Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Guest Post: Susanna Quinn asks When is a Crime Writer not a Crime Writer?

Today I'm pleased to be able to hand over the reins to Glass Geishas author, Susanna Quinn, to talk about the crime writer label.

There's a wealth of suspenseful, thriller-ish fiction out there that doesn't quite fit the crime bracket, but is sold as crime.  The reason?  We haven't changed the way we categorise books for years, and yet books have evolved hugely in the last few decades.  There are so many suspenseful, yet poetic and literary, books that are described as crime, but really are a different sort of fiction.

Take Rosamund Lipton's Sister.  It's often categorised as crime, but is really the emotional journey of a girl who's looking for her missing sister.  Very different from your standard crime novel, where the lead character is a police detective (and usually a very colourful one) solving a crime.  

My own book, Glass Geishas, lives in the crime category, yet looks and sounds very little like a crime novel.  Yes, it journeys into the seedy underworld of the Japanese sex industry and can be described as a dark read, but its hero is not a detective and the cover - a light, solitary picture of a girl with a red umbrella - looks nothing like your usual crime novel.

I feel it's about time we came up with some new, interesting ways of categorising books that take us out of the restrictive and out-of-date thriller/crime/women's fiction brackets and give readers a much better idea of what they're getting.

I've read so many 1 star reviews on Amazon by disappointed readers of SJ Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, who were told they were getting a thriller, and felt disappointed that the book was more of an emotional read.  Before I Go to Sleep is a wonderful book, but if you bought it expecting an edge-of-seat thriller, you may well be disappointed.  

So what's the solution?  Amazon has a wonderful system of showing customers the 'also bought' books of other customers.  Glass Geishas fans also buy SJ Watson and Louise Millar for example.  This is really useful in pointing book lovers towards books they might also like.

Could book sellers come up with something similar?  I'd be fascinated to see the combinations of books customers buy when there are three-for-two offers at Waterstones, or buy one, get one half price at WHSmith.       

Or perhaps we just need some new book category names.  Glass Geishas has been described as: women's fiction, mystery thriller, psychological drama and suspense.  Do these categories work, or can anyone come up with a better category name?  Answers on a Twitter feed please to @bookgroupauthor, or see me at www.bookgroupbooks.com.

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