Editing Rant: Good Story, Wrong Genre

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

From a book review

When I decided to start taking my writing seriously, I started writing a book review for every book I read in order to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Part of the process is if I reviewed a book worth only one or two stars, I had to figure out how to “fix” the book.

What went wrong and could it be corrected.

I read a book where all the characters were power-hungry, manipulative, and unlikeable. BUT the genre was romantic, young adult fantasy inspired by the Wizard of Oz. This did not mesh. 

As an editor, one challenge I often face is remaining true to the book the author created as much as possible. To fit the genre, normally this book as-is would need to be thrown out and restarted. It didn’t even do the homage to the Wizard of Oz right.

But could it be fixed without a rewrite??? … below is part of my book review with the characters changed to protect the guilty.


How would I fix this book if I was editing it? It’s complicated, plot-driven, and lots of character details. Short of a total rewrite to make the characters likeable, how would I change it?

Well, what genres can have unlikeable characters (not romance or young-adult fantasy with a strong side of romance) … let’s think … hmmm … horror, … and mystery.

Oh, make this a murder mystery!

So many characters who are capable of killing and have unlikeable parts to their personality and reasons to commit murder: a fae prince (tin-man), a cursed beast (Lion), a dark angel (scarecrow), a wicked witch, an amoral con-man (the Wizard), the king of winged monkeys, the three gossips manipulating everyone “for their own good”, the list just goes on and on.

Have Dorothy arrive in the tornado and the fake death of a witch when the house lands lead to discovering the real murder of the Good Witch Glenda. Add this storyline on top of everything. Glenda the Good was mauled or chopped up – sword or claws. (Was it the Tin Man or the Lion? Maybe the Winged Monkey?)

In the end, we discover one of the gossips had arranged the death when another gossip confronts her, but the magical-gossip delivers her line of “not making a worse fate”.

“But she is dead!” the second gossip answers.

The fae-queen-magical-gossip responds with “there are fates worse than death”.

Other gossip then goes “Oh …oh.” with a far-off look “I see.”

But the full mystery still needs to be solved for the reader. Who was the fae-queen’s tool for the murder – initially I thought the “cute and cuddly” lion, but in the end I realized it would need to be the tin-man. His mother would congratulate him on using his ex-lover ability to manipulate time to freeze the body so it looked fresh when people found it, never suspecting the fae who had the perfect alibi, and he admitted that forcing himself to fall through the cursed mirror of Iron had been one of the hardest things he had done. His mother then says he has graduated and he was no longer her heir, but now royal successor as she abdicates.

Having this fourth storyline put on top of everything there then makes having a host of unlikeable characters forgivable, because everyone is a suspect.

Even better, not a word already there needs to be changed or removed. The author just adds a bit more on top. That would be my editorial solution.


This is a peek into developmental editing. I usually work with fairly new authors. What I do is (1) tell them in general terms what is wrong with the book and why it is wrong. Then (2) provide one or two solutions (in this case add a fourth storyline on top of everything from a different genre). And, finally, (3) remind the author that it is THEIR story – my suggestions are just that, suggestions. Examples are just examples.

75% of the time the author considers my suggestion, but doesn’t use my example. Which I am more than fine with. They are the author. The other 20% of the time they make the change inspired by the example. And the final 5% of the time they decide to keep things as is.


I really pleased with the solution I came up with to “fix” this published book. I never considered changing the genre of a book before. In my head, that has always been fixed. When I came up with the “murder mystery” everything else immediately fell into place and I could see what the story could have been in my head, and it was amazing. A murder mystery, Wizard of Oz homage, romance, YA fantasy – great stuff. Oh, well.

As is, unlikeable characters, toxic tropes, and a side of poor continuity destroyed the book for me.