by Erin Mitchell
I understand why books need to be assigned genres. Without them, finding books would be almost impossible for readers.
But I grew up on the Dewey Decimal System, whose most specific classifications for the books I read is 813, American Literature in English: Fiction or 823, English & Old English literatures: English fiction. It was until I was well into my reading career that I heard the term “cozy” or saw “noir” applied to books, not just movies.
So I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with over-classifying books, especially since some of the books I read are, it seems to me, either misfiled or categorized in such a way that the marketing for them will pass some readers right by. I recently read such a book.
Before I am misunderstood: The book I’m about to discuss doesn’t come out until June 8, and so the marketing for it hasn’t yet really kicked in. I’m not saying that the publisher, Midnight Ink, has or will do anything wrong…it’s just a great example of a book that could easily fall into a genre bin that it doesn’t deserve.
AS SHE LEFT IT is by the lovely and charming Catriona McPherson, whose Dandy Gilver historical cozy mysteries have garnered copious well-deserved acclaim. But Catriona apparently has a darker side too, one she calls on to tell this story. In it, a woman returns to her childhood home under something of a cloud. Once there, she digs into some of the histories of the residents of the street on which she grew up. What follows is a chilling and often frightening story, one that offers insight into the depths of both human depravity and kindness.
What kind of story is it? I would call it a mystery. A dark one. When I asked Catriona about this (via Twitter), her husband said it is a “twisty, character-driven mystery.” That’s a great descriptor, and probably a genre on some list somewhere. But here’s the thing:
The lead character in this book is not a cop nor an investigator of any sort. She’s an amateur investigator. So technically, I think it could qualify as cozy. Except it’s not. Except people who read cozies will enjoy it.
So you see my conundrum.
I’m an advocate of marketing that includes all your readers—those who know your work and those who have yet to discover it. If I was to market this particular book, I would include Catriona’s cozy fans…and also the folks who have influence with noir readers. Old people will love it, as will young hipsters. It has truly broad appeal.
My point here is that if you write fiction, I hope you won’t let your marketing be constrained by genre labels. Remember that most readers, even those of us who are loyal to our niches, like to break out every now and again.