15 January 2014

Crossing Over


by Robert Lopresti

I am reading Moon Shot, a pretty good collection of science fiction mystery stories and it got me thinking about crossing genres.  It's one of those things that sounds like a good idea - commercially.  "Hey, if we write a story with elves and cowboys we'll get both the western fans and the fantasy fans!"

For those of you who remember Venn diagrams... you start with this:

 And you hope that your audience will look like this:

But most of the time the audience that shows up looks more like this:

Which is a small group.  The common wisdom is that mystery fans are reluctant to read science fiction -- more so than vice versa.  Like most common wisdom, that may be true, or false, or maybe it used to be true. 

I do know that some authors manage to cross borders successfully.  Like mysteries about sports.






Or mystery-westerns.









                                                          Or mysteries set in a fantasy world.









Or yes, mystery-science fiction.

How about you?  How do you feel about reading books that skip across the genre lines?

7 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Rob, I have no problems with READING cross-genre books, but both my agent and several editors I know have told me and other writers not to cross-breed.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Rob, when it's done well it can be sheer genius, eg Lois McMaster Bujold's mix of space opera, mystery/thriller, and comedy of manners, and wildly successful, eg Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the hit TV series True Blood: mystery, urban fantasy, Southern Gothic, and comedy. But I'm afraid it's true about crossover and sales. This weekend I gave away more than 25,000 copies of my historical novel and sold 200 copies of the historical mystery short story to which it's the sequel. I also sold TWO copies each of the mystery short stories that share my author page on Amazon with the historicals. Oh, and NO copies of the urban fantasy mystery.

Note the giveaway promotion was pitched to readers of historical fiction. When I gave away books to mystery readers, the numbers were much higher, but I got no takers for the historicals, even the Agatha-nominated historical mystery.

Note too that without the promotional giveaways, none of my e-books, long or short, sell at all. My husband said this morning that ALL of the current publishing business models are insane, and I'm inclined to agree.

Eve Fisher said...

I think cross-overs are a hard sell because people like their entertainment in a box, until they don't. Thus what happens is like on TV - back in the 50s it seemed like it was all Westerns. For a while it was all lawyers. In the 1990's, you get a quirky, unusual dramedy like "Northern Exposure", and then suddenly the TV is full of quirky dramedies, most of which fail. Or one vampire show is a hit, and next thing you know you have vampires biting on every channel. And don't get me started on CSI/NCIS/Criminal Minds...

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm kind of odd here, but I have only liked mysteries that are technically (I guess) cross-overs. Isaac Asimov is a long-time favorite. And though it's not listed here, to me Tony Hillerman's mysteries are cross-over (with Indigenous literature, though he hmself is not of an Indigenous culture - he did a darned good job of articulating the worldview as if from within it). Some of Ursula K. LeGuin's books (e.g, "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Lathe of Heaven") also feel like mysteries to me, though in a less standardized way. They lead you through a labyrinth of twisting revelations and understandings to a place you did not see coming. All of which is to say... I am not sure, thinking of this, what exactly qualifies a story as being technically a "mystery." Shows you how much I know! :-)

Peter DiChellis said...

Enjoyed this post. I think horror can cross particularly well with mystery-crime. Both naturally include villains, suspense, fear, etc. I don’t think I’d like vampire cops chasing zombie robbers, but I wrote a crime story I liked (about two grave robbers) that used horror elements in a cemetery setting.

Dixon Hill said...

Rob, I enjoy reading mixed-genre -- except when I don't!

I've enjoyed mysteries, for instance, that transformed into sort of what I might consider horror, when the horror elements ADDED to the plot line in a logical(?) way, meaning they weren't just used as a cheap solution, but instead opened the book to a revolutionary concept. (I guess that's the best way to put it. Not really sure.)

What I don't like is to read what I think is a standard mystery, then discover the author is using some horror or sci-fi "revelation" as a lazy shortcut ending.

Additionally, I think mysteries play very well against sci-fi, horror , or historical backgrounds.

Robert Lopresti said...

Good points, all.

Dix, I have complained before about what I call "ooh, spooky" endings, where the writer drags in a supernatural element at the end for effect.

I wonder if there isn't a coincidental connection between my piece and Terence's yesterday? A coincidence (like a cross-genre element) may be acceptable as a premise, but not thrown in at the end...