I find myself recently thrown into a dilemma that I’m happy to have happened into, yet confused as to how to proceed through. On the one hand, the discovery of this dilemma has cleared up a host of questions, and on the other, it’s brought up a host of questions.
When I first began my writing journey years and years and years ago, I fancied myself a romantic and capitalized on that notion in my first novel written as a teen, which was rife with all the angst a young person is expected to feel. (It was also garbage and found its way into a trash bin!) Even through the dry spells, which would plague me for years to come, I always thought of myself as a romance writer. I researched my genre. I read my genre. I lived, ate, and breathed my genre. I wrote my genre according to all the advice I could find. My dream press was one which I suppose most romance writers aspire to at one point or other in their career. It’s also one I’ve never submitted to as my non-formulary style coupled with elongated word counts have never allowed it. I just simply don’t feel I’ve ever really fit inside the box housing that particular press. I’m okay with that. I, along with several others, are Rebels in that sense and find suitable homes outside the box. At least we did then. Not so sure about accomplishing that now. Ten years ago, I had contracts with three different small presses in as many fiscal periods. All three presses were publishers of romance, who included all the sub-genres and heat levels falling under that umbrella. At one time or other, I wrote just about every heat level and wandered into territory I have since sworn to not enter into again. I was by all accounts, a romance writer. I digress.
Since coming back onto the playing field of word dreams, I picked up where I left off for the most part, or so I believed. I’ve touted myself a romance writer and have branded myself as such in anticipation of landing my first new contract. With that being said, a few weeks ago, I sent out my first query in three years. I wasn’t sure the press I started with was a total fits-like-a-glove match for me, but it was close enough I was willing to give it a chance and see where the cards would fall. According to their promised timelines, I was just about to withdraw my submission and move on when a week ago a letter landed in my inbox. It seems I didn’t have to withdraw my manuscript from their consideration because they had done a read through and taken a pass. (Doesn’t that sound so much better than they rejected it? Ha!) I must admit, I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t even surprised, as like I said, I wasn’t entirely sure of our compatibility to begin with. However, what they had to say shocked the gravy out of me to be certain, and as such cleared the murky waters just a bit for me while also muddying them anew.
Their acquisitions editor informed me that my writing was good. That was in no way the problem. My heat level was a bit of an issue, not hot enough. And I’m okay with that assessment. Their guidelines were a bit blurry in that area so as far as I was concerned, it never hurts to ask. If you don’t ask, you never know. If you don’t try, you can never succeed. Right? Those observations helped me tremendously! I now know that my writing proficiency isn’t an issue, and I’m staying true to the heat level I’ve limited myself to and have a bit better understanding of what some presses interpretations of those heat levels might be. But, it’s the third thing she brought to my attention that startled the gravy out of me. She said my storyline wasn’t romantic enough for romance and seemed more to her to be a suspenseful/thriller women’s fiction type story with romantic overtones.
While this should clear up a lot for me in terms of what I may be doing wrong in so far as branding myself (I don’t really believe it does), it brings up a gravy boat full of other questions. Like, what category/genre do I fit into exactly if not romance? Have industry standards on genre definitions become that fuzzy? And, where do I find a press to represent such an overly-descript, non-descript, vague yet excessive categorically confusing genre title such as the one she assessed I belonged in? Because I have to be honest here, while I agree with her assessment of my work for the most part and recognize my work does cross genre lines to some extent, I still consider my writing romantic in nature, enough so to be labeled romance.
To me romance is quite a subjective label and is defined in so many ways these days it’s really hard to nail it into a designated pigeon hole. So, if that’s true, my genre should be: suspense/thriller romance series women’s fiction. Try searching that. You get bits and pieces of it, but nowhere can I find all the genre labels used together in one heading. They are three (4? 5?) separate genres sometimes used together but never all at once. I’ve searched for a press which collages these four or five (3?) distinct yet synonymous categories and I have yet to locate one.
So, what is one to do when in this situation?
I asked my confidant in all things writing what her opinion of the assessment was from this press, and she said she could see where I could fit into the suspense/thriller and/or women’s fiction category as easily as romance. I agreed. However, because I could fit into another genre, that doesn’t exluce the one I ascribe to. Then I inquired as to when this shift in my writing may have occurred that apparently has blurred the blurry line of category classification, because it seems to have eased over me in some sneaky way and overtaken my direction. I’m not sure when I wandered so close to the blurry genre line, but it seems to have happened with stealth and without much notice. She agreed. To that end, I’ve decided that something magical is happening in that my writing is evolving and growing, as it should. While evolution and expansion are a good thing, as you can see, dear friends, it can cause a bit of a #categoricalcrisis, if I let this thing bother me. It’s not so much.
I’ve done extensive research since last week and come to the determination I have three acceptable paths forward. I have found three presses which seem to, if not lump them together in one long extemporaneous genre cluster, at least recognize these four or five genres as being in the same ball park, with some promise of cross-labeling for marketing purposes. I can submit a proposal to these three which might be a good fit and see what happens. You don’t know, if you don’t try and ask. Right? Or, I can be more formulaic in my attempts, backburning the current series in progress for a new project which I can map out in the traditional romance arc and keep to 55,000 words or less so that it fits neatly into the mold. Or, I can self-publish. (A fourth option is to actually add to the current story making it fit the specs for a fourth press I located which might be interested, but really, I’ve always thought if you have to force words, they become nothing more than fluff and detract from the story thereby compromising the integrity of the work. I’m not big into fluff.)
No matter the path, I do believe I am in for some brand tweaking of some sort to try to accommodate the fanciful new genre I seemed to have invented without even trying. Thus, begins another crisis…
As we used to say at my previous press…Rebel on, friends, rebel on.