Friday, February 1, 2013

Let's Talk Mainstream

You would be amazed as to how many writers and reviewers don’t really understand genres and sub-genres and how they pertain to what they are writing or even reviewing. I know you’d think that’s just crazy. How could they not know? Well to be honest it’s confusing as hell. However, since so many have asked me, I decided it needed to be addressed.

Let’s start with Mainstream Romance. I had an author, even after reading that my website RisquéReviews accepts mainstream romance, not think we would be interested in reviewing her book—because it wasn’t erotic. The only genre RisquéReviews doesn’t accept as far as a fictional genre is YA. I had to go back and ask if her book was YA. She said no. I asked her why she thought we wouldn’t be interested. She said because the focus wasn’t primary on romance. I then asked if she saw that we except mainstream romance. She then, again, said yes. It was clear to me at that point that she didn’t understand what “mainstream” means. This is not the first time I’ve run into this problem and not just from authors, but from readers and reviewers as well. Apparently, a lot of people have difficulty understanding the difference between mainstream, single titles, and category books. So if you’re one of them, fear not. You are not alone.

To understand what a mainstream romance is you first have to understand what a mainstream book is. The mainstream book can be just about anything. There are no guidelines for its characters or plot. Anything pretty much goes. It may or may not contain romance. It may or may not have a happy ending. A mainstream book will almost always have one or more subplots that can affect the main plot. Mainstream books often appeal to readers of different genres because, if you look at them closely, you'll see each different genre often carries within it another sub-genre(s) -- romance, horror, mystery, science fiction, and etc. I think I just saw the light go on for a few of you. That’s what they call an AH-HA moment! Let me give you an example of a Mainstream Romance. 

James Patterson’s Along Came A Spider is a thriller and the main genre of the story. No one would accuse Patterson of being a romance writer, correct? Yet In Along Came A Spider you will also find a sub-plot of romance. Here is the blurb I borrowed from Amazon. 

Alex Cross, a black Washington, D.C., police detective with a Ph.D. in psychology, and Jezzie Flanagan, a white motorcycling Secret Service agent, become lovers as they worked together to apprehend a chilling psychopath who has kidnapped two children from a posh private school. The psychotic villain, who aspires to become more notorious than Lindbergh baby kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann, is effectively nightmarish. Atypical characters, sex, sometimes shocking violence, and several surprising plot twists are all attention-grabbing, while short chapters with a shifting viewpoint add brisk pacing and genuine suspense.

And just like that you have a Mainstream Romance!

Basically, mainstream books tend to be longer than category books and often longer than a single title book, although no real guidelines for length exist. See…confusing.  The mainstream book has depth and texture. Also it will have a detailed plot and characters that are very well developed. They can also have multiple points of view—in layman terms, a lot of sub-plots. The cast of characters can be large. In mainstream stories, the emotions of the character are often wholly explored. Mainstream stories are often about life, prejudices, fears, irony, as well as people. There is sometimes a social comment and other times simply pure entertainment. For that fact, mainstream novels can appeal to people of varied interests. 

Mainstream fiction can also be literary. I know the next question is what makes them literary? Well for one, the writing is exceptional and a literary book presents more than entertainment. It may teach a lesson or cause the reader to examine his/her own values or to question his/her beliefs. It may be a social comment of the era. A literary book is timeless. Its message will be as important a hundred years from now as it is today.

So here is the long and short of it: mainstream story length depends on what the writer feels is needed to tell that particular story. Also, we can’t forget those editors and what they feel is appropriate. I say who cares about the whys and how of it? Just as long as you enjoy what you’re reading, it works.  For me that has always been the only detail that matters. And authors I hope this answered the never-ending question… What is Mainstream?

This confusion over the definition of a mainstream story led me to another conundrum that is fast becoming a matter of heated debate…What pushes a  steamy--sexy--hot--romance into the realm of erotica? Well, folks that is a post for another time.

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." ~ Paul Sweeney

Signing off,
Barbara Mazzuca


The Romanceaholic said...

To be honest, if I had a book where the "primary focus wasn't on romance" and you asked me if I was aware you accepted "mainstream romance", I would STILL have thought you wouldn't accept it, because you called it "mainstream ROMANCE", not "mainstream FICTION". By simply using the word "romance", that would make me think that the focus needed to be on, well, romance, no matter what word preceded it.

I don't think I'd have ever considered Along Came A Spider to be Mainstream Romance at all, though I admit it's been many years since I've read it.

"Mainstream" has always meant (to me) "does not fit into any other category".. Since it's a thriller, wouldn't that make it more of a Romantic Suspense rather than "Mainstream Romance"?

I don't know. Semantics get exhausting lol I guess it's a bit like pornography vs. art -- I know it when I see it? :P

Great topic :)

Barbara Mazzuca said...

LOL! That is just what mainstream is, a matter of semantics….

And once again I’ll use Along Came A Spider as an example. It not only can be considered Mainstream Romance, it can also be considered Mainstream Fiction, Mainstream Thriller, Mainstream Mystery, Mainstream Suspense etc.

… or as I said “in lay man terms, a lot of sub-plots.”

And also what makes Mainstream so confusing.

Thanks for stopping by I enjoyed your input!