Are you combining a delicate romance with a sharp spy thriller? Rejected because your novel isn’t fully commercial or properly literary? I know how it feels: apparently my debut The Mathematics of Love was literary/commercial, historical/modern, male/female crossover. That’s a lot of stools to fall between when every editor needs to show how a book will sell to a particular market: how it ticks all the boxes for that genre. Yet every editor wants novels that are new and fresh: that don’t read as if boxes are being ticked. What’s a writer to do? (Added 14th January 2013: an excellent piece about this by Nicola Morgan: Be Careful When Falling Out of Pigeonholes)
First, do you have to write crossover? Has your clever twist just twisted your novel off the genre rails? Have you jammed two kinds of story together because you couldn’t decide which was better or more saleable? Three or more, and it’s probably about as tasty as clearing-out-the-fridge soup. Or have you always been about integrating things others regard as separate? If so, resign yourself: you and the book are going to have to work extra hard to transcend the handicap.
Readers know what pleasures they’re looking for; the more deeply you understand both genres, the more confidently you’ll integrate and bend their different conventions to your will, yet still deliver all those known pleasures. That confidence is then a strong carrier for the more surprising or contradictory pleasures. Your prose must be even better than in a novel which is an easier sell: take a poetry course to clean out the second-hand voices. And readers know when their tastes aren’t being taken seriously, so don’t tack half-baked cleverness onto a traditional romance; don’t sugar a satirical pill with a half-hearted love story.
It’s demanding, but it’s not impossible. You may be rejected by narrow-minded editors, but others may see that what you’re offering is so much richer. Good luck!
A version of this piece first appeared in Romance Matters, the magazine of the Romantic Novelists Association.