Anyone who has written a novel which doesn’t neatly fit into a particular genre will know how this can hinder the book’s journey to the bookshop shelf. Genres can be useful for publishers and readers to define books but they can also be limiting. Today I’ve invited Kathleen Gerard to tell us about her struggle with genres and defining her novel, In Transit, to suit a publisher, readers and herself. After reading her post you can discuss the issue with her. Leave comments on her post and she will respond to them. I’ll now turn the floor over to you, Kathleen – Welcome!
Kathleen: It took seventeen years for my novel, IN TRANSIT, to find a home. I was told by agents and publishing houses that the book didn’t fit snugly enough into any one specific genre. IN TRANSIT has been labeled a police procedural novel, a mystery novel, a thriller/suspense novel, a crime novel and a romance novel. Because the themes and subject matter of the story spill over into more than one genre, the powers-that-be in publishing didn’t know where to put the novel or how to market it effectively. Thus, it had no takers for a long time.
But fifteen years later, when I was participating in a creative writing workshop and read a portion of another novel (domestic fiction), an editor from a publishing house that represented “romance” novels, asked if I had any “popular” or “genre” fiction in my arsenal. I remembered IN TRANSIT and told her a little bit about the book and the whole genre dilemma. When she expressed an interest in reading the novel anyway, I decided to resurrect the book – making the story more current and updated for a post 9-11 world. Lo and behold, IN TRANSIT finally found a home and was billed as a novel of “romantic suspense.”
I still don’t fully agree with that classification. Yes, there is romance in the novel. And yes, there are elements of suspense. But I’ve always considered IN TRANSIT to be a “woman-in-jeopardy story” meaning that the protagonist faces challenges that ultimately force her to save herself. While the plot of the story is central, for me the book is more about people–characters who make choices (or don’t make choices) and how that effects lives.
In publishing, it’s all about marketing. Even the graphic arts team who designed the cover for IN TRANSIT wanted to feature the image of a police badge along with a sensual image of a man and a woman. “This is a story about the NYPD and a romantic relationship – it’s appropriate,” I was told. But the book is about so much more – the bonds of friendship and family; self-reliance; prejudice, and the nature of secrets and evil, among other things. I felt the cover should reflect a certain level of ambiguity – an abstract image of a moving train, a city skyline and lettering in the same font as seen on New York City Subway signs. “Why can’t readers just read the book for the story and, based on their own experiences and what they bring to the page, classify the book however they wish?”
In the end, my concept was taken into consideration, and I’m very pleased. Most people seem drawn to the cover, and not only are women reading IN TRANSIT, but men are reading and enjoying the story, as well. That cover, designed as such, is actually helping me to reach a wider audience. But even now, when I hear people talk about the book, I cringe when readers continue to try and pigeon-hole the story as a police procedural, a mystery, a thriller/suspense/crime novel and/or a romance novel.
What draws you to a book – the cover, the subject matter, a review, a recommendation, personal experiences (what you’re facing in your life at a particular point in time)? Do you read books based on a specific literary genre (i.e. romance, horror, sci-fi, detective, westerns, etc.)? Are you disappointed if you read a book in a specific genre and the book spills beyond the boundaries of what you would normally expect of that genre – or are you pleasantly surprised? Please share your stories – and feel free to cite specific books and genres as examples.
About Kathleen Gerard: Kathleen’s writing has been awarded The Perillo Prize, The Eric Hoffer Prose Award and nominated for Best New American Voices, all national prizes in literature. Gerard writes across genres. Her short prose and poetry have been widely published in literary journals, magazines and anthologies, as well as broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR). Several of Kathleen’s plays have also been staged and performed regionally and off-Broadway.