The common belief is that hybrid-genre books are difficult to market and sell, which is why it’s also difficult to find agents to take them on.
I think I better understand the reasons now. When successfully marketing any book, it’s important to set up the correct reader expectations, otherwise readers can end up disliking a book not because it was bad or even because it wasn’t to their taste—but because it wasn’t what they expected.
That’s become pretty obvious to me with my debut novel. It is a hybrid science fiction/romance that starts off with a mystery/suspense plot in order to set the romance up, and I’ve run into problems with:
- People who thought there wasn’t “enough” mystery
- People who wanted more action instead of the main characters spending a lot of time talking to each other (which is pretty standard for setting up a romance)
- People who thought the romance took too long (because it isn’t solely a genre romance book)
(Things weren’t particularly helped by the fact that my publisher decided to label my book “Mystery/Thriller” instead of “Science Fiction” on NetGalley. To paraphrase what a friend of mine said: A book with a substantial mystery plot is a completely different thing from a genre mystery book.)
However, even given these difficulties, I refuse to believe hybrid-genre books are a lost cause.
I hate talking about Captive Prince by CS Pacat since I believe that series needs to die in a fire, but it’s an absolutely fascinating case study for me in terms of a hybrid-genre story that would never have been picked up by an agent/traditional publisher, but ended up becoming commercially successful. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Captive Prince is a low fantasy master/slave gay romance mixed with political intrigue.
In other words, the epitome of a hybrid-genre book that seems like it shouldn’t have been successful.
Ignoring the master/slave romance part (which is difficult to explain in terms of popularity, other than either (a) white people have a lot of buying power, and/or (b) gay romance can magically make people ignore abusive relationships), it seems to me that the number one lesson for how Captive Prince become popular was: it was able to find an enthusiastic audience who continually promoted the story to other people (and zealously defended its numerous, very severe flaws).
Something like this, however, is difficult to purposely cultivate—it happens over a long period of time and through a combination of luck and proper exposure to the right audience.
And so I reflect on my novel, which seems to have gotten very little interest from review sites despite the fact that I thought it has many aspects that other people would find interesting (diverse representation, action, assassins, romance, ownvoices). Maybe I didn’t construct the synopsis correctly—but if that’s the case, being the author who is too close to the story, I don’t know how else to describe the story in a way that seems accurate to me. Maybe I would be better off having fans who could pitch the story in a way that could generate more excitement.
But that becomes a chicken-and-egg cycle in terms of how to attract readers who could become fans who could promote the book to other readers.
It seems incredibly difficult at this point in time, if not impossible, and it makes me think my sister’s comment—that my next book might do better because it’s far more straightforward genre-wise—might be true.