For anybody not involved in the world of publishing, you might be surprised to know just how many rules there are when it comes to writing and publishing books.
There are rules about the length of a book:
- Historical novels must contain around 100,000 words.
- Fantasy novels must contain more words than the Bible.
- A cozy mystery can be short, but a regular mystery must be long.
There are rules about plotlines:
- Particular publishers don’t allow time machines to be used for time travel. Obviously standing stones are permitted.
- Mysteries should not contain the supernatural – those are two different genres. Hmmm. Wouldn’t the X Files qualify as mystery and supernatural?
- Romance novels absolutely, positively, without question, must have a HEA – or for those not in the business, a “Happily ever after.” Never mind that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are classified as romance….
There are rules about what writers are allowed to write:
- Romance writers can write in any subgenre—mystery, suspense, paranormal, historical, etc., but general fiction writers in any of those categories aren’t supposed to have a lot of romance.
- Authors should not bounce between genres. I guess nobody ever told that to mega-bestselling author, James Patterson.
- Children’s writers should write for children only, and adult writers should write for adults only. Again, James is breaking the rules.
There are even rules about the specifics of writing.
- Fiction writing can contain phrases or even single words as whole sentences. Wow. Interesting. Got it? And fiction writers can begin sentences with conjunctions. And end them with adverbs, usually. Or with prepositions.
- The POV (point of view) must be held by only one person at a time. You’re either reading the book from the POV of the antagonist, the protagonist, or the narrator. And switching between more than three POVs is a death knell. Sorry, Maeve Binchey – all those awards you’ve won should be taken away.
- And never, ever, switch back and forth between POVs. Did you get that, Nora Roberts?
And the rules go on and on and on. In fact, there are so many rules that it’s nearly impossible for an author to keep track of them all. Some authors live by and insist on following all rules. Others bend the rules, and others, like the ones mentioned above, just throw the rules out the window. Which is fine with me. Just fine. Because I hate rules. I hate rules as much as I hate labels
When I sit down to write, I just write. My characters dictate the action, and the actions dictate the genre. I don’t want to follow rules. I just want to tell a story, and if that story doesn’t quite fit in with whatever the rules are, who cares? As long as the story is good, isn’t that all that matters?
Unfortunately, it’s not. Every time I publish a book, I must choose a specific genre, and for romance, a subgenre. In order to belong to many writing associations, a writer must declare that she write books only tailored to a particular audience. I recently spoke with a blogger who was shocked that men actually read my books. “Aren’t you a romance writer?” he asked. Ugh! Why the label? Why can’t I just be a writer? Why can’t I just write fiction? I get that readers have propensities toward certain types of books, but more and more I’m hearing from people who simply like to read good books, regardless of the genre.
So, I’m just going to say it. I’m going to admit something that will cause many of my colleagues to cringe. I am a writer. Period. I write the way I want to write. My stories unfold in the way they are meant to unfold. I don’t set out to write romance, or mystery, or suspense. I set out to entertain. I’ve spoken with other writers who balk at this notion. “You can’t bounce around like James Patterson unless you are James Patterson,” I’ve been told. To which I ask, why not? I’m often told that readers simply won’t continue to read my books if I don’t stick to one genre and follow all the rules. I beg to differ. Perhaps I’m wrong about that. Perhaps I am driving the nails in my own coffin, but I don’t think so. My readers seem happy with my books, no matter what genre I am forced into, so I don’t plan on changing my attitude or my style. I just wish it was easier to get my books out there without having to tow the line.
If you are a writer, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you feel about genres and labels?
If you are a reader, I’d love to know what you think as well. What draws you toward a particular book or author?
As for me, I must be going. I have work to do on my next novel. I’m not sure yet what the final genre will be or what rules I might break, and I really don’t care. I think I’m in pretty good company on that. James, Nora, don’t you agree?
What I was writing about one year ago this week: Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)