The death of genre?

New writers and authors are told to know what genre they’re writing when querying agents or editors, but how many of the recent mega-bestsellers lately seem to defy genre categorization?

When Marcy and I were at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, super-agent, author, and writing teacher Donald Maass gave a short talk promoting his soon to be released book Writing in the 21st Century. Maass made 2 primary statements that had me sitting up straighter.

1. There’s a significant rise in cross-genre fiction

2. There’s a decline in straight genre fiction

One claim logically seems to follow the other, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maass pointed out the enormous surge of novels that seem to defy genre categorization. Is it literary fiction, women’s lit, romance, popular fiction – maybe a little of two or three.

I haven’t personally done the legwork of verifying this (feel free – let me know what you find out) but Maass claims that historically books were lucky to spend a month or 6 weeks on the bestseller list. That was a phenomenal showing as far as publishers were concerned. But within the last 2 years or so, there’s been these blips on the list – books lasting weeks and months at the top. Now, Hollywood has long poached the bestseller list for books to turn into screenplays, but being turned into a movie later doesn’t explain how debut books immediately shot to the top of the list, and stayed there long after the movie was released.

The following stats were taken from the USA Today’s Bestselling Books site:

Water For Elephants – 194 weeks

Twilight – 220 weeks

The Help – 144 weeks

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 145 weeks

The Hunger Games – 130 weeks

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 273 weeks

The Lovely Bones – 223 weeks

The Notebook – 215 weeks

And you contrast those numbers against well-known bestselling authors:

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – 12 weeks

The 9th Judgment by James Patterson – 25 weeks

11/22/63 by Stephen King – 15 weeks

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks – 55 weeks

Now – don’t get me wrong. If I had a novel on the bestseller list at all I’d be doing a happy dance right now. Maass’ point was to look at what made books last so long on readers’ lists and minds? He drew 2 conclusions:

1. In the 21st century, the concept of genre is dying

2. Genre is being replaced by high impact fiction – beautiful storytelling and powerful writing that touches your heart and changes how you think about things.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a thriller about a reporter and his assistant chasing a grisly serial killer. It’s about a girl who’s gotten the short stick all her life, but has managed to survive and live life by her own rules despite what society says. It’s about one man’s integrity and his stand against a bully.

The Help isn’t just a period novel about racial inequality, it’s about Skeeter taking the biggest risk of her life to achieve her dream, about Minny breaking free of an abusive husband.

Harry Potter isn’t just about a boy training to be a wizard.

According to Maass, that’s what sets these novels apart. I’m eager to read his new book and see what else he has to say.

Do you agree with Maass? Have you read any of those mega best-sellers? What do you think?

Some great posts this week from around the web:

Amazon-Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Kristen Lamb

13 Ways To Impress An Agent by Rachelle Gardner

Author Websites – Layering yours with sticky extras by Roni Loren

Share some writerly love with Book Pregnant


Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

11 comments on “The death of genre?

  1. That is kind of funny, because I feel like he is describing the kinds of books I like. They don’t just fall into one category. It sounds like good news to me. I want to read his newest book, too, when it comes out. Thanks for keeping us up on the latest.

  2. Interesting and actually good news for me. I write somewhere in-between mainstream, literary and a a drop of romance with a lot of feeling so I glad to hear that Donald Maass said what he did. Thank you for sharing this today. 🙂

    • I think that’s the main point. Look at The Notebook – it’s literary fiction, but it reads like a romance. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows all the rules of the thriller genre, but reads like literary fiction. These novels are very different, but the characters grab your heart and won’t let go. We don’t agree with Lisbeth Salander, but we root for her. Who hasn’t wanted a lifetime love like Noah and Allie? They make you care, and they make you look at love, rebellion, and other things a little differently. These books change how you think, even in a small way. That’s what makes them timeless and powerful.

      • This comment is SPOT ON about character – everyone remembers books for their characters. If you can create brilliant character, you will have written a brilliant book.

  3. Hi, great post and I’m going to have to check out Maas’s book. I agree, I think ‘genre’ is a blurred concept now. But maybe we could see the crossover genre as itself a new genre?

    On another note, I’m pleased to be able to pass on the ‘Versatile Blogger’ award to you – I received it the other day for the third time and one of the conditions is to pass it on to deserving folks. I very much enjoy reading your blog – your determination is inspiring. I’ve posted the details back on my blog

    And thanks to you both for writing such great stuff!

    Matthew Wright

  4. Thanks for this food-for-thought post. As I read it, I thought of Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden, which spent a lot of time on the bestseller list. That book is switches between the past and the present and is part mystery, part family saga, part a search for roots, part a attempt by a daughter to understand her mother, and lots more. The trend Maass noted makes sense to me.

  5. That’s an interesting look at it. It seems like even within genres, there’s lots of crossing over. Like my book is labeled erotic romance, but it’s also contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a book I’ve read lately that would neatly fit into one category, so this makes sense.

    Also, thanks for including my link! 🙂

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