Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Problem With Cross-Genre Fiction

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)

“Hello, I’m Bonnie and I am a cross-genre fiction addict.”

“Hello, Bonnie.”

“I’ve been trying to go linear for many a year. So far, I am 0 days clean.”

Such is my struggle. To me, writing cross-genre stories incorporates a robustness that linear genre fiction does not allow for. Dual storylines and shifting modalities force the reader to see the piece through multiple lenses: there’s the horror angle for some of it, the romance angle for others, and the mystery/suspense angle for yet more. I love it—and many readers do too.

But lots don’t.

They say ‘write the story you want to read’, but readers themselves often want specificity in the fiction they purchase. They enjoy being able to put things in a box because there is comfort in knowing what to expect, in having expectations met in predictable ways, and in stories being resolved in ways that do not mess with their perceptions or world view.

In other words, sometimes people don’t like sweet with their salty. Not everyone appreciates pineapple on their pizza.

My novel, Divinity & The Python is a good example. People who love it love it a lot. But people who picked it up expecting one thing and finding it injected with another…? Those folks don’t exactly hop up and do a tap dance when they write their reviews. Let me quote:
“I picked this up wanting horror and instead got a corny love story. I HATE romance.”
Oops. Sorry ’bout that. You may want to opt for my novella No Vacancy instead. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than Hitchcockian horror.

Divinity & The Python, on Goodreads, is shelved (by readers) under romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, thriller, paranormal, horror, and mystery/suspense—with none stepping forward as dominant for any one group of readers. My next novel, The Summit’s Shadow, which will release in 2018, will fall under the same opposing categories, and there’s not a single thing I can do about that save gutting the story completely and making it something it’s not.

So because my fiction does not appeal to any one specific audience, it is not only tough to pitch to literary agents and editors, but it can also be tough to sell to readers. Case in point—the cover for first edition of Divinity & The Python was a beautiful combination of colors and an arresting image (thank you, Janice Hardy, for your exceptional graphic artistry), yet it looked like a horror novel, and this turned many people off (even though they may, as paranormal romance fans, have read it anyway, and possible enjoyed it). Since then, Janice and I worked together to craft a re-release cover that’s unmistakably romantic…but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t worry that someone looking for a love story won’t feel cheated by the strong elements of horror and supernatural in this book.

There is no easy answer to this. I write what I write, and my fiction comes out the way my stories tell themselves to me before they hit the page. I have tried to craft linear genre, but most of my efforts feel like I am selling myself out and the pieces reflect that; they lack passion and authenticity, are maybe good but definitely not great, are perhaps competent but not compelling.

And that may be fine, but plain vanilla ice cream has never worked for me.

I recently read a Paul Tremblay novel, Disappearance At Devil’s Rock, and noted, in the reviews, a reflection of where I feel my own fiction often lands with readers; the horror crowd was pissed that this book felt more like a thriller/mystery, and the suspense crowd was cheesed over the subtle injections of horror and supernatural ambiguity therein. The polarization was riveting, yet it makes me wonder if, for a much lesser known, and indie author like myself, if it translates into a perpetually small audience for my mixed-genre fiction, and thus an inability to ever rack up the numbers that will allow me to claim the much-coveted station of ‘Best-selling Author Of’ on my book covers. This is somewhat daunting, and definitely disappointing, and as I ponder it I look to each of you for thoughts, feedback, and reflections on the whole conundrum of books that ‘don’t fit’ into any tidy genre box. (Of course tips on how to market these hybrids is more than welcome too!)

And with that I ask you to insert your opinions and thoughts down below and, as always….peace.


Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.


  1. So what is your flavour ice cream? Salted caramel? I saw omelette flavour in Spain once...
    I'm sorry I have no golden tips to give just yet. I'm only working on my first novel, which is supposed to be a gothic, but contains no vampires, and my voice is more chicklit/comedy, so I'll have to see how that works out. Meanwhile, I'm sticking close to you, to see how you're going to manage it, because I'm sure you will!

    1. That's so sweet & awesome! Thank you, and best of luck on your chick lit infused Gothic style! (I ❤ Gothic anything!)
      As for ice cream...can you believe I saw "Horse Flesh Flavored" ice cream on my Facebook feed today? Evidently it's a thing in China.
      Closest I've ever come barfing all over my keyboard.

    2. No way! Eew. Even if it tastes nice, just the idea! Although it might work great in a Gothic :-P You have an interesting feed...

    3. Some days it leaves me thinking I should seek a little therapy 😨

  2. I've been looking for those answers, and looking, and looking...

    I wrote six "exploratory" novels that were all about learning the craft and trying to fit myself into a box. The learning took, the box not so much. So, here I am writing my series with the probable intention of self-publishing. Until then, I write.

    Next month I'll draft the fourth book in the series. Book1 is quite far along, while Books 2 & 3 are only drafts. The short answer is that it's fantasy, but without dragons, quests, and elves. Or I could call it Other World Fantasy Steampunk where little time is spent addressing clothing and mechanics (and London isn't on the map).

    What IS present is a stress on mystery, adventure, suspense, romance, and a unique world where mammoths have survived, werewolves turn every third month, ancient technology melds with magic, and diverse characters search for hope and purpose.

    Anyway, I keep writing and trying to figure-out how to gather my niche audience all in one place. By then I'll be able to release books on a regular basis to keep them happy.

    Unless they're looking for elves. :)

    1. Not a thing wrong with a niche audience, either. I live and am hugely grateful for mine!

  3. What I've been told by those who know a great deal more than I do, is for covers and marketing, target the parent-genre, or most forgiving genre. Romance readers see all sorts of settings and elements in which the romance takes place, so they tend to be more forgiving of (or interested in) a variety of other elements. As long as they get their HEA, horror is cool, spaceships are cool, etc. For western fantasy, target fantasy, because pure western readers want a modern Zane Grey, but fantasy readers are more likely to say, oh hey, cool, the old West with dragons, etc.

    For my space opera series, I'm targeting space opera, even though I'm told it reads like epic fantasy (sprawling story, multiple POVs). I have some romance, because people do that, but those are subplots, and one doesn't get an HEA (so I'm not targeting romance readers).

    Because I want readers to know this series is about the *characters,* not the minutiae of space battles or life in the space Marines, etc (big subcategories for Space Opera), I've got the obligatory spaceship on the cover, yes, but also the characters (women, even, indicating female protags)... I'm told male space opera fans will buy it because the characters are hot, lol, but women fans should, too, because, well, women, and two of them, so female friendship... That's expecting a lot out of one cover, o know.

    They're not out yet, so I gave no idea if that will work, but I'm hoping to circumvent the "I wanted spaceship boy adventure and got girls and kissing ewww" reviews. Like you I can't make these more "to market" than they are without gutting the story, but other writers with somewhat similar books have done well, so, fingers crossed. And those are the ones I'm going to specifically target with Amazon ads, who the time comes. Those authors, the specific novels, and the series. That's the plan, anyway... O:-) The cover above very much says romance to me, although I'm not getting any horror vibes, but I'm on my phone so it's very small and my eyes are very bad.

    Last tidbit -- take all with a giant, heart-stopping grain of salt -- as indies, we don't need the sales numbers that trad pub do to make decent money at this, so that "bestseller" thing is less vital to our careers. If it's an internal need of yours to have it, you might consider putting some short stories into a contest or two. I got a writing award early on (way before I ever thought to doing this professionally was possible) and having that, knowing that, keeps me going when I get discouraged.

    And, oh, God, I just read the end of your last comment. Have no words!

    1. Would love to hear more about how hour amazon ads pan out!
      And yeah...I know "Bestselling Author Of" isn't vital, but....
      As for horse flesh flavored ice cream....? Jay-sus! I could have lived a happy lifetime having never been made aware of that. GAWD

  4. I hate pineapple on my pizza, but I am fine with cross-genre writing. In fact, I do a bit of it myself. I can see why it's hard to pitch to agents who focus on a particular genre. But there is more of that "Hitchcock meets Nora Roberts" type pitching around nowadays isn't there? :)

    1. Yes and no. I seem to be a pretty firm outlier. Sigh

  5. I'm right there with you when it comes to cross-genre. I love fantasy ad sci fi, but they often fuse together in my writing with a heavy dose of romance. Sometimes, there might even be some horror and some mystery sprinkled in. I hope we all find our audiences.

    1. Me too, Lucinda. Every story deserves a listener