by Narelle AtkinsI write in the contemporary inspirational (Christian) romance genre but I love reading books in other genres. A genre can be defined as a category of literature. Fiction genres include Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Historical, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Paranormal, Horror and Young Adult. Each fiction genre may contain multiple sub-genres and also cross over between genres. Historical Romance has many sub-genres defined by the time period and/or setting. For example, a regency romance is usually set in England, 1811-1820.
Why is genre important? If you’re writing for your own pleasure, then genre really doesn’t matter. But if you’re writing to publish, you need to find a market for your books. Your market consists of readers and genre definitions are a marketing tool that helps readers choose between different types of books.
For example, in a romance novel the story will focus on the developing romantic relationship between the hero and heroine. Romance readers expect the story to have a happily-ever-after ending for the hero and heroine. They read romance to journey with the characters as they struggle to overcome obstacles in the story to achieve their happy ending. If a book is marketed as a romance but the hero and heroine don’t meet until three chapters before the end, or the hero and heroine go their separate ways at the end of the book, the reader will be disappointed because the book does not meet their expectations of a romance book.
The book market works on the principle of supply and demand. Publishers and authors supply books to meet the demand of readers. Publishers will go bankrupt if they don’t supply books that readers want to buy. They pay attention to the consumer behaviour of readers and strive to supply books that meet the different expectations and personal tastes of readers.
Books are not a ‘one size fits all’ generic product and I’m going to use the analogy of McDonalds burgers to explain my point.
McDonalds offer a wide range of burgers. A customer who orders a beef burger but is given a chicken burger is not going to be happy. They will be disappointed, possibly angry and most likely wanting to exchange the chicken burger for the beef burger that will meet their expectations. The chicken burger may taste great, but they will be thinking about how they really wanted a beef burger and are less likely to enjoy eating the chicken burger.
A customer who orders a Big Mac is not likely to be happy if the burger contains beetroot. Even if they like beetroot on their burgers, they didn’t request it on their Big Mac and it won’t meet their expectations.
Under the Australian Consumer Credit Code, the customer is entitled to ask for an exchange or refund in these situations because the product does not meet the advertised specifications.
In the same way fast food outlets want to provide burgers that meet their customer’s expectations, publishers and authors want to provide books that meet reader expectations. I’ve asked Jenny Blake, a reader friend who contributes to our blog, a few questions to see how this works in real life.
Narelle: Jenny, thanks for joining us today. I know you are a fan of the Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents range of inspirational romance books from my publisher, Harlequin. What are your reader expectations of these books?
Jenny: A clean, light read with an inspirational content. I love that I know I can read these books and know there will be no bad language or sexual content in them. The books are easy to read but still have a message. The books have grown over the years to have stronger storylines and do deal with real issues. Having the three lines for Love Inspired (Historical, Contemporary and Suspense) gives a good range of books to choose from.
Narelle: I’ve included the link to the Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents Writing Guidelines so you can see if Jenny’s reader expectations in any way reflect the writing guidelines for these books.
My next question: What is your favourite genre? Has the style or content of books in this genre changed over time?
Jenny: My favourite is historical but not all historical. I am not a regency fan but love how there is a range of historical eras. Yes I can see the books have evolved over time. The books now are more realistic and often much better researched. I have noticed it more so in the Heartsong Presents range as these are the ones I started reading first. The style has change and it’s hard to say how but the stories are stronger and the characters are not as perfect and unrealistic as before. Also before Historical was mainly American Prairie stories now there is so much more variety.
Narelle: Thinking of the books you read in your favourite genre, can you think of anything that would deter you from buying a book in this genre and could possibly be compared to my analogy of adding beetroot to a Big Mac? Would these story elements turn you off buying future books from that particular author or publisher?
Jenny: Yes one of my favourite Historical times is the Civil War. Last year I was so excited to get a book set in the era but when I started the book the language was so bad. They used one word to excess and I had to stop reading because of this. It was so disappointing and I would never buy another book by the author and I would wonder at the publisher also. I also enjoy inspirational romance but have been frustrated when I have bought the book marketed as this only to find it’s got a high amount of suspense in it. I do not read heavy suspense books and this is a big turn of and yes it will make me wary of the author or publisher.
Narelle: Have you come across any books that don’t seem to fit into a genre category? For example, the marketing or back cover information might be vague in regards to signaling the type of story. In your opinion, is this a positive or negative factor in determining whether or not you will buy the book?
Jenny: Yes, it doesn’t happen a lot but when it does it can be frustrating. When I am looking for a book I normally look at the genre and read the blurb. There have been a few from reading the back I thought it was a romance only to find it was chick lit or women’s fiction which I do not really like or have found the story to be totally different from what the blurb indicated. For example I thought it would be an inspirational romance only to find it deals with the heroines demon’s and there is very little romance in the book.
Narelle: You’ve read Jenny’s responses, the opinions of one reader. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any or all of the questions I posed to Jenny. Please be respectful in your comments and acknowledge that Jenny was brave to sit in my ‘hot seat’. Any inappropriate comments will be deleted.
NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line in a 6-book contract. Her first book, Falling for the Farmer, will be a February 2014 release.
Narelle is a co-founder with Jenny Blake of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA). http://acrba.blogspot.com
Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins