Thursday, 21 April 2016

Crossover Books and Genghis Khan - Katherine Roberts

'Crossover' is a term sometimes used by children's publishers to refer to a book published for young readers on a children's list - usually but not always the YA (young adult) section - that crosses over into an adult readership. I am often to be found reading YA fiction, because a lot of the titles I used to find in the fantasy and science fiction section have migrated over there. In fact, I might never have read any children's fiction as an adult reader, or sent my own work to a children's publisher, without the British Science Fiction Association magazine's review of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (the first title of His Dark Materials trilogy), which I read and enjoyed back in the 1990's and always assumed was published on an adult SF list, until I discovered it was originally brought out by a children's publisher.

At around the same time, Susan Price's The Sterkarm Handshake won the Guardian Children's fiction prize. It introduces the Time Tube that whisks 21st century researcher Andrea back to the lawless 16th century border country between Scotland and England, where she meets and falls in love with Per Sterkarm, son of the notorious reiving Sterkarm clan, triggering all kinds of mayhem in both time periods. It's violent in places and arguably more adult than Pullman's trilogy, since the main characters are older. But it's fun, too - that's Susan Price's style, and is part of what makes her books so engaging and readable no matter what your age. The second book A Sterkarm Kiss goes a fair bit further than a kiss, and yet was published on a children's list by Scholastic in 2003. The third title A Sterkarm Tryst has been a long time coming, but is scheduled for publication in October 2016 and is available for preorder now.

My theory is that these books couldn't have been published so successfully on adult lists at the time, because there was no obvious shelf category in bookshops for them. Are they historical? Science Fiction? Fantasy? Romance? Young Adult? Both these authors have won children's fiction prizes, but that doesn't make their books YA, and even though a lot of grown ups (me included) ignored the children's label and read and loved them at the time, I expect there are just as many adult readers who might not have tried them because of the children's label. And there are plenty of other examples. Gillian Philip's Firebrand, Garth Nix's Sabriel... you're welcome to add your own favourites to the comments below.

You see the problem? Books that cross genre boundaries could easily sit on several different shelves, but are only allowed one shelf in a bookshop. That's why I think so many 'crossover' titles published at the tail end of the last century, such as Pullman's His Dark Materials and Price's Sterkarm books, ended up on children's lists, where they had a good chance of reaching enough readers (young and old) to make publishing them cost-effective at the time. Others slipped through the holes and did not find a publisher at all. Now, however, things are changing. Many books these days are bought online, and happily it is possible for a title listed online to sit on several virtual shelves at once, reaching all of these potential readers and more.

Which brings me to my latest project about Genghis Khan, published under my middle initial 'Katherine A Roberts' to avoid confusion with my younger fiction. It's historical, so it could have gone on the adult historical shelf... except it's also got kisses in it, so the boys/men most likely to read historical novels about Genghis Khan might not like it. (In fact, the very first review Book 1 Prince of Wolves picked up on amazon was a one-star from a male reader comparing it unfavourably to Conn Iggulden's Wolf of the Plains, which made me question the historical epic/adventure category.) Is it romance, then? Not really, there's rather too much violence and boy-stuff for that. Action adventure? Clearly not with its triple first-person viewpoint structure. Apparently this is called a 'triptych', so literary fiction maybe? My muse has never thought of himself as particularly literary, and I don't think my style fits into that category because literature always sounds too worthy to me. I like my books to be fun to read even if they sometimes have serious themes lurking behind the words. Fantasy perhaps? It's got fantasy elements, certainly, with shamanism and spirit journeys, but no elves or magic talismans like JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

So it seems I, too, have got a crossover trilogy that does not sit easily on a children's list, yet isn't really adult historical, but might appeal to different ages and types of readers who enjoy reading books in all the categories mentioned above. That's why, after years of submitting my Genghis Khan project disguised as various different genres in an effort to make it fit on publishers' lists, I've decided to bring out this series indie as three novellas with their original first-person viewpoint structure and let my readers decide where it belongs.

You can read The Legend of Genghis Khan on your Kindle (or free Kindle app) by clicking on the links below:

1. Prince of Wolves
3. Blood of Wolves
2. Bride of Wolves

Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award for her debut novel Song Quest in 2000. Find out more about her books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk.

6 comments:

Nick Green said...

Basically if your protagonist is under 21 for much or all of the book, it's next to impossible to get published as anything other than children's or YA. That's the ingenious algorithm that publishers use.

Wendy Jones said...

It sounds like quite a dilemma working out where books should go and where they sit. It can be difficult locating something which crosses over both genres and age boundaries. It can so be difficult as a reader finding books which you think should be in a certain genre and yet are located elsewhere. Very interesting overview. Thanks

Lee said...

Nick, maybe basically, but think of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. Of course, that's David Mitchell ...

;-)

(And I seem to recollect that the Bildungsroman has been around for a while now.)

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Nick I'm sure you're right but that would make Jane Eyre a YA novel. As it would be these days. And unpublishable because of the relative ages of the two main characters.

Katherine Roberts said...

Nick, I've read books published on adult lists with younger characters... and Lee mentions one I haven't read, so I bet there are a lot more of them out there! So I don't think it is all about the age of the characters. I think it's more the style and structure of the writing and the inclusion of (supposedly) adult themes and concerns... Sexual content used to be the obvious one, but with much YA now that is no longer the case so perhaps the line is just more blurred than it used to be?

Catherine makes a good point about fashions... I suspect many classic books would struggle to find their ideal place on a publisher's list today. This is where virtual shelves can help, and yet getting those categories and keywords right so people can find the sort of book they are looking for is quite a challenge!

Nick Green said...

Of course, to fully appreciate the best YA books, one often needs a mature perspective. I consider His Dark Materials to be adult literature that children can also enjoy, in a different way.