Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing: Book Categories

Regular readers of this blog know that I get a lot from reading what the author Lawrence Block has to say about writing. For years his column on this activity appeared in Writer's Digest, and those columns were eventually collected in several books. I have most of them, but only recently acquired a print copy of this one--Spider, Spin Me A Web. And in it I found this gem about something I recently had to deal with.

In the book, Block refers to the contention by another of my writing heroes, the late Robert B. Parker, that categories of fiction are useful to everyone but the author. In other words, although an author may write the book they feel they must pen (for one reason or another), it is editors, people who work in bookstores, readers (or judges of contests) who then put that book into a category. It's useful to classify books that way, but the author sometimes doesn't think of it that way.

I found my own niche writing medical mysteries. I started out calling them "Medical Suspense With Heart," although after looking carefully at my writing I've changed that to "Medical Mysteries With Heart." The "with heart" refers both to God's love as well as that between characters, but since my work doesn't fully fall into the thriller/mystery/suspense category (certain not enough to compete with those who currently dominate it in either secular or inspirational fiction), I slid into the "romantic suspense" class. But not all of my books fit that category.

This was brought home to me rather forcefully when an editor (rightly) pointed out that the next book after Cardiac Event has co-protagonists who are already married. For some reason, although there are many examples of male-female interaction in this one, it didn't fit their template. So I could either rewrite that book, write another, or move forward with self-publication. I chose the third option.

I'll keep writing "Medical Mysteries With Heart" so long as you, the public, keep underwriting this activity with your encouragement (thanks for every email) and your patronage. And you know what? It seems sort of freeing to take Block's advice and write the book I want to write, rather than writing one to order so it fits into a particular niche.

What do you think? Do you put more stock in a book's category than the past history of the author's work? I'd like to hear from you.

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6 comments:

Patricia Bradley said...

Your dilemma is what makes indie publishing so appealing. People who read you, do so because they love your stories and to be honest, I don't think readers put themselves in categories. I understand that publishing house need to know where to feature your books, but still...

Richard Mabry said...

Well-said, Patricia. It's freeing not to have to make certain our books fit into the classification others have established. Thanks for your comment.

Elise Griffith said...

I agree with Patricia. When I find an author whose work I enjoy, it doesn't matter to me how their books are categorized. I'll seek out new releases by the author, as well as any "old" ones I haven't yet read.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Elise. I agree.

Paula said...

I agree with you all! Hey that's a majority! I just like your writing! It doesn't matter how it is categorized! I applaud you for writing what you feel you need to write,what is inside you that must be put into a book! Thanks!

Richard Mabry said...

Paula, all of my books I have planned are medical mysteries of some type. After Cardiac Event (watch for it soon), there'll be Guarded Prognosis, which starts with a doctor-father asking his doctor-son about helping him end his life. Stay tuned.