Good Books Find Readers – Despite Breaking The Rules by Polly Iyer
Certain things make me grumpy. One is when I finish reading a book then pick up another in the same genre that sounds almost exact. The plot is different, marginally, but in many ways, you know what’s going to happen because there’s a recipe writers follow for that particular genre. I’m sure it’s based on the successes of many bestsellers, but after a while they all start to sound repetitive, at least to me. Is this the result of the demand of those who control what we read, namely agents, editors, and publishers?
Some genres have to adhere to the rules or they become something else. Romance, for instance, has to have a Happy-Ever-After ending because without it, the genre ceases to be a romance, by definition. Even a possibly-together-ever-after ending doesn’t cut it. Readers of that genre expect the Hero/heroine to ride off into the sunset and be together forever. Wedding bells are a bonus. Romantic suspense, which I usually write―all my books have a romance, kind of―is a little trickier, but nevertheless must adhere to the HEA ending. I was speaking to a multi-published romance author recently and mentioned I had just watched the movie, Casablanca, and declared it a romance. “No, no,” she said. It’s a love story but not a romance. She was right. There is no happy-ever-after in Casablanca. But I still think it’s one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.
Then add Conflict to the formula. This is a must and where I have a problem. The writer must find a way to keep the H/h apart or in conflict. I don’t like when the conflict goes on too long, because it becomes forced and contrived. Gone with the Wind is neither a romance nor a love story. So what is it? I honestly don’t know, but Margaret Mitchell sure knew conflict, and readers ate up GWTW when it was written almost 75 years ago. They’re still buying and loving that classic because of the push/pull of the hero and heroine. Conflict.
There are two ways to write conflict in a romance or romantic-suspense: the H/h have an instant dislike to each other for whatever reason, or the story provides the conflict. The latter might put the H/h on opposite sides, but the story is creating the discord. In my not-quite- romantic-suspense book, Hooked, my heroine, an ex-call girl, is coerced by the handsome cop to work undercover at a brothel to find a murderer or go to prison for all the money she stashed in an overseas account and never paid taxes on. (I love characters who cross ethical lines.) She gave up the life, and now the cops are forcing her back into it. Needless to say, she’s not happy. The cop, on the other hand, feels guilty. To make matters more difficult for him, he’s attracted to her. She’s smart, beautiful, and royally pissed at him for doing his job. I won’t mention how it ends, other than to say it’s not a classic romance, but it is romantic. Thoroughly confused?
Mysteries create a similar problem for me. The murder should appear as close to the beginning of the book as possible to draw in the reader. But should it? Yes, for the most part. But there are stories where the author must set the scene or develop the characters so the reader is invested in them before something in the story can take place. I suppose those who read mysteries expect that, but I’m a character-driven reader, and I want to care about them from page one. My book Murder Déjà Vu is considered a romantic suspense/mystery. There are only two pages of conflict between the H/h. The first two pages. They like each other almost immediately. To make matters worse, the body doesn’t show up until page thirty-something. Did I break the rules? Yes, but I believe I needed to develop the story first in order to make sense of what happens later.
Agents and editors are always looking for the next best thing in genre fiction, but what they really want is a clone of another author’s recently successful novel. How many Harry Potter imitations hit the bookstands after the book became a phenomenon? What about the copycats of The daVinci Code published after that success? Why didn’t a publisher pick up Amanda Hocking before she self-published and sold millions of copies of her fantasy books? Or E.L. James, whose Fifty Shades of Gray books have generated shameless counterfeits and opened up erotica, or so called Mommy Porn, to the masses? Those writers made their genres become the next best thing. How many of those in publishing are kicking themselves for not grabbing these future blockbusters at the outset? Lack of imagination? Not having their fingers on the pulse of the reading public? Adhering to the rules? I think so.
Good books that don’t fit a specific genre are rejected all the time by agents and editors because they don’t know how to sell them. Where do they fit on library and bookstores shelves? Can’t place them, reject the book.
Ebooks might be the answer, and self-publishing a means to that answer. No shelves. Just a blurb that gives readers a description to decide if the book is something they find interesting. It is happening, and cross-genre books are coming more into their own. I, for one, am glad. New fiction recipes are being created every day. I think I’ll call them Originals.
A good book is a good book, and a good book will find readers. There are quite a few authors finding that out every day, and the reading public is much richer for it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Polly Iyer was born on the coast of Massachusetts. After studying at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, she lived in Italy, Boston, Atlanta, and now resides in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Caroline in an empty nest house with her husband; Joey, the timid cat; and a drooling mutt named Max. Writing novels turned into her passion after careers in fashion, art, and business. She is the author of eight suspense books: Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja Vu, and the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series – Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon, plus three others written under a pen name. Writing has turned her into quite the hermit, wearing comfortable clothes she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing on the outside, while she devises ways for life to be complicated for her characters. Better them than her. Check out Polly’s website at http://PollyIyer.com .