I always thought I wrote romantic suspense. However, after a few reviews for BURIED TRUTH from NetGalley and Amazon Vine Customers (both groups get a free ARC in exchange for a review of the book), I'm beginning to wonder what exactly I do write. First of all, I fully believe most people who get a book for free will find something wrong with it. Sad but true. Readers seem to put less value on a product they didn't have to pay for. But, there were a few comments that made me think about the importance of portraying the genre or sub-genre of our books accurately and to the expectations of our readers.
Romantic Suspense. To me, that says the book should have both romance and suspense. I think mine do. But I'm beginning to believe others don't see the genre in the same light. I had several reviewers complain there wasn't enough suspense, that the romance dominated the book. They thought (based on the blurb) that the book would be more of a straight up thriller. Interesting. I don't get much say in my final blurb, and my publisher is pushing me in the suspense direction with my covers. Maybe they want something I'm not delivering.
So, let's talk about the romance part of the equation. I had several comments that the hero and heroine hooked up too soon. My brain nearly exploded at that one. Do you remember when publishers had a breakdown if there was no sex by chapter four? I think my first love scene was in chapter seven, and my characters had a history together. It wasn't like they'd just met. So, I ask you--is sex no longer in vogue? Or is this just a new romantic suspense thing? Used to be I focused so strongly on the suspense plot, I didn't put enough twists and turns into the romance arc and was chastised for it. I've really tried to give my characters more emotional relationship angst as they battle the villains. Maybe I've gone too far in the opposite direction. I thought I'd finally struck a nice balance. Shows what I know...
Okay, how about the suspense angle? Does romantic suspense now mean non-stop action with the bad guys shooting at the good guys? I took my time in this series, building the suspense before any real danger enters the picture. Little things happen to put the heroine on edge, the sort of things that make her look over her shoulder and wonder what's next. I think it builds at a steady pace toward a pretty suspenseful conclusion. But maybe suspense books need less subtlety and more in your face danger. Am I writing for the wrong sub-genre?
In short, I'm not too sure I know what readers want when they're promised romantic suspense. How about you? If you read romantic suspense, what do you expect? If you'd like to jump on the bandwagon and critique my interpretation of the genre, please pick up a copy of BURIED TRUTH. I welcome your input and would love to receive your review!
As for my next series, I may have a little more in your face danger coming your way... For information on my other books, please visit my WEBSITE. Happy reading!
Romantic suspense is my favorite genre, Jannine. I think you're right that those readers expect in-your-face kind of danger and threat (although I'm confused where it crosses over into "thriller" territory). I just finished BURIED TRUTH and really enjoyed it. I don't think the romance/intimacy was too soon at all. You set it up well with their history. On the suspense side, I was guessing at the identities of the bad guys right up to the end -- I kept going back and forth with my prime suspects. :-)
I also think you're right that Netgalley reviewers have developed a reputation for being negative. I'm so tired of the meanness and pure snarkiness of negative reviews, for everything (not just books) these days. We all have differing opinions, which is great, but there's a way to express criticism and negative feedback constructively. (I listen to the "feedback" line at work and answer the phones all day, and some days I come home feeling just drained...people have become merciless, so nasty!)
I'm glad you enjoyed Buried Truth, Leah. I do think there's a difference between romantic suspense books and thrillers. But maybe readers expect what they want, regardless. I haven't read one of the best selling romantic suspense authors in a while (no time!), but maybe I should to see if things have changed at the top of the genre. My pub also used psychological thriller as a description category for my book. I thought that sort of fit, but what do I know?
I have to agree with, Leah. I had no idea who the villain was and that's one way to do suspense. The only thing I might say is since you built up to the danger and who the villain was, it might be labeled a mystery by some. In my books, the villain is usually revealed early but it's what he or she is up to that makes the suspense. But I tell you, it's a fine line between mystery and suspense and most readers don't know the difference. I write suspense, not mystery, and I've had reviewers say 'I knew who the villain was right away so where's the mystery?' I don't write mystery!! As far as the romance, I see no questionable angle there. It was as it should be, I think. Now, back to the suspense and how much is enough? At the last conference I was at, a suspense writer said her publisher has changed her genre to thriller because that's more what people want to buy. She just shrugged. I've looked up the definition of mystery vs suspense. Guess I better go find out what constitutes a thriller.
To me, romantic suspense means half and half--equal amounts of danger and intimacy. Each ramps up as the story evolves but not at the same time. Usually, the suspense angle is wrapped up before the romance. In a romantic suspense, I want an exciting adventure, danger, and out of that a connection between the two main characters. i'm not sure what reviewers think when they're given a book clearly labeled romantic suspense.
Do I hear an echo in this room? My editor gave me a call the other night and said, "Rolynn, this is a mystery you are writing, not romantic suspense." Like you Jannine, I've been working towards a sense of realism when it comes to both romance and the suspense plot...more like literary fiction, a readership which is patient about gradual reveals of plot and character entanglements. Trying to be objective about my newest book...it looks like suspense, not a mystery to me. The chuckle here is the reader, editor and writer trying to figure out what the book is. Who knew this could be so complicated? (Can't the reader enjoy the book without labeling it?)
As for thriller, I always thought that label indicated a plot line where MANY people could die if the criminals weren't caught...like hundreds or more. Brenda, good luck finding a definition that holds :-)
Really good observations, Brenda. I've always done a mystery around the villain with suspense building to the end. It seems to me that the "mystery" genre has turned to cozy mysteries in expectation, so I don't want to use that word. Like the author you mentioned, I also feel like my publisher is nudging me in the thriller direction. Is romantic suspense a dying breed? For my next series, I'm changing up my M.O. The villain is known to the reader but not the characters. My heroine is a total bad-ass sniper, and the series revolves around a private black-op company that rescues kidnap victims. There is more danger right off the bat. I can adapt to a changing market, right? But I haven't given up on the romance angle, not by a long shot!
Diane, your definition is my exact notion of romantic suspense! And what I feel I delivered in this series. I'm just wondering now if the definition has changed...
Rolynn, that's an interesting definition of a thriller. My bad guys are more personal, with victims the reader gets to know. I want my reader invested in their fate. I'm not Robert Ludlum or Dan Brown, the thriller authors I've read in the past. That's not what Nora writes, and her sales don't seem to be sagging. LOL Yeah, the whole label thing is rough!
This is a segment of an article I have on mystery vs suspense. In fact, I have a couple of articles relating to romantic mystery/suspense. If anyone wants my whole file just email me.
Contrary to popular belief, Hitchcock explained, suspense bears no relationship to fear. Instead, it is the state of waiting for something to happen.
Crucial to the Hitchcockian thriller is the difference between suspense and surprise. To put it simply, the director said that if you have a scene where two characters are conversing in a cafe, and a bomb suddenly goes off under the table, the audience experiences surprise. On the other hand, if the audience sees the saboteur place the bomb, is told that it will go off at one o'clock, and can see a clock in the scene, the mundane conversation between two cafe patrons now becomes one of intense suspense, as the audience holds its collective breath waiting for the explosion. Fifteen minutes of suspense, as opposed to fifteen seconds of surprise. It was therefore necessary, to Alfred Hitchcock, that the audience be as fully informed as possible.
Based on this principle, the suspense thriller has been loosely defined as a story in which the audience is waiting for something significant to happen. The protagonist's job is to prevent the speeding bus from exploding, or the aliens from eating the crew. The reader experiences a vicarious thrill by identifying with the hero and the danger he faces, becoming a participant in the chase.
A mystery, on the other hand, is a novel of revelation, with action more mental than physical. A significant event, usually a murder, has just occurred, and the protagonist's job is to discover who committed the crime, and why. The dilemma created for the writer of traditional mysteries is the fact that the villain and the details of the crime must remain unidentified, breaking Hitchcock's rule of keeping the audience informed.
This is really interesting, Brenda! But, I think you can have both mystery and suspense in the same book. The readers "sees" my bad guy plotting in his/her POV scenes, which creates suspense and a sense of danger. BUT, the reader doesn't know who that villain is. The plot doesn't revolve around a single event at the beginning that the reader/characters are trying to solve. It's a progression of events leading up to a suspenseful conclusion, but neither the reader nor the characters know who to fear. At least that's what I try to do. The audience isn't fully informed, so I'm breaking Hitchcock's rule. I'm not sure that's a bad thing, but I'm going to change it up in the next series to more closely follow his definition.
Fascinating and timely discussion, ladies. I've been considering the same issue a lot lately as I ponder the direction of my next series. I've never written a story where the identity of the villain was known to the reader early on, and I'm not sure I could pull it off. Based on my reviews, readers seem to really enjoy the combination of what they call "mystery", mixed with humor and romance. Do I write Romantic Suspense? Beats me. Since I don't have a publisher to please, I suppose it doesn't really matter. Until my current book, I've always struggled to inject enough romance, but I've never had a single reader complaint. Maybe they view my books as mystery/suspense first, with the romance thrown in for a little spice. Who knows?
Jannine, I just finished ORIGINS by Dan Brown for book club. What a bunch of info-dumping and pedantic prose...soap box stuff...the suspense was so trumped up and fake-teasing. We would never get away with that kind of writing...and if you think we are having trouble naming genre, try naming his! And he's making millions! Okay. Rant over. Back to editing. Mushing on, I am.
Alison, I feel like your books are more closely linked to the cozy mystery side of romantic suspense than to thrillers. Your suspense/mystery isn't the stuff of nightmares. It's far more of an entertaining read. Whatever you want to call it, you do it well and have found your niche. And I think you're very straight-forward about what you're giving readers, which is why they aren't expecting something "else" when they read your books. My analysis is WELL DONE! I might need to have a chat with my pub about how I'm being marketed...
Well, hell, I have a novella coming out next week that I have no clue what it is. Romantic suspense? Like some of you, I'd felt it should be a close 50/50 combination. Since the bad dudes can affect the whole area, is it a thriller? For sure I know it's not a mystery. And I laughed out loud because the heroine went into a bookstore and bought Jannine's latest book AND Dan Brown's pedantic one. Bwahahaha
Editors want us to write to market. Too bad some of the market is getting dumber and dumber. As I read all the comments, I kept thinking who out there is dense enough to get mysteries confused with thrillers? Oh yeah, the same ones who want sex between the words "Chapter" and "One." Sorry, all that was very catty. Or was it bitchy? Or perhaps judgmental?
Readers have no idea that writers have such small, yet huge decisions to make to please editors and readers. As the old adage goes, just when I learned all the answers, you changed the questions.
Rolynn, I loved The Da Vinci Code. Of course I read it back before I was immersed in all the "rules" of writing we currently follow. I hadn't read anything by Dan Brown in years and got Inferno for Christmas. It's been a bit of a slog. I don't know if my expectations are higher, or the standard of the product is lower. There is a lot of telling that makes me go a little cross-eyed. I think he falls into the thriller category, but with historical nuances. That's what drew me to him in the first place. But I'm definitely over all the author intrusion lecturing.
Vonnie, I LOVE that your heroine bought my book and Dan Brown's at the same time. Maybe she could put his book down midway through to read mine and tell the hero, "Not tonight, honey, I just HAVE to finish this book first!" LOL I think you have your own unique twist on whatever genre you write. Your readers love what you give them. With the mass market book, I'm being introduced to new readers (none of the NetGalley reviewers were names I recognized from previous books) who aren't familiar with my writing. I guess it's good in that I'm getting new readers, but I feel like they have expectations of the genre I'm not meeting. Or maybe they're just trolls...
Interesting post. The bottom line is, you can't please everyone. And, your book is in the hands of your publisher, so they should know how to market it. I am almost finished with it, and I think you have a nice mixture of the suspense and romance. I don't think they hook up too soon. I love RS, but personally, I prefer straight suspense, mystery, thriller. I know it's not a popular opinion in my circles of romance writers, but I've become just a little bored with the romantic aspects of books. I'm not saying I don't enjoy it, but it's not the most important part of the story for me. And, I'm certainly not going to be critical about focusing on the romance when I KNOW that's to be expected in a RS book. Geez!! I wouldn't worry about it. You've written a fantastic story and some will love it, some won't.
I'm wondering if your shift toward preferring the suspense over the romance in RS is a trend, Ally. That's the feeling I'm getting both from reviewers and the way my publisher is marketing my books. RS books could be taking a turn toward less romance in the marketplace. I'm definitely focusing more strongly on the suspense in my next series. But I love the characters in the Siren Cove books and hope those who like traditional RS will find them!
I had to laugh at the H/H hooking up too soon complaint. Two of my publisher's recent paperback (not ebook) series have the H/H meeting in a bar AS STRANGERS and having sex that same night. Too soon? Seriously? I call that slutty--but wait, slut-shaming is against the rules. I was advised to use the term "thriller" because of the level of action in my stories, not the body count. Sandra Brown, who was named Thriller Master by ITW, also uses the term thriller and her books have personal villain vs "global" villains. I don't think the problem is you or your stories. As Leah said, people/reviewers/critics have just become so hateful, partially because they can hide in the Internet. It's a shame great writing can be tarnished by a bunch of trolls.
Diane, my pub has labeled some as my books as thrillers instead of romantic suspense in the list categories. They all have personal villains, not global ones, so who knows if this is accurate. I feel my writing is actually similar to Sandra Brown's books. I had an interesting conversation with my editor on this subject. He said he does believe romantic suspense is leaning a little harder toward suspense these days, with more emphasis on danger. But he thinks my romance level is fine. I'm going to shoot for a little more physical danger in addition to psychological suspense in my next series.
Ah, Sandra Brown is a great role model. She's been my idol for years.
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