The dangers of writing a genre-crossing book
Can I tell you a little secret?
I’m enjoying writing the Reality TV Romance series, but I actually love Della’s Diary a little more than my romance stuff. In fact – this might be blasphemous – but I think Della’s Diary is the best book I’ve written so far.
(And for those of you who are playing along at home – I’m writing to you now from my romance pen name. I keep it separate from my other work for Reasons. I’ve actually written other books, too. So this is kind of saying a lot.)
Here’s the thing… Della’s Diary turned into something completely unexpected for me. When I sat down to start writing it, I was thinking about getting into the mind of someone who slips down the prepper rabbit hole. I watched the entire series of “Doomsday Preppers” on National Geographic Channel (yes, I’ve already admitted I may watch too much reality TV – that’s basically what this pen name is devoted to) and I was fascinated with the balance that NGC struck – trying not to call preppers ‘crazy’ on the show, while at the same time pointing out how implausible the things they were worried about really are.
It made me think: how does someone start down that path? How does someone go from being a fairly regular person, to someone who’s spending tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on bug-out properties and stockpiling for a potential disaster? I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try to get into that person’s mind, and to see how things unfold.
What I was not expecting was what Della’s Diary turned into. First, it kind of started transforming into chick-lit, or women’s fiction – here’s this normal person, with quirks and blind spots and a regular life. She struggles with the things we all struggle with – work/life balance, and how to fulfill her role as a wife and mother while at the same time maintaining her own identity. I wasn’t really expecting how much of that would creep into the story. I kind of love Della because of that.
But then the story took another twist. An unexpected crime thriller element entered into the picture, and actually played a fairly significant role for the latter 1/3 to 1/4 of the book. I totally wasn’t expecting that at all. But honestly, I love how it turned out. It’s way better, in my opinion, than some pat ‘survival disaster’ happening to validate her prepping, or not having anything happen and just leaving her looking like a loony at the end.
I love the end of this book. It’s maybe my favorite ending of anything I’ve ever written. And I’m not alone – my advance reader team has said:
The ending was awesome.
So you’d think: that’s great! A book the author really likes? With an ending people really like? An unexpected twist? Those all sound fantastic. Why is she complaining?
The problem comes in marketing this book. A genre-crossing book is a pain in the derriere to market.
It’s kind of women’s fiction, but it’s also about prepping. And I think the prepping part turns a lot of people off who would normally like women’s fiction.
Alternately, the people who would like the prepping part aren’t necessarily into women’s fiction, so they pass because of the diary style and the light tone and the sort of family-oriented bent of the first 1/3 to 1/2 the book.
There’s a crime-thriller element, but that’s not apparent at all from the cover, the tone and content of the Look Inside, and doesn’t necessarily match the prepping piece, either. It also pops up like halfway through the book, so it’s almost a secondary plot, although it really ends up driving the latter part of the book.
So I’ve got this awesome book, which is really difficult to describe, and people who might like it for one aspect don’t like it because of another aspect… and so it sits around gathering dust. Which I find particularly tragic because I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.
Yeah, the Reality TV Romance stuff is fun. And I do enjoy the characters, and it’s fun to play with love stories, and it’s comforting to deal in happily-ever-afters (HEAs). So it’s easier to focus on that, because it’s easy to tell someone: “Oh, yeah, this is a romance, and more the fun, cute kind than the steamy sexy kind” – and that’s enough to set expectations. And I’ll keep writing the Reality TV Romance series, because I’ve gotten invested in the characters and it’s kind of a fun world to play around in.
But I’m a little sad for Della’s Diary. She’s a badass, and she deserves her day in the sun, too.