The Grantchester books by James Runcie are a mystery series. Yet this designation alone straitjackets them. These stories of an English priest in the decades following World War II are also about relationships and cultural change.
How do you classify the Mitford series by Jan Karon? An American minister in his sixties falls in love with the divorced woman next door. A romance series? Small mysteries weave in and out, too. Are the books an example of the romance/mystery genre? Family relationships play an important role in the stories. In fact, for me, relationships are the key to the series. Family saga perhaps?
New designations for fiction like the Mitford series, the Grantchester series, and other novels of this type include the terms cross-genre and upmarket (a type of hybrid commercial/literary fiction).
My chief difficulty in marketing my novels is settling on a genre to place them in. Mystery? International intrigue? Love story? Family relationships?
In pitching fiction, writers are told, they must state the genre. Why? Because to market the book, a seller, whether owner of a physical bookstore or an ebook distributor, must know where to place the book—the shelf or category.
Genre is a marketing tool. It works well for novels like straight detective stories or romance or horror. It works less well for mixed stories. If they must be marketed by genre, at least the back cover copy can hint at a story beyond the genre straitjacket.