and listed as "historical fiction," and it does have a lot of detail about food, dress, politics, etc. But it is also a complex mystery -- and a very sly romance story. It was recommended to me by someone during a romance-writers' conference, and I was surprised how little romance it seemed to have; I disliked the male lead -- not romantic! not heroic! -- especially at the beginning, but he grew on me pretty much without me noticing until I realized he was acting heroically during a deeply satisfying last act.

This story also was inspiring to me because not all the stories I write turn out to be classic romances. There may be space for me yet!

Gwynlyn said...

Classification can be tough. I know because my medieval historical has both fantasy and suspense elements. Try getting that into a one line pitch! LOL

Still, when I pick up a romance, I have expectations, so I would be really annoyed to spend the $$ only to find the author left me hanging. Yes, it would be a sale, but it would be the only one; I'd never buy that author again.

liztalley said...

I think I don't run into many mis-labeled books because I tend to stick to books that don't genre-straddle, and I buy on blurb rather than classification (though I would be upset if the blurb was misleading)But I do think some authors try and manipulate the reader to get a sale, and that's just wrong.

I'll have to say that I'm happy where I'm writing because with Superromance, I can stretch into suspense, go spicy or mild on the sex, and develop multiple POVs. I like flexibility to tell the story, not mold it into a genre. Just tried my hand at adding suspense, and, whew, it was harder than I totally appreciate you "killer" babes. :)


All my writing is romantic comedy, which I think may be the kiss of death. Some of it is chicklit, which I've heard needs to be zapped with those heart paddles.

Anne R. Allen said...

Kelly--I write romantic comedy, too. I've been told for years that all romantic comedy is "chick lit" and chick lit is defunct. So we're all supposed to write about angsty girls having sex with mythological monsters or move away from the computer and take up basketweaving.

But it turns out chick lit is alive and thriving in indie land. Chick Lit Central, Chick Lit Reviews, Chick Lit City and a whole bunch of other sites review them every day.

Romantic comedy isn't necessarily romance though--in the traditional sense that Amanda's talking about here. The hero can be kind of a jerk. The heroine can end up back in the cafe having lattes with her girlfriends and that's your happy ending. And lots of romantic comedies also incorporate adventure and mystery plotlines.

So I think we have to decide if each book fits under the romance umbrella or not. I've decided mine don't because the mystery element is so strong. So I'm not calling them "romance" but "romantic comedy/mystery".

Of course a lot of people will just call them chick lit anyway. Luckily, readers don't mind a bit. Turns out a lot of readers like to laugh, in spite of what corporate publishing dictates.

Anonymous said...

I love, love, love chick lit and even though the industry claims it's dead, lots of readers are surprised when I tell them that!

Some chick lit can be romance (generally in the romantic comedy vein), but romance is not required.

Christie Craig said...

I already bought my copy, but I know that the winner is going to enjoy it.


Gail Hart said...

Amanda - You've given me a great idea! I'll call my next book "The Vampire's Secret Baby" - no matter what it's about - the appeal to both category and paranormal readers. ;-)

RLL Allen said...

My 'misidentified genre' horror stories are mostly those recommended by coworkers who don't get the whole "happy ending" thing. Reading time is at a minimum now, but next on my pile is the newest Cherry Adair, which are always great reads.

Robin Kaye said...

Amanda - As you know, I already have my copy of Code Name Dancer and loved it (as did my 15 year-old ballerina who has her very own copy too).

I think comedy is so hard to categorize. When I say I write romantic comedies, people seem to expect The Three Stooges with sex, so lately I've been saying I write humorous contemporary romance or contemporary romance with comedic elements.

I definitely agree with the problems in categorizing but then like Gwynlyn said, it really becomes difficult when you're writing cross-genre. Still, there are some universal truths--Romances have happy endings and not just sex.