This post ponders how far readers are willing to go. I might not have touched this topic when Foretold was released last fall. But since then, with Echo Moon out one week from today, I have been scratching my head over a reader idiosyncrasy—one that came full circle with a couple of Facebook surveys.
Recently, two polls rolled through my newsfeed. Both had amassed heavy traffic. One poll asked what genre of book a reader was most likely to pick up. The other asked if readers would add a “paranormal novel” to their TBR list.
The Results Are In
(And don’t miss the giveaway at the end of the post!)
The majority of respondents were women. By far, the answer to the first question, “What genre do you read most?” was women’s fiction. Traditionally, women’s fiction centers on relationships, the protagonist’s emotional journey, and whatever that might be related to—spouse, children, career, friendships, unexplored passion or problem in life. In my experience, most WF novels use a varied combination of the above themes. I know. I’ve written four women’s fiction novels, published one.
But it was the answers to the other survey, “Would you add a paranormal novel to your TBR list?” that set off alarm bells. Again, the majority of those who replied were women. Not only was the most frequent answer “No,” respondents felt it fair to be quite snarky in their replies. “Paranormal? Ick. I’d never…” “Ghosts? Garbage. Not for me!”
My knee-jerk reaction was, “Did you see The Sixth Sense? Ever read a few novels by a fellow named Stephen King, maybe a classic by Shirley Jackson?” Although, I will state emphatically that my Ghost Gifts novels are not about the fear factor.
Ooo, That’s Going to Leave a Mark
It was humbling to read the dismissive, downright whipping post responses about the genre where my Ghost Gifts books are shelved. The most educational response came from a woman who posted, “I could never read paranormal. Ghost stories don’t interest me. I much prefer women’s fiction novels.”
Here’s the thing. The woman who made that comment is a huge Ghost Gifts fan. She won the first book via a blogger giveaway. Since then, she has reviewed each book, raved on social media, shared her positive opinions openly. A few years ago, I would have sulked away from her poll response, too stunned to pursue a clarification. I guess as we get older we do get a little bolder, and I politely asked my Ghost Gifts fan how this could be.
Here’s What I Learned
Her honest reply, with permission, “Gosh, I’ve never thought of your Ghost Gifts books as paranormal. Of course, that seems silly now that you point it out. Sure there are ghosts, but they’re not ‘Boo!’ You know, ‘Ghost stories.’ Your books are about the characters. The stories are so believable… emotional. It’s about how Aubrey Ellis lives her life.”
Uh-huh. See the above description of a women’s fiction novel.
Brings Me to My Point
With readers so passionate about the label “women’s fiction,” how can I possibly break down a barrier, the assumption that my Ghost Gifts books are not for them? Is there a stigma related to paranormal as a genre—clearly. Is it earned—probably. Ghost stories can be the punchline to a joke. Certainly there have been dozens of hackneyed psychics put to paper. But if we take the above scenario and look at it as if it were an underrepresented segment of society, those poll reactions might be deemed a stereotype.
Would it be fair to categorize Ghost Gifts, Foretold, and soon Echo Moon as anything but paranormal. If it were possible—yes, I think so. But in publishing, the box requires a check mark, and that is the one I have been assigned.
But Wait! What’s this About Magical Realism? (Plus a Giveaway!)
Echo Moon, out May 22nd, is a somewhat different read than the first two books, embracing magical realism in addition to paranormal elements. See how the label works? Magical realism comes with respect; even diehard readers of women’s fiction can be tempted to cross the line. It’s likely too late for my Ghost Gifts trilogy to catch fire with a wider audience. Even with Echo Moon’s more mainstream cover and title, I don’t know if those readers would say, “This story is a journey. This story is for me.”
Still, I’d like to know how “genre faithful are you?” Are you willing to take a chance on a story concept that doesn’t fit in a check box? What motivates readers to look beyond a label? You tell me.
Do any of the following and you’re entered to win: Comment on this post, add Echo Moon to your Goodreads shelf, share this post on social media! (Note your entry method below) I’ll give a signed copy of Echo Moon to one women’s fiction reader! Okay, any reader, but you get the idea. ????