Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Actuality Beats Ingredients

Jim looked at me as if I'd said I like to suck the vitreous humor from the eyeballs of baby walruses. "Wait, I thought you said you were making ice cream."

"I was."

"And what was the flavor again?"


"For the sake of all that's decent, why?"

"Why what?"

"Why'd you put avocado in? What made you think, ‘Let's see, I've got the milk, sugar and salt, but it needs something else. I know I'll mash up that knobby green vegetable!'"

"Well, the avocado flavor works really well once you mix in sour cream."

"Wait, sour cream?!"

Okay, it was obvious that Jim wasn't going to be won over by the description of my avocado ice cream. I couldn't really blame him; the ingredients did sound odd. It's probably the same sort of reaction the average fiction reader has when he hears about some of the wilder genre permutations. To those who subsist on Grisham and Patterson, who view Kirk and Spock and Frodo and Sam as being right at the edge of accessibility, it seems as though the truly exotic tales are composed of randomly mashed-together tropes. "Steampunk westerns? Mythic thrillers? No thanks. Pass the vanilla."

Of course, such stories don't have to -- pardon the expression -- sound good on paper. We don't have to care about their composite parts. The actuality is the important thing, the way those seemingly discordant elements blend together to form something unique and delightful. Perhaps the only way to woo mainstream readers, to get them to taste and see that such genre reads are good, is to sell not the pieces but the thing itself. "This is a good book, take and read," may ultimately be all the encouragement they need.

(Picture: CC 2007 by
The Rocketeer)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

The folks at the podcast Writing Excuses have an interestingly opposite view on selling genre-blenders: Don't invite one group to a party.

Have a novel about lawyers in space? Sell it as fun space opera and SF readers will come for the characters and have a good time, bolstered by the interest of a new angle. Sell it as Grisham meets Heinlein, and no one will buy it. Readers of SF and legal thrillers alike will decide it is not their genre.

Of course, that all only counts for courting self-identified genre readers themselves.

Loren Eaton said...

That actually strikes me as a pretty decent idea as far as marketing goes. I mean, marketers need a category to push. And though the disperate mix might really work (and is kind of fun for we writers to play with), it won't get a second glance in an oversaturated marketplace.