One of these things is not like the other
After getting a few reviews of Scaling the Rim that graded it as a romance, not a science fiction book, I got curious. So, the past few months I’ve been reading several Romances, subcategory SF to try to figure out the difference between Science Fiction, subcategory romance and Romance, subcategory science fiction. At first glance, you’d think they’d be the same thing, but they’re very, very different – the reader cookies (what makes readers happy) aren’t even on the same page.
In the Romance genre, not only is the emphasis completely and totally on the couple’s relationship (duh, it’s romance), but the worlds have an extremely limited amount of worldbuilding, and a huge amount of handwavium, with far higher tolerance for psychic this or psionic that. (In that way, it reminds me a lot of the old scientifiction, speculative fiction, and pocket books of barely 40-50K words that were one step removed from collected issues of pulps – or were pulp stories fleshed out into books. Jack Vance had no problem with magic in his far-future dying earth!)
It reminded me a lot of Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey movies – in that the movie is always a setup for Adam Sandler to play himself by any other name, and the world just goes along with it. Similarly, the romance reader’s tolerance for more worldbuilding is only in relation to how it affects the couple involved.
Romance genre reader cookies involve not only the standard plot points: meet cute, first kiss, etc, as well as more up-front description of steam level in the blurb, but also things like: heroine gets made over, becomes beautiful. Heroine gets to wear lots of awesome clothes and/or jewelry. At the base, I think some of it boils down to wish fulfillment and escapism from rent, bills, or budget. Or less-than-perfect partners, or the wear and tear of years on the body and the beauty. For a list of tropes that have little in common with scifi, here’s the TV Tropes page. (Is TVTropes. Is Timesuck. You’ve been warned.)
Science fiction and fantasy, on the other hand, really love in-depth worldbuilding, and the feeling that there’s a much broader universe out there to play in. Science fiction series are very forgiving of setting something on a new planet, or a hundred years after the fact, or in the opposing empire… romances that are in a series tend to be “these well-rounded minor characters we saw in the background, they now get their chance for a happily ever after!”
Then I tried several Romance, subcategory fantasy, and vice versa. Some pretty cool stuff in there… and I suspect there’s more overlap between the reader demographics and reader pools, because the fantasy worlds (though not magic systems) were much more fleshed out in the romances than the SF ones. They seemed to draw pretty heavily on fantasy movies (and Disney) instead of fantasy books or original fairy tales, but there’s a wide enough range of common tropes that they escaped the feel of “My research? Oh, I watched a star wars movie once, while babysitting my nerdy little brother.”
Then again, given Outlander, I shouldn’t be surprised by that – you’ve got not only a very highly successful book series, but it’s now drawing in the tv-watching audiences, and some significant percentage of that (often tiny compared to the total television viewership, but that’s huge compared to the standard sales in fantasy) are going to go looking for “more like that”.
The fantasy genre books with a romance plot were fully fleshed out and feathered on both genres, for the most part – although I was surprised at how few I found.
This is most definitely not a case of “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter / you’ve got peanut butter in my chocolate.” Which genre you put your book in affects what your readers expect, and each genre has very different reader cookies to keep their readers happy despite similarities in setting and plot. The trope is the thing wherein you’ll catch the conscience of the king… or the dollars and recommendations of the readers!
So if you truly want to market a book as cross-genre, make sure you are well-read in the other genre, and will keep those readers happy. And, personally, while I’m pleased the readers enjoyed it, after all this research? Nope, not going to market my book as romance, subcategory scifi, because the reader cookies are all in scifi, and I wouldn’t be able to satisfy many of the romance genre readers.
For Science Fiction that has a lot less romance and ships the size of a moon (turns out Pluto doesn’t have a moon. Especially not after the drive is reactivated), Sabrina Chase has just released Soul Code, the third in her awesome trilogy. I have to giggle, because I’m in the acknowledgements along with several other members of the North Texas Writers, Shooters, & Pilots Association. You see, she asked a couple pilots, an Old NFO, and LawDog how to evac a colony in a hurry… you’ll have to read it yourself, to see what we came up with!