Dear Gen(re) Letter

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I’m having an identity crisis.

I’ve been reading My Temporary Life by Martin Crosbie. On Amazon, I was surprised to see that it’s listed as a romantic suspense novel. If I twist my brain around enough, I can see that it could potentially be a romance, but from what I’ve read, I’d place Mr. Crosbie’s book in the mainstream/literary fiction genre, not romance. So far, it reads more like a well-written coming-of-age story.

But back to me. After thinking about it for a good while, I pinged some of my friends, ones who’ve read An Untold Want, and asked if it should be classified as a romance. Every one of them came back with a yes.

So now I’m having an identity crisis. [If you didn’t notice the large text / question marks in the photo, it reads I write romance? Really?] I don’t read romance novels. I’m not saying they’re bad or lesser. I’m just saying that they’re not my book of choice. So how is it possible that I wrote a romance novel?

After a bit of soul-searching, I went out to the Romance Writers of America [RWA] web site, and read up on what makes a novel a romance.

For a novel to be considered a romance, there are two requirements. There must be:

1) A Central Love Story

This means that the main plot involves two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.  I went back and asked my friends, and they indicated that, in their opinion, the relationship between Maggie and JD is the main plot. For me the romance drives the plot, but I feel like the plot centers on her self acceptance and that JD is the transport mechanism, the primary person who helps make it happen. Everyone else sees the self acceptance as a nice side effect of working out the relationship.

2) An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending

Okay. An Untold Want does fit that requirement. It almost didn’t, but — and maybe this is the point where I went off the Women’s Fiction rails and headed down the Romance track — I wanted to tie it up nicely. I wanted Maggie to be happy, to have that optimistic ending. After such as struggle, I wanted her to find the place where she belongs, where she feels safe and comfortable. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, that if I can’t have it at least she can. I wanted Maggie to be different, to be not me. To end up better off than I did.

I’m sure that I’ll force myself through some flaming mental hoops before it happens, but I’m positive that sometime in the not too distant future, I’ll be changing the genre on An Untold Want. It’s not a difficult process, at least not technically. And a move like this will potentially open my writing up to a whole new group of readers.

But first, I need to convince myself that I wrote a romance novel.

Book Blurbs are Hard

AUWJust recently, I queried Indies Unlimited about listing my book as one of their Featured Books. Everything about my book passed muster with flying colors [cover, reviews, author pages, preview], everything except the book blurb. Kat, who has been very helpful, said that my book blurb is confusing. And to be honest it is/was. Mostly because I know what the book is about, but condensing it down into 200 or so words is more difficult than I imagined.

The problem is that An Untold Want is a women’s literary novel, not a romance, nor is it a urban-fantasy, even though it has witches and ghosts. And a young suitor.

Maggie is the main character, and she has issues, with everything, especially her family heritage. She grew up in a world where gossip is truth, and image is everything. Witch is not the story. It’s a factor in the story. Same when it comes to romance.

So I don’t want to represent it as an urban-fantasy[or romance] novel. Yes, there are witches. Yes, there is a relationship, actually several of them in the book, but calling it an urban-fantasy or romance novel is missing the mark by a long shot, and misleading the reader. It’s about three women finding their self-worth. The romance and witches are elements used to make it a deeper, more well-rounded story.

I’m frustrated with myself, with how difficult it is to put all that into 200 or so words, to get the tone just right so that the potential reader will want to purchase it and be happy with their purchase. You see, I bought into the whole idea of cross-genre books that people like Donald Maass are pitching, because it sounds like the best of all worlds, but in general the reader population hasn’t really bought into it.  They see witches and think urban fantasy.  Same when it comes to romance.

So how do I write a book blurb that expresses all of that without putting off the reader, without it coming across as boring or condescending? I can’t write: This is a book about witches and love, but it’s not about witches and love.

Today, I contacted Lisa, my editor and friend. We reviewed the advice Kat gave me, which Lisa backed wholeheartedly, and we worked on re-writing my book blurb. I’m on about my tenth re-write, with Lisa, as she says, adjusting my direction.

This is what I’m going to submit to Kat:

Being born into a family of witches in a small Georgia town is more than enough to brand Maggie MacAllister a social pariah. In the fifteen years since she came home from college with a PhD, baby Liz, and no husband, she has withdrawn from life, from a world where gossip is truth and image is all that matters.

Maggie just wants a normal life, maybe even a husband, but everyone knows that any man who falls for a MacAllister woman dies in the prime of life. So, even though Maggie sees herself as a rational, science-minded person, her family and its history weighs on her, colors her life in deep shades of loneliness and self-doubt.

When a medical emergency befalls her daughter, Maggie is forced to examine the choices she has made. Forced to let others into her rigid, cloistered lifestyle. Forced to recognize a potential, and younger, suitor. But will she be able to overcome her fear of what others think of her and accept her heritage? And if she does, will she be able to protect the people important to her from the small town dogma and drama and still find happiness?

If,  for whatever reasons, you’re having the same problems:

Lisa is now taking new clients if you’re looking for someone to help you polish your book [or book blurb], and the Indies Unlimited reference on writing book blurbs,  The Blurb Doctor is In, is an excellent starting place.