Across Genre Lines: Why Books that Defy Traditional Categories are a Good Thing

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

More and more often, the stories that authors choose to tell are defying traditional categories, mixing elements of multiple genres into one powerful book. I don’t know about the other readers out there, but I love it.

Potential pitfalls for writers

While writers that have yet to make a name for themselves may have trouble selling some cross-genre books and book ideas to publishers and agents, cross-genre books draw from more than one readership and many bestselling authors (Meg Cabot, Nora Roberts) have produced bestselling cross-genre books. That can mean bigger and better sales…. once everyone involved figures out how to market the book to multiple publics.

Benefits for readers

But putting aside any disadvantages for writers and publishers, cross-genre books are great for readers, because they give us the chance to expand our horizons a bit. While you’d be hard-pressed to convince me to read a straight horror novel, I’m easily convinced to read women’s fiction, or literary fiction with elements of horror, even though Bram Stoker’s Dracula gave me nightmares for months. Readers that aren’t usually up for fantasy or sci-fi might be entertained by young adult or popular fiction written about fairy-tale and fantasy characters inhabiting a world not unlike our own, living alongside normal people, not unlike ourselves.

An aside about cross genres vs. subgenres:

The people in charge of marketing at important publishing houses have declared many of the most popular cross genres subgenres. For example, fantasy characters+ romance = paranormal romance. Historical elements + science fiction + fantasy = Steampunk. Romantic relationship between protagonists + fast-paced action = Romantic Thriller.

A few examples of cross-genre books:

Genre-busting can be a powerful, awesome thing, when it’s done right. Here are a few examples:

  • There are the wildly successful Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries (made into the television series, True Blood) by Charlaine Harris
  • Then there are the Merry Gentry books (about a crime-solving fairy princess) and the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Readers that might not read straight horror, or fantasy are more likely to test their taste buds on a lighter, less strongly flavored version.
  • Self-help humor books like The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook make even a self-help hater like myself think twice about banning the genre from my lists of things to read.
  • Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos is an ideal choice for readers who don’t normally enjoy poetry—the language is exquisite, but the poems create a coherent plot from beginning to end in a way that a lot of poetry doesn’t and will satisfy readers who crave beautiful words that tell a story rather than just convey a moment in time or a particular feeling.
  • Mystical Places and Marvelous Meals: A Travel Cookbook by Sara Nieves-Grafals is a great example of one of my favorite genre-busters, travel cookbooks, or travel books with a few recipes included, like Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun.

Most of my favorite purely pleasure reads are light fantasy, horror or paranormal hybridized with mystery or historical fiction, but there are many more cross-genre classics out there.

What’s your favorite mix of genres?


Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at, read about her travels at, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by parkeyparker.


  1. Willi Morris

    I have a lot of friends who are really into the vampire/mystery/romance mash-ups. I think I’m more of a traditionalist.

  2. MariJoy

    I love Magic Realism written by American authors: Alice Hoffman is a writer with a beautiful touch, Amy Tan, Jonathan Carroll, Michael Chabon, and one of my favorite books in this vein that got a lot of press is the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneggar. Oh and I also enjoy Graham Joyce, although by way of a caveat, I’d have to say some of his books (Indigo, for one) don’t hold up so well.

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