By Emily Pedder

New writers are often told they need to define their novel’s genre to attract an agent. But what happens when your novel crosses genres? How does a writer handle this? And does it help or hinder the marketing of the book?

Last month, City hosted an event with short course alumna Melissa Bailey to discuss her novel and her use of genre. Melissa’s debut novel, The Medici Mirror, (Random House, 2013) blends at least three genres – mystery, romance and history – to great effect. At the event she spoke about how the book evolved. The story was inspired by Haruki Murukami’s, A Wild Sheep’s Chase, which mixes mystery and magic realism. It also features a blackened mirror, something which resonated with Melissa and her interest in the supernatural. A fan of ghost stories, Melissa wanted to introduce a ghostly element into the novel as well as a murder mystery. The historical element came much later, she told the group, when her editor suggested she make more of the mirror’s history, prompting research into Catherine of Medici and her fateful mirror.

None of these elements were planned, Melissa explained. The process was organic and unfolded in the writing of the novel. Although her editor loved the way the novel crossed genres, for sales and marketing it was more problematic. But Melissa advised wannabe novelists not to worry about how their book is marketed. Instead she placed an emphasis on honing your craft and singled out praise for the short courses she took at City, in particular Writers’ Workshop. The courses gave her stimulus, drive, tips and deadlines, as well as an understanding of the importance of editing and redrafting. For more on Melissa’s book take a look here.

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