To Release or Not Release

(from genre expectations, that is!)

Last weekend I co-presented a workshop with YA fantasy author Grayson Towler at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference.  #RMFW2015

Our topic was “Know Your Genres.”  We covered a wide range of genres, and our general conclusion was–in a nutshell–that readers of genre are savvy.  They already know what they expect to find in genre fiction.  It’s probably not a good idea to make them throw the book against the wall in disappointment!  The author needs to know those expectations in order to deliver the story that the readers want.

Here are some interesting points that came up during the mystery portion of our discussion:

  1. Publishers Weekly:  The list of the top 25 mass market paperbacks in a recent issue showed 11 titles that fall into the mystery/suspense/thriller category.  It’s pretty impressive that there are so many mystery readers, right?

The primary subcategories that further defined those 11 included:

  • Suspense (2 titles)
  • P.I. (2 titles)
  • Police procedural (3 titles)
  • Thrillers (3 titles)
  • Humorous mystery (1 title)

2.  “What’s the difference between suspense and mystery?”  This question came up several times, not only in my workshop, but also throughout the conference.  Here are some of the answers:

  • Mystery is “whodunnit” and suspense is “howdunnit”
  • Traditional mystery is about solving a puzzle
  • Suspense is about pursuit and escape
  • Jeffery Deaver, our kenote speaker, explained it best, imo:  Mystery is all about the question “what happened?” and suspense is “what will happen?”

3.  We discussed 10 different subgenres of mystery and expectations for each one (hard-boiled, police procedural, cozy, thrillers/espionage, suspense, amateur sleuth, private eye, historical, noir, and caper).  Regardless of their differences, there is one expectation that all mystery subgenres hold in common:  the ending must make order out of chaos.

Do you agree?  How important do you think it is to meet those genre expectations?


6 thoughts on “To Release or Not Release”

  1. It’s about the story. I’ve read so many different kinds of mystery/suspense/crime/spy/military/police/whatever books and the ones I enjoyed the most are those that pulled me along by the story. And that is what I’ve tried to do with my own writing. The twists and turns of the plot intertwined with the characters’ personas, their strengths and weaknesses. Much of it taken from the “characters” I’ve run across in my meanders through life and career.


  2. I think there are some expectations (especially that ending one for mysteries – I think it’s a really common reason people read mystery because the bad guy goes to jail and order is restored). I also think readers are smart enough to appreciate when a writer blurs the expectations or delivers on them in a new way.

    And yes, Mike is absolutely correct that it’s all about the story.


  3. I have been giving thought lately to the difference between legal mystery and psychological thriller and how many POVs to reveal. There really is a huge difference there, it is not one of degree but of the skeletons of the animal itself are much different. It’s probably best in early writing to pick a structure and work within it. Why wouldn’t you? The framing has already been done. But one of these days some very bright person is going to come up with an ingenious new variation and all the agents will be saying “Do you do (fill in the blank)?”


  4. Great breakdown of the different subgenres. I think it’s important to deliver on genre expectations, but also to be honest with yourself about what you want to write. Trying to write to fit the market never really works–it’s unsatisfying for the author and doesn’t connect with readers.


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