If You Give A Reader A Cookie
Something I haven’t discussed, in this whole “where should you put your book” is that beyond structure there are reader expectations and… well, reader cookies.
“Reader cookies?” you ask. “You mean some publicity thing? I have to find all my readers and bake them cookies?”
Look, the thing to take in account on genre is that usually people have one favorite genre. They might read others, but they had one they absolutely follow and “eat” like peanuts. (Years ago Kris Rusch told me that science fiction readers are the narrower readers. I don’t think she’s right. I think she said that because most science fiction readers are prejudiced against romance. but she also said that romance readers read every genre, and all I can say is she must come from a universe where Spock has a beard. There’s no reason for her to lie, and I don’t think she was, but my experience is exactly the opposite of hers.)
But most readers, when reading genre, learn and come to crave certain points.
There are things in all genres that aren’t logical, they’re just convention and accepted by all writers/readers so that that type of story can be told.
For instance most of us, in most cases, understand that true love takes time and much contact to develop, but you can’t really show that in a novel (Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer comes close.) And you can’t show the many kinds of “true love” that aren’t necessarily romantic love. There just isn’t enough space, and it wouldn’t make for a good narrative.
So instead, you have a sort of handwavium, like they look, they touch and they KNOW they’re destined to love each other. Now in modern (written, because even in regencies this happens) romances, it tends to be because they had teh amazing secks. Which is silly and probably teaches teen girls all the wrong things, but it’s also easy to write/sell.
In science fiction, you’ll have not just FTL — that would be easy — but all sorts of short cuts, gadgets and history that are never explained.
In mystery you’ll have detectives in small towns who solve more murders than the population of the town could stand. And no one finds this weird.
Now if you’re reading cross-genre, that kind of stuff can annoy you no end. But eventually you get used to it.
What might take you longer to get is the reader cookies, i.e. things readers in the genre really like.
As someone who is making her bones in what could be called retro-science-fiction I do a lot of reader cookying. Like… burners. (No, they’re not lasers. I actually figure they’re some form of concentrated gravity. Yes, I know what Athena said. But she’s not technologically literate, and also, honestly, she read a lot of 20th century sf from her father’s library.) Or flying cars (I want my flying car.)
They’re things I find cool, and I remember being thrilled about when I was a kid reading sf/f, and since I’m center of the SF reader demographic (I’m more askew for fantasy) I figured others would have the same reaction. Apparently so.
In mystery, particularly if you’re doing cozies, your reader cookies are often tied to the way your detective puts clues together, particularly if it only makes sense in the detective’s mind.
But more importantly, making sure the reader gets the cookie involves making sure that they get what they paid for as it were.
Your romance needs to be romantic. even if you’re galloping in other directions, with mystery, and sf and fantasy touches, YOUR COUPLE NEEDS TO HAVE A GRAND, ROMANTIC LOVE, (even if they don’t realize it till the end, which often happens in sweet romances) and there needs to be a happy ever after.
Your mystery needs to be mysterious, and your detective (amateur or professional) needs to solve it.
Your science fiction needs to at least wave at science, and the events must be interestingly futuristic (and no, just growing tomatoes on another planet and having emotional breakdowns about your status as female does NOT count.)
Your fantasy needs to be fantastic. There must be magic and awe and spells and stuff. (I fail so hard at this with the shifters.)
I mean Dresden Files has a Noir Mystery structure, but yeah, it’s fantasy. I mean, he’s casting spells, using his SIGHT, working with elves and the supernatural. And that’s fine, because it’s a fantasy with mystery structure, but all the cookies are fantasy.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
Read the d*mn genre you think your work might belong under. Read the top sellers at Amazon at least. Take a week and read them. Be aware of what the reader picking up your book is going to expect.
Because you can’t know what they want, till you know what else they’re doing. So go and read it, and then decide how to classify your own work.