As some of you know, I am the Romance Moderator for the Goodreads Group, Modern Good Reads. In the last few weeks, I’ve had numerous conversations regarding the genre of Romance and I’m fascinated with what I’ve found out.
For instance, one of the hard and fast rules regarding a book that can be put in the genre of “Romance” is that it must have HEA. For those of you who don’t know what that is, and I was one for a long time, it’s “Happily Ever After.” Here are some of my thoughts on that. I remember many years ago my mother-in-law told me that a group she was in would exchange books, romance novels, but they had to put their initials in it so they’d know whether or not they’d read it because they were all so similar. I don’t know about you, but if I have to put my initials in a book to know whether or not I’ve read it, I know I definitely don’t want to read it!
A problem I see with this definition is the circumstances of the tension – usually boy meets girl, boy and girl encounter some problems with the budding relationship and then the issues are resolved and it’s an HEA. However, if readers know that it’s going to be an HEA, do they become as involved in the plot as they would be if they didn’t know the outcome? And I’m just posing some questions, here, I don’t have the answers. But for me, it dilutes it.
Another thing, and I think a pretty seminal thing for today’s writers, is the aspect of the sub-genre. Can you call a book a Romance if it’s a very strong love story between aliens and one of them dies or gets killed at the end or some such thing? In other words, if you put Romance/Paranormal does the sub-genre mean that it doesn’t have to have an HEA? I don’t know. There’s a gazillion sub-genres a writer could use. I have used Romance/Suspense for my book, Blue Coyote Motel, because I think that describes it. Would it fit into the hard and fast rules of “Romance?” No. Does it matter with a sub-genre? In other words, do you have some wiggle room if you add a sub-genre? I would like to think so.
And what about Gone With the Wind? Would that fall into the Romance category? Or do we need or even have a separate category for love stories that may not have an HEA? The problem writers have with writing love stories is that there is not a specific category for them. And why does that matter? Writers are asked to categorize their books by bookstores, Amazon, Bowker, etc. It’s makes it much easier to put them in their “proper place.” Think of the book store with signs denoting Sci-Fi or Mystery, etc. I understand that, but trying to fit a book that has a very romantic element along with several other strong threads or elements in the novel, really makes it difficult to pigeonhole.
Several people have said you just look for people who like what you write and they’ll follow you. Yes, but first they have to find you. And, what about the people who say that they like to read thrillers, or mysteries, or … You see where I’m going. It would be very easy for someone to miss a fabulous read because the writer was forced to put his or her book in straight jacket categories.
Another person told me that the sub-genres were kind of like those moving targets in a booth at the fair. They changed with the times. That’s probably true, but I still maintain a good book is a good book.
So where do we go from here? I think writing the best book you can write is the starting point. When it’s finished, and believe me, it may start in one genre and cross over to another quite easily as the characters dictate what’s going to happen. Then I think the author needs to sit back and take a long look at the book. Are there a couple of main genres in the book? If the author is too wrapped up in it, might be a good idea to get a couple of other opinions. I’ve had opinions on Blue Coyote that range from Alfred Hitcockian to Romance to Pschological Thriller to Mystery to Twilight Zone to Americana to… So what I ‘ve done is go back and occasionally change the genre listings. To write a book specifically for one group to make it easier to market would cause the muse on my shoulder to fly away. I couldn’t do it. I have to write the book that demands to be written. To do otherwise would be pandering, but it sure would make marketing a lot easier!