Today I am so pleased to welcome Kate McMurray to Joyfully Jay. Kate has come to chat with us today as part of the Coastal Magic Convention Blog Tour. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
At a meet and greet at the Coastal Magic Convention in 2015, I used the question “what kinds of books do you like?” as an ice breaker. One woman said, “Are there characters and a plot? I’ll read it.”
There are a lot of myths that circulate, particularly among authors who want to put out that book that everyone talks about, about What Readers Are Looking For.
The thing is, there is no all-encompassing answer to this question. Reader taste varies as far and wide as there are books in the universe. Once reader’s DNF is another’s DIK.
Every few months, these discussions break out in author social media spaces, and I think that authors fret and spread myths more than readers do. One of the most persistent ones I’ve seen is that readers stay in their lanes. That is, paranormal readers tend to stick to paranormal, historical readers don’t read contemporary, gay romance readers hate heterosexual romance.
This is nonsense, if you ask me.
I read basically everything. I read a lot of nonfiction this summer. Mostly history and biography, but I spent a lot of August reading about sports. I read contemporary and historical romance novels, gay and straight romance. I read a fantasy novel in there, too. I moved at the end of June, which forced me to actually look at and sort through my books, and my keeper shelves feature just about everything you can imagine. I read widely, across genres, and I tend to get obsessive, so I’ll binge on one author’s entire backlist one month and then read everything I can about a particular topic the next month (currently, I’m reading a lot about elite athletes and also politics). I’ve been a big reader my whole life, and basically, if someone says, “This is really good,” I’ll give it a shot. I definitely have preferences about sub-genres and tropes I like and topics that interest me and topics I avoid, but I try to keep an open mind.
I don’t think I’m unique, but you get into some online spaces and everyone insists certain things about the romance community and its likes and dislikes are absolutely true. I think as authors, we sometimes get caught up in those truisms and assume that, if readers stick to their lanes, we should also stick to ours. Historicals aren’t selling, so don’t bother to write one, conventional wisdom might say one day. You can’t write women who don’t fit inside certain boxes. Gay romance readers only read gay romance, so you’ll lose readers if you write a straight romance.
As someone with a lot of interests and a lot of ideas, I chafe at the idea I have to keep writing the same book, or even stay within the same genre. I want to stretch out, write everything my little mind inspires me to write. I don’t want to stick to my lane.
And I don’t think I have to. Here’s the thing. I attended Coastal Magic for the first time in 2015. Its origins are as a con focused on paranormal, and although I’ve written a couple of books with paranormal elements, I don’t think of myself as a paranormal writer. But in 2015, the con expanded to welcome authors from more genres. So I went, because friends who had attended in the past had raved about this con.
Whenever I met a new reader, I asked what kinds of books she or he liked to read. And you know what I heard from basically everyone? “Are there words arranged into sentences? I’m in.” These were my kinds of people, these readers. Like me, they read basically everything. No one seemed picky about genre. They seemed genuinely interested in hearing about the books I wrote.
This is often true. Which is to say that, every now and then, I’ll be talking to a reader who says, “Oh, I don’t read that.” I had a reader tell me at RT a couple of years ago that she was incredibly disappointed in me because she liked me so much as a person but refused to read a gay romance. I had a whole string of readers come by my table at a signing because they thought the covers on my books were eye-catching, but quickly lost interest when I started explaining what the books were about. I met someone once who only read gay paranormals. I’ve talked to readers who won’t pick up my historicals. These are things that definitely happen. And that’s fine; like I said, everyone has their preferences. But for every one of those, I’ve met three readers who, when I said something like, “So I wrote this book about gay baseball players…” and they respond, “Uh-huh. Tell me more.” And romance is a big genre with room for everyone.
So, sure, you’ve got readers who really love a particular thing. There’s nothing wrong with that—there are so many books in the world that readers can read whatever the heck they want to. But I think this assumption that readers are one monolithic entity who believe a certain set of things is dangerous both for the industry and for authors.
Because I, for one, have a lot of wacky ideas and want the freedom to write whatever I’m passionate about. And I’m pretty sure there are readers out there who want to read it.
Kate McMurray is an award-winning romance author and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers and is currently the president of the New York City chapter of RWA. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.