Coming as I do from a background in clinical psychology, I am very familiar with systems of classification. In psychology, we’re very big on diagnosis and finding that particular name for a person’s ailment–which is really completely ridiculous since mental health does not follow the same strictures as medical science. Depression is not like a cold and does not always present the same way in all people. But still, the classification system exists, poor though it may be (largely due to insurance). One challenge I always make to my abnormal students early in the semester as we discuss classification systems is whether or not diagnosis is necessary for treatment. Almost invariably they say that it is because they retain at that point the very specific medical model that behavior can be diagnosed just like a disease. I usually spend the rest of the semester proving them wrong and emphasizing that behavior exists on a continuum from normal to abnormal–that there is no clear demarcation where the therapist can say that this person is normal but this person is not. Treatment must be tailored to the individual’s circumstances and particular presentation of symptoms. It isn’t like just tossing an antibiotic at an infection. But I digress.
What does this have to do with books?
Well, I just finished a beta read for one of my friends in Mission:Accountability. This novel was 140k, a profoundly strange mixture of historical, romance, mystery, paranormal, and suspense. I fully expected it to be bloated, wandering, and in need of serious revisions.
It wasn’t. I mean there is copy editing needed, and some of the plot threads needed to be more effectively woven through the whole book, but the story–the story was wonderful. And the characters–I adored the characters. It was a very good book. Incredibly unique, original–and utterly unmarketable.
Because in the publishing world, in the book world, everyone insists on the same sort of lousy classification system that exists in psychology. Yes there may be a vast majority of books/patients that fit a mould of how romance looks or how depression presents. But there will always be books that don’t fit that mould. Don’t fit the pigeon hole stereotype. And when publishing is so unsteady, those books often have a very hard time finding a home. And those that do find a home may wind up pissing readers off because it wasn’t necessarily the “right” home in their eyes. Just take a look at all of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance arguments. Fans have certain expectations of each of those genres and if an author dares to break that mould, it often pisses people off. God forbid an author try something different or simply try to write the story rather than the genre.
I really find it sad and tragic. The new and interesting and adventurous is often tossed by the wayside because agents or publishers don’t know how to market it. Like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. You’ve got a love story, a historical, time travel, and a few other paranormal elements thrown in. Sometimes her books are shelved with romance. Sometimes sci fi. Sometimes general fiction. They are, quite simply, impossible to classify. And I think if she were a new author coming into today’s rocky market, those fabulously rich and detailed stories might not find a home. I’m hoping my friend doesn’t have that problem when she gets ready to query this bad boy. Because the world would seriously be missing out.