In an odd way, finding your readers and discovering what genre you write is a tiny bit like trying to figure out your sexual and/or gender identity. Some authors, if they are lucky enough to win the query-agent-publisher lottery, have a lot of help in this department. However, some of that luck is knowing exactly who you are, what you are writing, and how it might be marketable in the first place.
I’ve queried several of my short stories, and a novel, several times. What I found is that folks like my work, but it was too dark, too sexual, or too “unique” to be marketable. That all could be true. It’s entirely possible what I write is a little too far out of the basic boxes most debut authors start with. Traditional publishing wants to know you are a sure thing before they let you go off into literary weeds.
This is because they sell books, not stories. The product is literally everything. From the author themselves, to the cover, the advertising, etc. Does it help if the book is well written and generally accepted? Sure, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. All of us could probably name a very hyped book that didn’t live up to the promise when you cracked open the cover.
Stories are a sum of different parts creativity, influences, and for me coffee or tea (sometimes wine) fueled brilliant moments where things all click together. As I’ve stated on other blogs, my stories don’t follow some basic genre conventions mostly because its a mix of genres. My stories have a bit of fantasy and sci-fi, along with romance, mystery, and erotica. It’s really hard to categorize a speculative fiction story and most places can’t figure out how to market speculative fiction because we’ve trained readers to genres that have specific tropes and “rules” about them (yes, mostly talking about romance here, but other genres tend to have similar things like the hero/heroine journey for sci-fi).
For the last year or so, I’ve marketed my books as queer romance, or more specifically queer monster romance. I thought I had found my author home, set up signs, and promptly went about helping others that were in the same subgenre. I love the genre and find it completely fascinating. All the ways folks build out their stories and lore around the monsters along with the romance are delightful. The more I read, the more I liked all the things the genre was doing.
My books often lean into romantic tones, and for some folks it might be more erotic ones. The romance genre can get verrra spicy at times, and yet very prudish too. If you look at any traditional published books, if they are in or around the romance genre, there is this unspoken maxim that a book can have three on page scenes before it starts treading into erotica waters.
This is where being an established author can give you leverage. Laurell K. Hamilton is a perfect example of starting out in vampire horror (still is marketed somewhat like that today) and after about five books, moving more into urban fantasy, even erotic urban fantasy, or monster romance. Here’s the thing — she’ll never be considered romance, because while she kinda lands on a happy-for-now vibe at the end of her books, the books in a series focus on the same characters or a rotation of them.
There are now twenty-nine books in the Anita Blake series. TWENTY-NINE. I’ve been reading these books off and on for about a decade and the latest one actually grabbed my attention with the return of a character I thought was written out of the series and was a big love interest for Anita Blake for a long time.
When I read that about the new Anita Blake novel, I realized why being in the romance genre was uncomfortable for me. My stories aren’t inherently romantic. I have big settings and world building, and stories that involve a lot of characters and don’t focus specifically on romance. My novels have romantic elements, like relationships, and love interests, but all of the characters have their own weight. I also like taking the whole character into the story. The first Saint George novel is a great example. The main characters have existing relationships and even start up new ones while they are actively trying to avoid each other’s attraction. It’s messy and it’s a place that romance books typically don’t jump into or even hint at. However, urban fantasy does.
Maybe I should have realized that early on, but like I said earlier, sometimes it takes hanging out in one house to figure out how you don’t quite fit.
Personal Side Story: I had read about polyamory way before I knew it was called that (thanks to romance and paranormal romance and urban fantasy calling it HAREMS – there is a whole history behind the choice of using this term instead of polyam, which is changing thankfully, but I won’t get into those specifics here). Because most of the representation in books showed that only uniquely “awesome” (read conventionally beautiful and extraordinarily gifted) person\people could be capable of this uniquely awesome approach to relationships, I thought I couldn’t have it. It wasn’t for me. (Subtle Programming is insidious folks – it wasn’t just books, because I had TV, school, and church services too. Representation matters – always!)
I knew I was bisexual before I understood that polyamory was also a much more comfortable fit for me, my personality, my lifestyle, my sexuality, etc. Adding that additional identity of ethical non-monogamy settled things in me that had always felt constricted. I’ve lived a much happier life knowing these things about myself and being unapologetic about them.
Circling back to queer monster romance. I love the genre. I love multiple aspects about the genre and what it represents. But it always felt slightly constricted to me. Life is messy. Nothing is perfect or guaranteed. Relationships change over time. Not just romantic ones but other ones like friends, family, job(s), and community. There is so much story that I want to tell and I knew that if I didn’t have an HEA (happy-ever-after) or HFN (happy-for-now) in my stories they wouldn’t be considered romance.
Well, they’re not. I think I knew for a long time they weren’t. After Prince’s Tide went out to the wide world and the feedback rolled in, I really discovered what I was writing wasn’t romance, not even by some queer romance standards. It’s less about the romance for me and much more about what the characters do together. The relationship is along for the ride, and hasn’t ever really been the center of my stories the more I look at them. My stories are about the message, the world building, the representation, the interactions. The relationships are important, but not just the romantic ones, all of them are. It’s not to say that romance authors don’t show other relationships in their stories, they do! But they often serve as commentary or obstacles to the romantic relationship. Mine are sometimes, and sometimes they aren’t. I need the freedom to explore all of the stories I want to write.
So here I am, a reluctant romance author coming out as an urban fantasy writer. I hope this doesn’t disappoint you as a reader. I hope you understand and maybe shift to see my books in a different light. I’ll understand if they aren’t your thing. I’m happy you were here anyway and gave it a try. I’m happy you’ve helped me in some way figure out what I’m actually doing with all of these stories. I feel like a weight has lifted and maybe, hopefully, it finally makes sense. I’ve never been huge into labeling things, but I know sometimes labels are short hands to understanding. I hope you, the reader, understand.
With love and teeth
~ M.L. Eaden