On one of the lists I’m subscribed to, I received an advertisement targeted to booksellers about a recent release. In the interest of protecting the parties responsible for its publication, let’s call it Princess Mashup and the Laser Vampire Steamship of Death (not the real title). I was especially interested in the ad’s claim that Princess Mashup is a “landmark work” and considered to be “the future of genre fiction.” This got my attention because I love reading landmark works and every author needs to know where the industry will be heading.
Based on the rest of the ad, the future of genre fiction–as contemplated by this one publisher’s marketing department–is going to be a rocky landscape of extremes. There are two main readership groups targeted by Princess Mashup: people who don’t read books at all; and people who obsessively devour books in all six of the genres that Princess Mashup falls into.
The ad envisions, first of all, a legion of non-readers stumbling into a bookstore for the first time in their lives when well-meaning relatives give them bookstore gift certificates for the holidays, perhaps as a joke. The ad instructs booksellers to hand-sell Princess Mashup “until every one of those gift cards are redeemed”…but why? They never say. My first thought was that books in the speculative genres are universally approachable vehicles to hook young readers into a lifetime love of reading–except that Princess Mashup is also touted as a YA/Adult crossover. By the time a reader is developmentally ready for such a book, their reading habits or lack thereof will probably be set for life already. Still, if you’re a sometimes-reader looking to survey six different genres to decide which you might like, maybe it is most efficient to get them all in a single volume.
For the second demographic of Princess Mashup, imagine a Venn diagram–that’s the one with two or more overlapping circles. We’ll start with circles for people who are rabid fans of vampires and those who love, love, love a good romance. At the intersection of those two circles are fans of the Twilight series, among other recent works, representing a number sizable enough to drive a book onto the bestseller lists. Then add a circle to represent more-than-casual fans of steampunk, and suddenly you’ve fragmented your potential-bestseller market into a hoping-for-a-cult-classic market. Now add three more circles for fans of alternate history, fans of dark fantasy, and fans of pulp adventure. At the intersection point of all six circles, you’ll find the set of readers who are omnivorous enough to already be familiar with the six distinct storytelling conventions required to truly appreciate why Princess Mashup is such a “landmark work.”
Giving Princess Mashup the benefit of the doubt, I figured it could actually be a fun cross-genre romp that the marketing department had no idea how to present. Then I just took a sneak peek at the opening pages and found them to be something about a princess on a steam-powered pirate ship using her magic sword to fight off a pair of startlingly handsome vampires in a world where the Macedonian Empire remains a world superpower. I know that sounds cool as a synopsis but the execution was underwhelming–and that shouldn’t be a surprise.
It’s hard enough to do just one genre well, but with six combined there’s an exponential increase in the difficulty level. My upcoming Galaxy Games series is a humorous take on sports and science fiction, and I had to pull out all my writing tricks and reader experience to make sure it was good science fiction, a plausible sports story, and genuinely humorous. Assuming my reaction to Princess Mashup is typical, cramming six different genres into a single book will only serve to nauseate a reader in six different ways at once.
This one publisher’s terrifying vision of the publishing industry’s future is one in which genre fiction becomes a mash-up, individual genres cease to stand alone, and all new books are grouped together in a single bookstore section ideal for non-readers and a select group of crossover fans. Readers will be required to either love the latest fantasy-romance-cyberpunk-zombie-detective offering wholeheartedly or give up reading altogether.
The blending may be starting already. In the past few years we’ve seen the monster genre almost entirely subsumed into the romance genre. I can’t recall any recent books about unrepentant vampire killing machines and the heroes who must stake them in the heart or die trying. After an entire tradition of standalone monster stories is lost, what genre will be next? I’m looking at you, Space Opera!
—Greg, who loves a good mashup and wishes everyone a happy Christmachannukkwanzanew Year!