View Full Version : Aunt Cathy's Lecture Series - 4: Master and Servant

Cathy C
09-22-2005, 06:56 PM


Subgenre from the top down

By: Cathy Clamp

One of the primary confusions in choosing a subgenre comes from adding many elements to the story that are pulled from different schools of writing. While it makes an interesting story, often the publisher is left scratching their head, trying to decide where to place the book for the best exposure and maximum purchases. While the editor is still going to choose the best line and target market for the book, the author can assist by identifying the primary subgenre the book is intended to meet. In this way, the publisher has the opportunity to see if the manuscript fits the parameters of the lines with those elements.

The first thing you need to know is that there are several elements which are “master” elements. In other words, if that element is placed in the book, it supercedes everything else to become the primary element. Here are those elements which are master elements:

1. Paranormal. In today’s world, we humans know that certain things exist, like automobiles and gravity. We believe other things exist, like a higher power and black holes. Finally, we are willing to consider that some other things exist, such as the spirits of those who have died and psychic phenomenon. In the final category, most people DO NOT believe that vampires, werewolves and magical powers exist (we’re not talking about casting circles here, we’re talking pointing a wand and turning someone into a toad.) When a paranormal element is added into a story with the intent of making the reader believe it is real, the world we live in ends. Done. Finito. One of two things then happens in romance fiction:

A. The book is shunted out of contemporary romance and into paranormal romance.

B. The book remains in contemporary, but as “new reality” or “alternate reality.”

Even if every single other thing in the world is normal, everyday life – the addition of a ghost, or a witch (not Wiccan; the other kind), a shapeshifter or a vampire – turns the book into a paranormal. So, when identifying a book where the primary action is suspense, but there’s a ghost in the house, the suspense drops into a “servant” position, making the subgenre paranormal romantic suspense.

2. Historical. Romance publishers have a long background of what is considered “historical” that doesn’t necessarily blend with the rest of publishing. For example, with a non-fiction publisher, a book about World War II is considered history. So is Vietnam. But in romance fiction, the 1940s and 1970s are well within the contemporary line. Historical doesn’t begin until pre-1910 (although that might change as we reach closer to 2010.) So, if you’ve written a small town southern romance that happens to be set in 1904, you won’t be able to sell it to a contemporary line. The editor will shunt it over to the historical editor.

3. Suspense/Thriller/Mystery. When romance shares a top spot with the “sub” element, it takes on a different life. When half of the focus is on the romance, and half on a plot to take over the world, or even trying to remain alive to consummate the love found, the book becomes romantic suspense, even if all of the rest of the book is a normal contemporary story. Add in danger to the life or health of the parties and poof! Instant suspense classification.

4. Erotic. For the purpose of romance fiction, “erotic” is an adjective. (Not erotica, but erotic). When a book is strongly sexy and uses graphic description inside, the publisher will often market the book to the booksellers as an “erotic contemporary.” This is done as a courtesy to the reader, who might be offended by the graphic nature. The bookseller then can place the book in a different location of the store for those with stronger tastes.

5. Science Fiction/Futuristic/Fantasy. Once again, by adding in aliens, ships where people can live comfortably in space, superior weapons, talking animals or other things that don't exist in the here and now, you've removed a book from the contemporary setting and placed it into a new genre, the SFF, or Science Fiction/Futuristic/Fantasy classification.

Go to Lecture #1 - Genres (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18764)
Go to Lecture #2 - Romance Subgenres (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18954)
Go to Lecture #3 - What's Love Got To Do With It? (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19106)
Go to Lecture #4 - Master & Servant (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19337)
Go to Lecture #5 - Lord & Overlords (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19851)

09-26-2008, 05:59 PM
Hi Cathy,
So if you find that your story is Paranormal with romantic elements, would you fit more into Fantasy and not Romance? After reading your lectures, I realize that my book is heavy on plot and the main characters kind of tease each other but they don't necessarily have to be together. In fact, my goal was to make it, like, Remember Nikita the TV series? Michael and Nikita had this long drawn out attraction over several seasons. That is what my book reminds me of and I wanted to take it into a series because the stories just keep coming, but I am pretty sure this is not going to fit into Romance. What do you think?

Cathy C
09-28-2008, 02:28 AM
While romance readers are forgiving creatures, if there's no apparent HEA (or at least a POSSIBLE happily) then shoot for the Fantasy shelves. An editor may disagree with you, but most of the major publishers have various imprints so it may get shunted and still published (like ours did). :)

10-02-2008, 05:02 PM
Thank you Cathy, I agree Fantasy is probably the better bet. It is so great to have this community. By the way I love the cover of your new book. Go redheads!