Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Do You Know What Genre You're Writing?

A lot of "mosaic moments" this week:

The Northeast is currently enduring a blizzard - the forecast in Connecticut, where my son lives, has gone from 3-5" to 10-12" to 12-18". From Washington DC to New York City, the accumulations are much worse - 24-30". But on Long Island, it appears they're having a problem of a different kind. Photo credit on Facebook: "via Daniel San Filippo/Tri-State Meatball member."

On an entirely different front . . .
I think you'll enjoy the video my daughter made when she went outside at 7:30 a.m. (1/21/16) to walk her girls to the school bus stop.

To see a family of deer enjoying life in Longwood, click here. 

Shot of the stage at the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando - 1/22/16

Another mother/daughter drinking selfie - this time at the Star Trek event


In celebration of fifty years of Star Trek, someone - and I have no idea who - put together an amazing evening of live orchestral music and a mélange of snippets from all the Star Treks, from first to most recent. It was beautifully done - a truly moving experience. The audience went wild, with a standing ovation for the show and for the encore! If you're a Star Trek fan and this presentation comes your way, do not miss it.

Update on Alligator Attack - from The Orlando Sentinel, January 19, 2016:

Rachel Lilienthal, the woman who lost the lower part of her arm just below the elbow to an alligator last August, went back to work last week as a Spanish lecturer at Rollins College in Winter Park. She admits she has a bit of trouble stacking students' papers in the classroom, but she manages to swim laps in a pool and is hoping to strengthen her muscles enough for a prosthesis at some point in the future. So, three cheers for a truly gallant survivor.

Crocodile Tale:

Finding an alligator in a swimming pool is not uncommon - after all, they're in almost every last puddle of fresh water in the state of Florida, but a crocodile . . .?

Crocodiles live in salt or brackish water, and here in Florida are generally found only in the lower Everglades. But this week a resident of Islamorada in the Florida Keys woke to find an 8-footer in the shallow end of his pool. Florida Fish and Wildlife returned the croc to his native habitat.

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Do You Know What Genre You're Writing?

 I frequently find my topic for the week in events that happened during the week, whether in my own writing or in my editing work. And this week, as I attempted to explain the nuances of Romantic Suspense to an author who thought that's what she was writing, I realized something I had forgotten since those first struggling years as an author: sometimes it's really tough to know what the guidelines are for a certain sub-genre of romance, let alone follow them well enough to impress and editor or agent. 

Frankly, if you want to "write in the cracks" - skimming styles from multiple genres - then indie publishing may be the only way to go. Editors who must adhere to the requirements of a "line" and agents who want to be sure they're going to make money with your book are going to leery of any story that strays from the accepted norm, no matter how good it is. Certainly, I ran into this problem head-on when I started submitting back in the late '90s. I was writing what I wanted to write - and running head-on into the conventions of romance. Back then, it was pretty much "Start out writing for Harlequin/Silhouette, and if you're good enough, maybe you'll be able to break out into some longer and more serious. My problem: I started out writing "Mainstream," although at the time I had no idea that's what I was doing. (And yes, as I've said before, those first two books, Tartleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride, are still the best work I ever did. Because I wrote from the heart, paying no attention to rules I didn't know existed. (As proof positive, I was just granted my rights to my books published by Ellora's Cave Blush - all but Tarleton's Wife, which in its fourth incarnation since it was first published in 1999, is still selling too many copies to qualify for rights reversion!)

So what's an author to do? In attempting to analyze Romantic Suspense alone, I was forced to acknowledge three styles: 1) Category Suspense - short, 60% romance, 40% suspense; 2) Middle-of-the-road - 80,000+ words, strong suspense plot, strong romance (sex scenes likely), plenty of action but not too bloody or hair-raising, minimal profanity; 3) Mainstream - 90,000+ words, emphasis on complex plot and hard-hitting suspense, romance a factor but not predominant. Gritty details, blood & guts. Profanity likely. Skilled writing a must.

A good example of an author who writes category, middle-of-the-road, and mainstream is the most prolific and respected romance author, Nora Roberts.  Although she no longer writes category, that is how she got her start. And she seems to alternate her more recent books between series aimed at the "middle" family romance market and more hard-hitting single title mainstreams. And then there are her mysteries, written under the pseudonym, J. D. Robb!

So how does an author figure out the vagaries of Romantic Suspense, let alone all those other sub-genres of Romance? I have only one bit of advice. Explore book stores and online until you find the genre you like best. (You probably already know what that is. But maybe not. Until recently I avoided one of my true loves - Science Fiction - because I thought I didn't have the technical knowledge to write it. And then I discovered "Futuristic"!)

Do your homework. Find the genre you most want to write. Then do nothing but read, read, read the best books you can find in that field. Don't even think of writing a single word until you've researched the parameters of that genre. 

Example:  If you want to write a cozy mystery, death is usually off-stage, even the action is not "strong stuff."  Include too much realistic drama and the editors of "cozy" lines will shudder and shy away. On the next level up, I would include the authors Rhys Bowen, Julie Hyzy, Tasha Alexander, and Catharine Lloyd, who hit a great happy medium between "light" and "serious" mystery (and without a lot of blood & guts). In Mainstream, Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), J. D. Robb and C. S. Harris shine (sticking to female authors only).

The same sub sub-genres apply to every other romance sub-genre from Contemporary to Historical. There's a the simple "category" story, the longer middle-of-the-road book, designed to appeal to the majority of readers, and the harder-hitting Mainstream novels intended for those who want more "meat" in their fiction.  

And the problem is, unless you're going indie, you have to write to what the marketing departments of New York publishers want. (With few exceptions, NY is where agents make their money. From what I've seen recently, even the e-market for erotica, which had been paying well, has slowed.) So it' basically, conform or go indie. 

This does not mean you cannot have a unique idea. Lori Szoberg sold to Kensington when she made a hero out of the Grim Reaper! It's how you approach your idea that matters - how you swing the bat, if you will. And exactly because there are so many ins and outs to each sub-genre of romance, you must do your homework. You must pay attention to what is selling in your chosen field and not stray too far from the fold until you've established enough of a reputation to branch out with a few new wrinkles to the genre.

Then again, I'm glad I didn't know any of this when I wrote Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride. They might never have been born.

The big decision - Write what you want to write or Write what editors and agents think readers want. (NY editors have a lot of statistics behind them, but the enormous success of indie publishing indicates they narrowed the market beyond what readers wanted.)  So . . . your call. Just be aware that for all that editors tell you to write the "book of your heart," they really mean: "Write the book of their heart" or "Write the book that meets the criteria of their company's executives."

Good luck! And do your homework.

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Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.








  1. The problem for those of us who write mainstream love stories is that 'mainstream' has disappeared at a possible category. We're stuck with using keywords such as contemporary, literary, and romance - all of which now have been taken over by specific genre conventions.

    Because even if you go indie, you still have to put in keywords on amazon, and get classified: they started with genre, and it shows.

    Nicholas Sparks says he doesn't write 'Romance,' for example - but his books turn up that way, so someone is labeling them such.

    It makes marketing hard.

    I'm glad you wrote what you wanted first.


    PS The Dark Side is always available.

  2. Alicia, I admit I was thinking of general descriptions used in the business and not of the "Sujects" used by Amazon & other e-publishers. I was talking about the three general levels of writing, of which there are infinite variations. But basically, they boil down to Short & Simple, Middle-of-the-road, and Mainstream (longer, more complex, a more challenging "read"). And, yes, the Amazon subjects can be teeth-grinding.