Hybrid genres are on the rise, but many writers feel unsure about how to manage expectations of the different genres while writing, and how to market their finished product.
As a reader and a writer, I love that genre-mixing is becoming more commonplace in the literary landscape. I consider my first novel, The Quiet is Loud, to be literary sci-fi because it’s character-driven and psychological but with science-fiction elements. However, some readers have classed it as low fantasy, which I also agree with. Currently I'm working on a historically-inspired fantasy novel with literary fiction flavouring, but leaning much more to the fantasy side. I also wrote poetry in my formative writing years and feel most creatively unleashed when I can play around with language in my fiction.
As you can see, I have trouble staying in one genre lane—and I love it! That said, it can come with its own set of challenges and considerations. Here are some tips that have helped me navigate writing in a hybrid genre.
Don’t think about genre when writing
Yes, it’s true that each genre has their own conventions and expectations. A science-fiction novel usually has, well, science in it, whether real or imagined. And woe betide they who tells a romance reader that an emotionally satisfying ending isn’t necessary in that genre. However, it won’t benefit you to write with a tally of these conventions in mind. Writing in a hybrid genre often means that you have to jettison one (or many) genre conventions to keep your story from getting unwieldy.
Personally, I find it helpful to stick to one or two conventions from each of my chosen genres—such as creation of a secondary world and/or an element of magic for fantasy, and a focus on character development for literary fiction—and use those as my guideposts. This helps assure me that I’m giving readers of these genres something they’re looking for, while also getting out of my own head about it all.
Bonus: Genres are constantly shifting! For example, many readers of genre fiction expect complex themes and insightful character exploration, once seen as something strictly for literary fiction.
Trust in your future readers
There will always be readers who turn to their favourite genre and don’t like to stray, but the number of readers interested in crossing genre boundaries feels like it’s growing more than ever. When I hear these readers talk about the latest genre-blending book they liked, they mention the characters, the engaging writing style, the immersive story they can’t stop thinking about. They’re just after a good reading experience!
For example, as a fantasy reader I’m not a big fan of epic sword battles or royal courts—but some books that I really enjoy do contain these things. And I know I’m not the only one who’s willing to set aside their own specific genre preferences for the sake of an engaging read.
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Set reader expectations as early and as often as possible
Now, despite what I wrote above, trusting in your future readers is a bit easier to do when they’re informed about what to expect from your hybrid genre novel. How many times have we been disappointed in a book because it was wildly different from what we’d thought it would be? We probably think, “If only I’d known!” Building on my earlier example, if I hear about a fantasy novel that features armies fighting for their kingdom but also has in-depth character exploration or a sci-fi twist—I’m putting that thing on my TBR list so fast.
You aren’t always in control of how your books are marketed, but it’s a good idea to have a list of specific genre elements that you’d like to highlight. Your publishing team can build on this, and you can even specifically share these elements in your own social media. I like to highlight the character-driven nature of my work, for example, so that readers who want plot-heavy action won’t pick up my books and be let down. You can’t guarantee this, of course, but readers appreciate the effort.
You were probably drawn to your hybrid genre story because you were interested in combining elements that aren’t often seen together. Or maybe you can’t tell the story properly if you stick to the conventions of one genre. That’s great! Playing around with genre is intensely rewarding for me. I never feel more like myself than when I’m doing historical research, adding to my massive “Worldbuilding Notes” document, or diving deep into my characters’ brains. I honestly don’t know if I can go back to just one genre now. Writing across genre can be challenging at times, but hang on to that feeling of possibility and excitement. It’ll shine through in your work, I promise.
Did I get you all excited about hybrid genres? Why not explore further with some of my favourite books that blend elements from different genres:
Creature X Mystery series by JJ Dupuis, Mystery, speculative fiction
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu, Literary fiction, speculative fiction
Even That Wildest Hope by Seyward Goodhand, Literary fiction, speculative fiction
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Literary fiction, sci-fi, dystopia
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley, Historical fiction, speculative fiction
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Samantha Garner is the author of The Quiet is Loud, shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of mixed Filipino-Finnish background, her character-driven fantasy novels explore themes of identity and belonging. When not writing, Samantha can be found daydreaming in a video game or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s learned.
She can be found online at samanthagarner.ca and on Instagram and Twitter at @samanthakgarner.