Wednesday, March 22, 2006

AG: Genre Discrimination

THERE'S a rule in publishing that has been around for a long time. Usually it’s an acquisition editor or agent giving advice to the writer. It goes something like this:

I have this great idea for an action-suspense novel.

But you’re a mystery suspense author.

So. A story is a story and that’s what I do. I write stories for people to read.

But if you switch genre’s it will confuse your audience.


Because it will. Everyone knows that.

This isn’t an effort to make editors sound stupid. They’re not. They’re very bright and extremely talented, but they, like all of us, are a product of the industry. As such, certain ideas creep in and stay.

Is it wrong for a novelist to write across genres? Is it career suicide for a mystery writer to pen a western? Is a gritty crime writer tricking her readers if she writes suspense/mystery? What if a science fiction author has a killer idea for political intrigue?

It is true that some well known novelists have sneaked over the wall of their chosen genre and had a go at something different and met with trouble. I think of Robin Cook, a bestselling medical-thriller man, but who also tried his hand at other things (Sphynx, Abduction, and Invasion). Did those books hurt his later sales? Only Cook and his publisher know for certain.
Michael Crichton has stretched his wings with other genres and even screenplays (as well as being the creator of the TV hit ER). True, almost all have some connection to technology gone wild, but there is a big difference between Jurassic Park and State of Fear.

I wonder about these things. Some authors take on a pseudonym when crossing the invisible boundaries of genre. Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman; Dean Koontz wrote science fiction before settling into his sometimes horror, sometimes suspense, sometimes supernatural-thrillers. A man of Koontz’s talent can’t be expected to sit comfortably in a box. I’m having trouble classifying Life Expectancy, one of Koontz’s recent releases. It is a hilarious thriller that had me laughing out loud in a restaurant. (Middle-age men who sit alone in restaurants laughing make others nervous.)

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the seventies, but I resist being pigeonholed. For me, it’s all about the story. Story is what matters in this business. Personally, I think readers are smart enough to know that writers are artists and artists have to peek over the hedge from time to time.

Alton Gansky lives in California . . . where the hedges he peeks over are figurative, not literal. Visit his web page at


At 8:07 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Sharyn McCrumb, a topnotch mystery writer is now crossing genres with such a project. Actually, crossing into my genre, southern fiction. Saint Dale has its subject title none other than NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. I'll follow her any where.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There you go again, hinting about the sci-fi intergalactic cowboy romance I know you're working on. It's okay Al, let your freak flag fly.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess authors aren't the biggest fans of branding. We'd like to write what's on our heart.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I guess the question would be, "How do I get around this?"

Where there's a will there's a way.

Are you contemplating crossing genres? I love the way you write now! I've never met an Alton Gansky book that I didn't like!


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