Get in where you fit in: genre expectations

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

~Toni Morrison~

When I first sat down to write In Her Closet, I was in a reading slump. My favorite author, Anne Rice had gone all religious on me. Urban Literature had undergone a transformation that pretty much mirrors the state up Hip Hop these days in that every story out there was more of the same and mainstream African American and multicultural romance, while it had some bright spots, fell flat for me. I was a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling my kids and my brain was atrophying. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but that’s how I really felt at the time. I knew that I was doing a good thing by keeping my boys home so that they could get caught up enough to compete in the public school system, but homeschooling was very isolating and without a book to read, I was bored to tears.

Yes, I cried actual tears of boredom. Okay, maybe it was a mild depression, but tears were shed nonetheless.

While in this reading funk, I searched the internet for anything worthwhile to read. I read some fanfiction and stumbled on some blogs that had serialized novels. In this search, I also discovered something about myself. First thing was…I liked to read the filth. The filthier the better. I don’t know what that says about me, but mostly I don’t really care. The second thing was that after I read these filthy offerings on the interwebs, I was often plagued (yes, plagued) by all of these ideas of how the story could’ve been better. To take it a step further, I was inspired by these readings to write a story of my own.

Admittedly, my first forays into writing were a bit…precarious. I had been years since I’d written anything outside of the rudimentary english paper and even longer since I’d written anything creative. What the hell made me think I could write anything that anyone would want to read?

I started in a safe place. I wrote poetry and published it to MySpace (myspace BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!). Those clunky ass, navel gazing poems gave me the confidence to write longer prose and then short stories, and novellas and finally, my first novel. Thank you, MySpace.

But before I sat down to write my first novel, I took Toni Morrison’s quote to heart. Writing the book that I wanted to read was at the top of my list. I read lots of Urban Literature and lots of Romance. I wanted to write something that blended the two. I didn’t give any consideration to how such a book would be marketed and promoted. I just wrote it!

Fast forward three years and here I am with a completed novel. A novel that straddles two genres and is in danger of fitting into neither.

Why is this important?

Well, I’m glad you asked, gentle reader.

Genre distinctions are those precious, intangible things that make it easier for readers to find you. In short, its the thing that helps you sell your books. Different genres have different expectations, but the purpose of this article, I’m going to talk about romance and erotic romance.

By definition, a romance novel is a type of genre fiction that places the primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”–a happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now ending (HFN).

Lately there has been a tad bit of controversy surrounding the HFN/HEA endings required and expected by romance readers. Romance readers tend to be the most voracious which makes the genre attractive for writers. If you can write romance and write it well it is nearly a guaranteed money maker. This also makes it attractive for writers outside of the genre. Including a romantic subplot is an excellent way to bring in readers that may have never found their books before. Seems like it would be a win-win, right? Cross genre writers gain more readers and readers are exposed to a more diverse assortment of books. But in this process, the HEA/HFN ending has suffered.

You’re probably wondering where I stand on this.

Honestly I feel two ways about it.

Any job has requirements and if your job is to write romances then you need to meet those requirements. That’s the bare bones of it. If you choose to write romances, happy endings are part of your job description.

But the reader in me feels a bit differently.

Yes, I get it. It’s a romance. Boy meets girl. They kiss. They have sex. They make professions of love. And all of that is tied up real neat like at the end with marriage or a promise of marriage. If you’re lucky, there may even be a an epilogue that includes the actual ceremony and maybe even a baby! But here’s the thing…

There is only so many ways you can reach that end and still satisfy me as a reader.

As a writer I know that it is amazingly difficult to reinvent the wheel. I enjoy writing across genres, including a lot of elements from urban lit and women’s lit and sometimes that doesn’t lead to a HEA or even a HFN. Sometimes I write about difficult or dark topics that romance readers don’t like to read. And hey, it would be awesome to be able to label them as love stories or romantic dramas or something that fits them better, but until there is a better description, romance–and its many sub genres–is the umbrella it fits under best.



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