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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Pitfalls of Jumping Genres

Tess Gerritsen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University. Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and was awarded her M.D. in 1979. After completing her internal medicine residency, she worked as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1987, Tess's first novel was published. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller, was soon followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, "Adrift," which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson. Her thriller, Harvest was released in 1996, and marked Tess's debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Paramount/Dreamworks, and the book was translated into twenty foreign languages. Now retired from medicine, Tess writes full time and lives in Maine.

(Reprinted with permission )

by Tess Gerritsen

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

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

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 BoonI 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.


  1. Interesting post. It's hard to know where you fit in when you first get started but switching genres does obviously hold pitfalls. Thanks for the heads up, Tess.

  2. Very enlightening and also very brave of Tess to share the less-than-stellar reviews.

    Good post!

  3. Very interesting post. In my naive viewpoint, I always thought good writing would trump genre. Let that be a lesson to me!

  4. When I saw the picture of Tess I knew I'd seen her face before.This post and the interview by Writer's Digest Magazine with Tess earlier in the year were very enlightening. Tess has very impressive credentials in the medical profession and in the writing world. Thanks for the interview Tess and Gina.

  5. We all crave something as writers and the respect of our peers from the other genres as well as our readers is high on our list. My books tend to cross genres so I am left straddling the barbwire fence, but it makes life interesting

    Bernard J Rossi
    Author & Poet


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