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There was a wonderful discussion on an online forum I’m a member of recently, based on an article on Book Riot, asking if romance should always have a happy ending. This set up an interesting debate on genre and expectations, which got me thinking: what is it that readers are after when they gravitate towards a particular genre?

Those of you that follow this blog know that I’m not the biggest fan of genre pigeonholing. I enjoy reading a wide variety of books and prefer to read based on mood: uplifting, thought-provoking, mystery-solving (be it crime or social (in the vein of Kate Morton’s ‘The Forgotten Garden’)) or emotional turmoil. Unfortunately, there is no retailer (including publisher websites) that class based on type – it’s always genre. If the story involves a crime being solved and some romance between the protagonists, it’s crime (not uplifting or pacy or anything else).

But, before I get sidetracked on a genre rant (yes, I know: too late), back to the original question: do readers pick up a book in a particular genre because they genuinely want to read the genre, or because they use genre as a proxy for what they want? I think its often (although, of course, not always) the latter. If the former was the case, then why are genres being constantly refined and narrowed? For example, if readers really cared about genre, then why didn’t genre stay at coming-of-age? Why did we get young adult and, more recently, new adult?

Which explains why readers picking up a romance novel and getting a dead heroine weren’t too happy with the book. Now, if there was a tick-box that said HEA and they had ticked it, this particular book wouldn’t have featured in their pick. I’m not saying that those particular readers would want to know the conclusion of the book before they even started reading, but they might have wanted something that suited their particular general mood. And to them, romance comes with a HEA. And crime with a solution. And… you get the point.

So, if you could have tick boxes, what would you have? Here are mine (along with an ‘I don’t care – surprise me!’ in each section):

  • Uplifting/ Not necessarily uplifting/ Tough themes
  • Happy ever after/ Not necessarily HEA
  • Fast-paced/ Steady/ Gentle
  • Twisty plot/ Not necessarily twisty
  • Includes romantic elements/ Ugh – no romance at all, thanks
  • Includes mystery-solving/ I like it obvious
  • Not fussed about profanity/ Some swearwords/ Bleached clean
  • Grisly scenes/ Some blood but not too gory/ Fairly bloodless/ Bleached clean
  • Explicit sex/ Sex/ Implied sex but nothing overt/ Bleached clean
  • Strong female characters/ Strong disabled characters/ Strong diverse characters/ Strong characters/ No particularly strong characters
  • Death integral to the plot/ Some death but not to central characters/ Death implied but not central to the plot/ No death
  • Everything tied up in bows/ I don’t mind an open ending
  • Realism/ Some fantasy or paranormal elements are fine/ Full-blown fantastical worlds please
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