Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Vicki’s post from last week, as well as others here on Type M recently, plus some side discussions I’ve had with people, have got me thinking how the crime fiction genre has gotten divided and subdivided and then subdivided again over the past several years, to the point where it’s getting quite, well, silly in many way. Publishers, readers and writers, we’re all guilty in this…crime.

Several years ago, I was describing a novel I was working on to an interested bookseller. “Oh, it’s a chase thriller then.” Huh? “There’s a category for this kind of story?” “Certainly. I have customers who will read nothing else.”

I’ve found out since that there are now very specific categories called things like “woman in peril”, “crafting mysteries”, “food mysteries”. Vicki has started a new series that I guess should be called a “library mystery”. All of this on top of the older categories made up of things like “thrillers”, “hardboiled”, “police procedural”, “amateur sleuth” and “cozy”, to name a few of the main ones.

But now it’s all sliced and diced and readers and publishers are demanding that your novel fall into a neat, little pigeonhole. From a marketing standpoint, I can see why publishers and booksellers might want this. It used to be that you only had to deal with whether you were writing standalones or a series. Bookstore owners usually knew what they were selling so they could tell you about a specific book. Even if you preferred a certain kind of story, you could often be persuaded by someone’s enthusiastic endorsement. If you’re purchasing a book and lack that personal description and recommendation, you might well hesitate to put done as much as forty dollars on a hardcover.

So for various reasons, we’ve become a lot more exclusive these days. It goes far beyond economics and marketing. As I’ve already mentioned in a recent post, many people won’t step outside the little box into which they’ve put themselves. I guess some of it has to do with comfort zones, and for sure, those are important. If a person is not up for a “blood and guts” storyline, it would be a shame to sell them a book that contains this sort of thing.

But these “product placement” boxes may also lead to comments like, “This story is unlike anything we’ve seen. We wouldn’t begin to know how to market it.” Now, unless the writing being commented thusly on is drop-dead, best-ever stuff, the person saying this might well be tempted to take a pass, be they agent, publisher, bookseller or book buyer. I know it happens. One of my novels was stillborn because my description of its plot led to a very similar comment being made by my then-agent. That’s a shame. I still believe it might have been a very interesting story, but I have little enough time to spend on writing to take chances with a dodgy plot line somebody might not be interested in buying into.

Often the best and most groundbreaking writing comes from something experimental or just plain different. These days, for some very good reasons — but also some very bad ones — experimental writing and storylines have a much harder go of it. We’re probably missing some exceptional writing and stories because of it.

Here’s your homework: come with an exact and specific category in which to place your work if you’re a writer. For readers, describe your ideal sort of book. You must be very, very specific so that you can go right to a bookshelf in a store to find it. For my current novel, Roses for a Diva, it would have to be something like “woman in peril, psychopathic chase, musical thriller”.

Sounds enticing doesn’t it? And I’ve also given away a large part of the plot, too!


Eileen Goudge said...

I agree with you, Rick. All this pigeonholing has gotten crazy and can make you crazy. I recently read a blog post about all the "rules" in writing a cozy mystery. No sex and minimal romance, nothing too graphic in terms of violence, etc., etc. Depressing. I say if it works, go for it. I defy anyone to pigeonhole GONE GIRL!

Rick Blechta said...


I understand why this is happening -- from a marketing standpoint, and some people have been very successful because of it, but from an artistic standpoint, it's very depressing. The fact that there are all these "rules" about writing a cozy shows just how ridiculous it has become. The person whose blog post you read is merely stating what has become obvious.

I'm sure we could come up with rules for writing police procedurals, thrillers and other books as well.

What is so silly about all of this is that we're just making the crime writing genre (another pidgeonhole!) even more shallow. Really, is there much difference between what's happening in CW and writing Harlequin Romances? I think not.

It's really sad.