Back on the Chain Gang: Genres

My Blog Chain Gang is back at it again and our new topic is Genres. We’ve had to skip over one blogger who’s moving, so the previous post from Elana Johnson is here.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that Genre has been a hot topic over here on Trying to Do the Write Thing. I had a heck of a time deciding what genre in which to market my novel. One of the more amusing discussions of this is listed in my Blog Hall of Fame in the sidebar: Genre Crossing and The Edge of Memory.

I read all sorts of genres, and so influences of several genres found their way into my novel. It’s a mystery, but not a whodunnit. It’s suspense/thriller, but personal. It prominently features romance, but it isn’t a romance novel. It has paranormal elements, but they’re subtle and late in the novel.

This might suggest a feeling of “something for everyone” but conventional publishing wisdom states this is not a desirable place to be. Publishers and editors (and therefore agents) need to know where your book will be shelved and how it will be marketed. Simpler is better. Which does leave a more complicated book a bit nowhere.

Based on my research, it seems that a book with elements of multiple genres would be classified as mainstream fiction. This might lead you to wonder how I came to be marketing in Upmarket Women’s Fiction.

When I first prepared to market my novel, I had a hard time finding a good definition of “women’s fiction”, other than that women ought to like it. Women make up the majority of readers anyway. My novel was long on romance, so that suggests a female audience. I sent a survey to my test readers asking them to write in what shelf they would expect to find my novel on, and got a wide variety of responses ranging from “Psychological Thriller” to “Family Saga” to “Mystery” to “Romantic Suspense” to “Whatever shelf Jodi Picoult is on.”

If I had paid more attention to that last suggestion, I would have been on the right track sooner.

In that same survey, I asked if there was an author or a novel that my test readers considered my novel similar to in style or audience. I received a number of flattering responses, including Fannie Flagg, Nancy Pickard, Maeve Binchy, Anita Shreve, and most frequently Jodi Picoult. After a little research, I realized these awesome authors are categorized as “women’s fiction” when they’re not over on the “Bestsellers” shelf.

At long last, I found a clear definition of women’s fiction from the FWA:

Women’s Fiction: Fiction which includes subjects and themes that range far beyond romance. The woman is the star of the story and her changes and emotional developments are the subject. Relationships are at the core of the plot. Could involve relationships with siblings, parents, friends and not necessarily just a lover. Doesn’t have to have the standard “happy ending” but there is a life-affirming resolution to the story. Focuses on the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women. (Examples: “Shellseekers” Rosamonde Pilcher, “Fortunes Rocks” Anita Shreve, novels by Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg.)

YES! That’s The Edge of Memory, absolutely.

So, why upmarket? Well, this part I’m actually less certain of, as it seems that not all agents have embraced this particular term which I am given to understand means a novel bridging from commercial to literary fiction: a book club sort of novel. My novel does use symbolism, echoes, and allusion, but not in a way that is distracting to the story.

My second option for genre would be suspenseful women’s fiction. When I get farther into the query process, I may find that fits better. This whole publishing thing is a learning process, after all.

So Take Home Tips from what I’ve learned on Genres:

  1. It’s important in marketing your project to identify the best fit for genre category. This gives agents, editors, publishers the most efficient way to pitch your book up the chain.
  2. There are different expected book lengths by genre, so bear that in mind when marketing. I posted about wordcounts here and included Colleen Lindsay’s wordcount breakdown by genre.
  3. Once you’ve identified your genre, read the current releases in your category to get a feel for the current market.
  4. Although important, genres can be flexible, too. I’ve seen agents posting that they market a cross-genre book in either category, depending on the pitch-recipient.

Okay, Chain-gangers, Kiddoc out. Next up, I believe is the lovely and talented Mary Lindsay.

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Say It Ain’t So, Borders… Say It Ain’t So.

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I belong to an active chat board where a recent thread outlined a coupon code for Borders.com. The coupon code– intended for $5 of a single item– apparently was not working properly and was allowing customers to place large orders for multiple items with $5 taken off the price of EACH item. This apparently included items that retailed for less than $5. Photobucket

Naturally, this led to many large orders placed for dozens and even hundreds of free or severely discounted books. With free shipping. Photobucket

I understand the coupon has been deactivated now, although there were apparently several days during which orders may or may not have been processed.  There’s been a lot of confusion on which orders will be or have been processed, and which will be canceled.

This whole thing makes me so so sad. Photobucket

I know we’ve all discussed at length how deeply we need Borders as an additional outlet. Additional merges within the book sales world are frankly frightening, as it could leave one or two people deciding which books in a given genre will be available when a customer enters a bookstore. Photobucket Certainly giving away thousands of dollars worth of books with free shipping is unlikely to help Borders’ bottom line. Photobucket And given the haphazard application of the coupon and the resulting cancellations of orders that had been already charged, this fiasco won’t be helping with good will either.

This scares me. Photobucket Not just as an aspiring author, but as a reader.

Shake it off, Borders, and get your head back in this game. Please. Photobucket

In Deep Smit (7/25)

It’s Friday again!

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This week I am in deep smit with HarperCollins. No, they have not expressed any desire to buy The Edge of Memory. I’m sure they’ve never heard of me or my novel.

So why am I smitten with them this week? I’ve recently learned that they re-released a favorite novel of mine that has been out of print since, well, as long as I can remember.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread is the story of a nine-year-old boy in Cleveland in 1944, who tries to prove his worth to himself by journeying across the city alone to visit his best friend. He arrives there seconds before the gas tank explosion and is faced with the challenge of saving himself, his little sister, and a number of other characters he happens to encounter.

I’m delighted that this book is finally back in print. Yay, HarperCollins!!

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First Page Contest: Off the Hook

Many big kudos to both Authoress on the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog, and to the amazing Secret Agent Holly Root at the Waxman Agency.

This was a rocking contest in so many ways. Ms. Root invested a lot of time to give thoughtful feedback on each entry to the Are You Hooked? contest. All 115 of them. Photobucket

Mine is here, if you’d like to see. It was a fresh revision, as I was inspired to rewrite my opening from another character’s point of view just a couple of weeks ago. The feedback I received was absolutely invaluable.

It is SO helpful to have fresh eyes look at your work, especially expert, professional agent eyes. I’ve now revised my new opening and am pleased with the changes.

Especially significant was the disconnect occurring with the first paragraph of my contest entry. Several readers mentioned that paragraph was less engaging because they didn’t care enough about the character yet to be moved by her husband’s death. This is why the fresh evaluation is so important. I have hundreds of test readers, but they already know and care about the characters, so they can’t have the same reaction a new reader would.

I’ve posted my revised page in my entry comments if you’re interested. And if you haven’t been by Miss Snark’s First Victim previously, you might want to spend some time poking around. Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Links to all the contest entries are currently displayed on the left side of the page.

Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing I Learned From Willy Wonka

Well, that title is a bit misleading… I’m new to writing and publishing and don’t know “everything I need to know” by a long stretch.

The inspiration for this blog post came when a quote from Willy Wonka popped into my head and seemed to fit my quest for publication.

“There’s a hundred billion people in this world, and only five of them will find golden tickets [representation as a debut author]. Even if you had a sack full of money, you probably wouldn’t find one. And after this contest [process] is over, you’ll be no different from the billions of others who didn’t find one.”

“But I am different. I want it more than any of them.”

The more I recalled from that film, the more appropriate it seemed. So, here’s what I’ve learned about publishing from Willy Wonka:

  1. You should never, ever doubt what nobody is sure of. If there’s one refrain everyone and their brother is singing, it’s that publishing is subjective. Rejections are expected, even for eventual best-sellers. A particular genre or topic or plot device may be unanimously declared cliché, or overdone, and yet opinions can change in a split-second based on fresh execution. So, all you can hope to do is keep writing what you love, and hoping someone else comes along who loves it as much as you do.
  2. Rude demands and entitlement issues will send you down the garbage chute. There have been a lot of posts about this recently on agent/industry blogs. From moonrat’s unproductive lunch, to odd or hostile letters sent to Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, Jonathan Lyons and even intern Jodi Meadows… the one clear fact is that these author reactions did not help them get published. Take home point? Be a good egg.
  3. In here, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams. I am often surprised at how often control becomes a fundamental point of focus. Part of what I enjoy about writing– the reason I find it therapeutic– is that I finally have complete control over something. My characters, their world, and what happens to them depends entirely on what I decide. That is a heady feeling. Interestingly enough, once the writing is finished the next step (if publishing is the goal) means putting yourself in a situation where you have very little control. I think that’s why so many authors get frustrated riding the query-go-round and alternately cling to rules and/or declare them arbitrary and unreasonable.
  4. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Opening yourself to other people is the only way to share something wonderful you’ve created. It also means they might disrespect or destroy it. Be ready to filter your chocolate river.
  5. A little boy’s got to have something in this world to hope for. I struggle with this one a bit personally. I realize rejections are expected. I know thick skin is a publishing industry prerequisite. I know I haven’t queried remotely enough to make any assumptions about my chances to be published, but reading the odds can be pretty discouraging. But stories are meant to be shared, so I’ll keep a healthy dose of optimism on hand.
  6. Don’t let a golden ticket make the chocolate taste terrible. As much as any aspiring author wants to be recognized and published, the publishing process should not be allowed to spoil the experience of writing. It’s easy to get swept into the madness of query letters, synopses, and pitchcraft. And I’ve spent my fair share of time agonizing over query blurb wording (many can testify to that), but it is important, I think, to remember why we started writing in the first place.

Kate on ktliterary posted a while back about Josie Bloss’s plans for a tattoo to celebrate the release of her novel Band Geek Love, and asked what other aspiring authors would do to celebrate publication. I think I might sing “Golden Ticket” at the top of my lungs:

I never thought my life could be

Anything but catastrophe

But suddenly I begin to see

A bit of good luck for me.

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye.

I never had a chance to shine

Never a happy song to sing

But suddenly half the world is mine

what an amazing thing!

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden chance to make my way

And with a golden ticket

It’s a golden day.

ETA: I’ve added a couple more points to this list. Part II is here.

Perfecting a Pitch Blurb

Kristin Nelson rocks. Seriously.

I attended her workshop on Query Pitch Blurbs at the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. Using her suggestions, I crafted a query letter and sent out an equery on Monday night.

Tuesday afternoon, I got a request for a partial.

She has been blogging on the same topic. Well worth reading.

You can find most of the information here. Or if you visit her main blog page, the entries from April 21 – 28 address this topic. And there’s more coming. 😉

My Pitch for The Edge of Memory

Warning! The following post is slightly spoilerific. So you’ll have to click “continue” to read it. 😉

In case you read about my first agent meeting and wondered what my 60-second pitch was…

Continue reading