Before I was a writer, I was a public relations consultant. Thanks to television and novels, that probably invokes an image of notoriety-hungry, dinner-starved waifs who plan parties and hand out swag bags for a living – in really nice shoes.
That’s actually true. (Kidding. Mostly.) But outside of the straightforward “I have a product, you write about such products, so how about writing about my product,” it’s more about understanding people – what they care about, what’s important to them (and the difference between the two), as well as how they’ll perceive or react to something.
So when a bad date with a wannabe pick up artist, a dating book, and a background in video games inspired my novel, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda (a choosable-path novel with hundreds of choices and sixty endings), I immediately knew the idea had legs. Dating advice culture had reached a tipping point after He’s Just Not That Into You, and there’s always a market for nostalgia – especially when it’s somewhat progressive, like making a style of writing traditionally geared toward boys accessible to chicks.
And I was right about the positive reaction – for the most part. Overwhelming approval for interactive lady fiction (“I loved those books!”), but the occasional forehead crinkle or nose wrinkle (“So it’s a dating advice book?”). And I knew I’d forever spend almost as much time explaining what it isn’t as I would explaining what it is.
In Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, you assume the role of Elle Masters, a single gal ready to swear off dating following another break up that didn’t break your heart. That is, until you meet Nick Wright and begin over-analyzing and second-guessing your way through hundreds of dating dilemmas and living with the outcome – even when it means starting over. Fifty-nine times.
And it is a book about dating – with each choice the reader makes pertaining directly to the romantic conflict at hand, conflict inspired by countless non-fiction books and articles written by experts; experts I do not count myself among, because this is not a dating book. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path, it’s not hell-bent on getting you to the altar, and while blindside breakups and morning after regrets may feel like real life, it’s fiction.
It’s also not “just” for singles. In fact, I’ll wager married gals will have just as much, if not more, fun than their single counterparts. And why not? It’s double the nostalgia with none of the real life risk of heartbreak…or STDs.
So, if it’s not an advice book, does that make it a romance novel? Not quite. Romance is code for “And they’ll all live happily ever after.” But with so many endings, arrived at in countless combinations, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’s more like “And they’ll all live happily sometimes after.”
Funnily enough, it’s that distinction that determines the book’s true genre. It’s not romance, not chick lit, not women’s fiction, and, despite being hysterically hilarious, it’s not humour. According to the publishers who bid on it, it’s commercial fiction. The very definition of “suitable for all.”
And I hope that’s how it will ultimately be seen, but experience reminds me that while I control my own messaging, I have zero control over the ensuing reaction. Readers will dictate public perception.
Next up in the Once Upon A Theme series is Good on Paper. But just to be clear, it’s not a romance novel, it’s a book about romance novels.
Tara Lee Reed
(Originally Published at www.DangledCarat.com