Genre wars never seem to end

Recently, I received the following email from a reader (male, no less!):

What a pleasure it was to read a good thriller ‘ Whistle Blower ‘ which
contained no coarse language.
I have ceased to read other well known authors because of their frequent use
of profanities,
I was so pleased I have just been out to buy three more of your books. Keep it

The book he refers to, Whistleblower, was a romantic suspense novel that was first published in 1992. And I was quite surprised to receive such nice praise about the book. Because, quite honestly, most of the email I receive about my early romantic suspense novels are along the lines of “I never knew you once wrote such freaking dreck!”

Take a gander at some of the awful one and two-star reviews some of my romances received on and


I bought this novel expecting a thriller, instead the only value I got from it was a comedy one. The characters are incredibly shallow, the plot denies credibility and the style is Barbara Cartland. If you’re looking for a thriller don’t look here. Romantic comedy wold be a more accurate classification!

Based on the writing, this book should be in the ‘romance’ section. while the plot is engaging, it is only superficially worked out and the characters have no depth. the writing is pure mass romance with men with hard bodies and fainting women being rescued, at the last minute of course.

OK, I’m no writer, but I know bad writing when I see it. And this is simply awful… The worst novel I’ve read this year.


The thing is, I picked up this book after throughoutfully enjoying Gerritsen’s medical thrillers (I figured they’d feature the same gripping story-telling) but what I found was a lukewarm novel, filled with two-dimensional characters and a terribly boring plot.

After having read 3 previous novels from M/s Gerritsen, which were 1st class I felt that this one is more in line to be classed in the Mills and Boon Category than anything else. M/s Gerristens other novels were loaded with believable plots and characters, but this story where I knew from the 1st page what was going to happen and it was as predicitble as Mills and Boon
I would not recommend reading this book unless every other book in the world had been read, or unless of course Mills and Boon are your forte!

Judging by these reviews, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT and PRESUMED GUILTY were the two worst books ever written.

But here’s the irony: Both books were finalists for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Rita Award. That’s right. A panel of published romance authors judged both those books to be among the five or so best romantic suspense novels released in their respective years.

The lesson I draw from this? The “best” books in any genre may not be judged the “best” by another genre’s readers. While romance judges clearly thought these two books were worthy of being honored(and I have my Rita certificates to prove it) thriller readers consider them garbage.

And boy, do they let me know it. I’ve received dozens upon dozens of angry emails from readers who are disgusted by my old romance novels, which keep getting re-released with new covers. (I have no control over this, by the way. Mira holds the rights to these books.)

If there are any romance writers reading this blog, here’s a word of advice: be prepared when you switch genres. Even the most beloved romance writer in the world will find herself in hostile territory if she dares write for the mystery market.

Thriller writers hunger for respect from the mystery world. Mystery writers want respect from the literary world.

And romance authors — heck, they’d just like to stop being dumped on.

16 replies
  1. MFMakichen
    MFMakichen says:

    Hi Tess,
    First, let me say great post–next a question. Do you think that since there’s so much blending of genres these days that this war may die down some time soon? I read lots of thrillers that could easily qualify as romantic suspense and vice versa. Thanks!

  2. Tess
    Tess says:

    MF, when genres get blended, there will of course be some crossover readers who don’t mind the blending. But what I’ve found is that just a bit of a romance element, even in my most grisly thrillers, generates negative email from thriller/mystery purists who don’t want anything to do with a love story, and will let me know it. So you have to make your choice — do you try to please your straight thriller readers, or do you aim to please the crossover readers who like a romantic subplot? Which direction will garner the most readers? It’s just a choice you have to make, both creatively and practically.

    What to choose is worth another blog post!

  3. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    Speaking as one of those males, I have read EVERY ONE of Tess’ books, and even though I don’t really go for romance novels, you not only read a book for it’s content, you read the author. An author cannot satisfy everyone’s taste in what they write. If the storyline on the book jacket does not suit you, don’t buy the book. But if you are a dedicated reader of Tess’ books such as myself, you take the chance. If you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t blame the author. YOU read the synopsis. YOU bought the book. Tess wrote in different genres. So what? She gave a diversity of her work. The reader chooses what he/she wants to read. If a book doesn’t appeal to you, look elsewhere. There are other books by Tess that you’ll enjoy, and Tess, I don’t believe anyone won’t care for your work, but if you don’t like her writing, peruse the shelves. An author is entitled to change genres if they feel one might overpower the other. I read Whistleblower and Call After Midnight, not only for it’s content, but mainly because it was by my favorite author. C’mon people. Give authors a break. They work on deadlines, juggle career and family just like the reast of us, and worry their hearts out to see if their books are gonna sell so they can get a paycheck. If you don’t like a book, DON’T BUY IT!! Move ON!!

  4. ec
    ec says:

    We get the same thing over in the speculative fiction ghetto, only the descending pecking order of respectability is SF writers, fantasy writers, media tie-in SF/fantasy writers.

    There’s a lot to be said for name recognition, but I like the idea of branding work in different genres, or even distinctily different styles within a genre with different author names. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle, and so on.

  5. Yasmine
    Yasmine says:

    Hey Tess–I got the same thing, only in reverse. Mystery readers pissed as hell when I turned to my first love-urban fantasy–and started writing that. I got trashed on blogs, in newsletters, etc., and the fact that there is explicit sex in my new (and chosen, and might I add–much more successful) genre, well–that just got me lumped in with the ‘porn writers’ (romance writers often get called soft porn writers).

    Because my books are labeled paranormal romance instead of urban fantasy (the line is blurry), I also get readers execting an HEA ending ticked at me.

    LOL, I’ve given up trying to ever hope I’ll make every reader happy. My die-hard readers read everything I write and I’m grateful to them, and some read the mysteries that I wrote, but won’t read the new work, and some read the urban fantasy and won’t read the mysteries…eh…

    Oh…then there’s my nonfiction…and that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

  6. therese
    therese says:

    LOL! I’ve tried to get published in genre romance for years (a dozen books) and planned two names, one for my romances, one for my non-fiction. Except I’ve never published in romance and my non-fiction is getting lots of attention though I still haven’t published my memoir – yet…

    What this genre scenario shows is the personal investment readers bring to a story. Which is a really heavy burden for a writer/author to carry. That’s why we can’t carry it, or we’d never write a word.

    Every book/story a writer presents to a reader is gift of time-talent-passion for the story. Story is the only consistent element in every culture, throughout history, in humanity. And a storyteller must remain true to the story they are telling at the moment. Or the passion fades and life for readers and writers becomes – boring.

    I love romances, will read them until death do us part. I’ve also noticed romance readers cross genres a lot easier which grants more freedom to the romance writer. Now, if you had published your romances under the name, Tessa Gerritsen, and your thrillers, Tess… See, no issue!

    Hindsight could have dissolved so much drama in your life. But where is the fun in that?

    Just write what story inspires you and let the readers find their own way.

  7. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hi Tess,

    as a german romantic suspense author I know absolutely what you are talking about. First of, in Germany it’s still chic to say ‘I don’t read that Schund/Kitsch/Groschenromane’ (trash), what usually means romance books. And of course thriller readers don’t want to find any great romance in their books. My first books were published under a pseudonym and everybody knew from the cover text, that they were romantic suspense. My last book was published under my real name (fault of the publisher) and the cover text was pure thriller. Of course I said that it is a bad idea to announce a romantic suspense novel as a thriller, but nobody thought to change anything. So, when the book came out, I received great reviews from my earlier readers who knew that my books are always romantic suspense. But later bad reviews started piling up, mostly from readers that didn’t like romance in a thriller.
    I try not to let it hurt me, but it’s difficult. I never said I wrote a thriller so it really annoys me. But well, that’s life.


  8. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Actually that’s why I haven’t read your earlier romance stuff. I don’t want my image of your current writing abilities to be tainted by the romance stuff. I just personally don’t like it. Not to say that you CAN’T write romance, I just don’t personally want to read it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to bash you for switching genres because I love the stuff you’re writing nowadays! I hope you have a very Merry Christmas madame!

  9. Julia Talvitie
    Julia Talvitie says:

    I like good romance. But very rare books in romance genre are good romance (at least I think so.) I usually find interesting and believable characters and relationships in other genres.

    But if I read book that I don´t like, then that´s just… that. I don´t mind. It´s hilarious how people are so serious about what they read(and watch I think that movies and tv face the same problem. Is it so cool to be critical? I just find it easy not cool at all. If people read something they don´t like so much then so what? Why do they think that they have to warn every person possible about the book? Or write to the author about it?! Weird I say.

  10. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    A now-retired librarian, who loved crime novels, recommended Tess, but warned me, a male, to stay away from her romances. That is, unless I was one of the rare men who like romance novels.

    I have read every mystery novel she has authored, and particularly like the Isles-Rizzoli series. Tess is also fan friendly, something of a rarity, but less so among mystery writers.

    Father Daniel

  11. putney1968
    putney1968 says:

    I don’t understand readers who become abusive when they don’t care for a book. So, put it away and choose something else. Not everyone will become a fan of a particular genre, thank goodness. The wife of a colleague of mine is a successful, multi-published author of romance novels. I bought one of her books and couldn’t get through it. It wasn’t her fault: romance doesn’t speak to me. For the same reason, as I send out query letters to agents, should I become critical of them because they didn’t fall in love with my words? Absolutely not. You just move on and find something you do like.

  12. Regina
    Regina says:

    I recently finally bought “The Keepsake” book a week half ago. I apologized for reading it so late.. I had a hard time finding this book in chicago. I checked Target, Walmart and other stores and luckily I decided to hit a small mall near my home. There was one left hardcopy book of The Keepsake. I asked the salesperson in the store, Waldensbook about why it was not many books of this on the shelves. She mentioned that she do not know why there is any more left but she recommended me to go through amazon, ebay and etc. I told her, I preferred to purchase the book from the bookstore instead of ordering online through the secondhand store. She understood where I was coming from. I did wonder how many book when it first came out, were there a lot of “the keepsake” book on the shelves or less? I was anxious to get this book quickly and it was nowhere to be found. Of course, Barnes and Noble would have them but the closest one I could get was difficult to get. I do hope that the next book after “the keepsake”, there will be more on the shelves in my area and truly LOVE the book. It took me 2 days to finish the book and I loved it! Keep it up and hang in there..


  13. MFMakichen
    MFMakichen says:

    Tess, I hope you will do another post soon about which genre to choose. . .although I didn’t think authors made that choice. Doesn’t the publisher actually decided which genre to put your book in?

  14. NewMexicanAnn
    NewMexicanAnn says:

    I was listening to Internet radio tonight (ummmmmmmm… last night already?) and there was an author on who will have her debut novel out in the next month or two. It’s about a couple who buys a Victorian mansion, discovers the house’s bad past, and there’s a double homicide. Some of the suspects are fleshies and some are ghosts. So I called into the show and asked her what genre it’ll be marketed under and she said Mystery/Suspense! Wow! Not one mention about Mystery/Supernatural or Paranormal Fiction. *shrugs* What is this world coming to? 🙂

  15. Tess
    Tess says:

    thanks so much for the nice comments!

    MF, I’ve addressed that topic a bit in my next blog. In the end, it comes down to the author’s own personal strengths — and what she loves to read. But if you were to strictly by market, romance and mystery/thrillers are the biggest markets.

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