Cross-genre works have become increasingly popular in recent years. They’ve always been around; they aren’t a new phenomenon. However, in the past it often proved difficult to get a cross-genre work published. That was not due to any fault in the work but rather to the simple fact that bookstores didn’t like them because they didn’t know where to shelve them. Should a mystery with fantasy elements be shelved with mysteries or with fantasy? How about a book that combined a sports story with science fiction? Or a literary work that had a science fictional setting? I remember when I was trying to find the fifth and final book in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos Archives. I went into a large bookstore and asked for it. “It’s science fiction,” I said, trying to be helpful, as the clerk didn’t seem to be familiar with the work. He shook his head. “Doris Lessing doesn’t write science fiction,” he informed me. “She’s a literary writer.” Well, yes, she was a literary writer, and the five books in the Canopus in Argos Archives are literary science fiction. So bookstores, I found, generally shelved the series with literary works, not with science fiction, making it difficult for science fiction readers to discover her work, though of course many have.
Now that books are so frequently purchased on line, the shelving of them is no longer a major concern. Cross-genre works have advantages. They are a way of drawing in new readers. An example is a book I recently reviewed: Murder Go Round, by Carol J. Perry. It is a mystery and appeals to avid mystery readers. But its paranormal aspects may encourage mystery readers to try other works of urban fantasy, while at the same time they draw in fantasy readers like me.
When I tell people I write fantasy novels, I frequently get the response, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy.” But many do read historical novels. So I tell them about my novel Seduction of the Scepter, in which the fantasy element consists of the story being set in a fictitious eastern European country with a political system of my invention, and the main character, a noblewoman, occasionally mentally receives a thought from someone nearby. She cannot control this ability, does not want it, and it mostly just upsets her, because she can’t be certain whose thought she’s received and rarely knows why that thought has come to her. But the novel is set in a definite historical period, the mid-1700s. It isn’t historical in the sense of dealing with actual historical events or personages, but it is historical in the broader sense of reflecting the customs, mores, and outlook of that era. Calling it cross-genre may be a bit of a stretch, but I have had many readers tell me they really enjoyed it despite not being fantasy readers. And as historical fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, fantasy readers have no problem with it except perhaps for those who may have wanted more fantastic elements in it.
My book When the Beast Ravens is out and out fantasy, but it is also a murder mystery. My novel Deathright is a time travel story. Time travel is generally considered science fiction, but it can also be used in fantasy, and I have done so in that novel. Many science fiction writers have mixed a bit of fantasy in with science fiction, some very successfully, and others less so. And of course there’s paranormal romance, a very popular subgenre of fantasy, loved by both fantasy readers and romance readers. So writers, if you want to mix genres, go for it! If you do it well, it can enrich your novel and attract more readers.