Crossing the genres

Kylara Vatta from Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon Eowyn, Lord of the Rings,  JRR Tolkien Carina Mitela, PERFIDITAS, Alison Morton

When I started pounding on my keyboard, I just wanted to tell a story. There’d be adventures and Romans, a heroine, a love interest, good guys and bad guys, a ton of action and romance, friendship and enmity, comradeship and purpose. And, eight books later, that’s what happened.

But there was a problem…

The publishing/book trade rather likes distinct genres; they suggest that the fiction book-buying public likes to know what it’s getting – a thriller or a romance or a historical or a science fiction. I had to decide in 2012 what slot or genre my first book, INCEPTIO, fitted into if it was going to be marketed successfully. Which shelf would it be on in the bookshop?

The first choice was romance or thriller. But the speculative Roman elements gave it a strong historical bent, so was it historical fiction or alternative history? Could it be adventure fiction or perhaps coming-of-age? And as it involved modern Praetorian Guards, would it slip into the military fiction mould? Whatever it was, it was going to run all over a number of categories…

What is cross-genre?

Essentially, fiction that blends themes and elements from two or more different genres. In contrast to single genre, it offers opportunities for opening up debates and stimulating discussion in ways that single genre books wouldn’t. ‘Genre-busting’ is a more dramatic term used occasionally in reviews, blurbs, marketing and on retailer product pages. And one that’s becoming more popular in the publishing world.

Some examples of cross-genres

Adventure thriller
Action comedy
Comedy thriller
Comic fantasy
Comic science fiction
Crime fantasy
Dark fantasy
Historical crime
Historical romance
Military science fiction
Paranormal romance
Romantic comedy
Romantic fantasy
Romantic suspense
Science fantasy
Science fiction Western
Urban fantasy
Combine (mash up) any two, three or four as you like!

Why cross the genres as a writer?

Creative people don’t always feel comfortable working within the confines of an established category. Some of their best stories fall between the cracks. Many an author has written a terrific, well-crafted story with emotional punch; their agent loves it, their publisher loves it but they don’t know how to package and market it. But quality cross-genre fiction has the huge advantage of potentially reaching more readers by appealing to multiple audiences.

Today, thanks to the rise of online booksellers and the easy access to digital publishing and driven self-publishing, there’s plenty of room on the infinite virtual shelf for books that defy conventional categorisation. Readers, not publishing conglomerates, are the gatekeepers and can feast on new and exciting story concepts which have few boundaries. I’ll often get a review that starts, “This isn’t my usual reading, but…” or “I wouldn’t normally read out of my usual genre, but…”

Althist/crime  Historic/fantasy Literature/horror Historic/crime Romcom/crime Scifi/comedy

The essentials of successful cross-genre fiction writing

Choose one genre as head girl/head boy. Using a primary genre and following its traditional conventions gives the story a main framework and will make marketing easier. It also helps you focus as you develop the plot, especially if you are a pantser rather than a plotter. When you bring in other genres, keep an eye out for their conventions or you’ll annoy readers who know those genres well.

Use your essential writing skills and your previous writing experience. Just because you are spreading your story across different conventions doesn’t mean you can skimp on good writing,  editing and research. But if you’ve successfully written in another genre, e.g. science fiction, and decide to write historical romance, you already have well-developed world-building awareness and skills which are essential in any historical fiction. And you are aware that conventions/rules apply to every genre.

Ensure your characters are strong, deep and flexible enough not to be tethered to any one genre.  Characters should be able to stand on their own two (or four) feet. Of course, they will need to follow some genre conventions, but ask yourself this: if you were to pluck your character out of the novel and set her/him down in an entirely different place/time/circumstances, would the reader still care what happens to her/him?

What happens in practice?

Well, I plumped for ‘thriller’ as the main category for my books, adding ‘set in an alternative historical timeline and with a dash of romance’ where I could. So I market  the Roma Nova series as thriller, alternate(iv)e history, historical fiction, romance, adventure, espionage and anything else I can think of.

  • Thriller – action, tension, huge problems, a quest, fights, fast-pace
  • Alternative history – ‘what if’, speculation, other worlds, imaginative settings and politics, strong conventions (Downside is that a vast number of ‘althist’ stories feature Nazis/Second World War or the American Civil War.)
  • Historical fiction – Romans, historical foundation to the social and political setting, Latin names
  • Romance – (of course) there’s an epic love story with plenty of bumps along the way but the characters are more realistic with emotional relationships and the high stakes that go with it.
  • Adventure – each book has a slight gung-ho, ‘into the unknown’ element and who knows what might happen to the heroine?
  • Espionage – the characters are mostly involved in intelligence, undercover and special forces operations
  • Anything else – swapping gender roles, which is fun!

Crossing and mixing genres gives you not only creative freedom, but a marketing edge. You can write a vast range of posts on your own blog, appear on different genre groups as a guest, gather knowledge and expertise in many fields, widen your writing skills and offer something extraordinary to your readers.

What’s your experience?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.