Knowing Your Genre

Years ago, Sarah somehow got me to admit I wrote stories. I’m still not sure how she managed it. It’s a special talent of hers, something she’s used on others besides me. Not only did she get me to admit I wrote stories and had for years, she managed to pry a chapter out of my unwilling fingers. I still remember the terror and disbelief that filled me when I realized I’d hit the send button. For the next several hours, I alternated between staring at my email program and feeling sick to my stomach as I waited for her to say something, anything. I never expected the response I got.

First, and she applied her virtual pointy boots as she said it, I was a writer. I had to remember that and keep telling myself that. I still have problems from time to time accepting it but her pointy boots scare me, so I keep telling myself that.

Second, know your genre.

That last is so very important, especially in this day and age where so many books, and even short stories, are a mix of genres. Yes, there are some single genre stories out there but the majority of titles being published today are a mix of genres. It becomes our responsibility as the writer to know the genre: the tropes, the format, reader expectation and trends. There’s more, but you get what I mean.

In fact, this was a lesson that hit home with me last night when I was putting my latest book up on Amazon for pre-order. I knew I was having trouble with the blurb. Part of it was because I was exhausted. I’ve been on a marathon editing and re-write session for the better part of the last week plus. Add to that the usual real life requirements and exhaustion had set in. But I pushed through, writing, reading and re-writing the blurb. But something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what.

So I stepped away from it for an hour or so. I needed to give my brain a break. When I returned to it, I knew right away what was wrong. The blurb was cuing one genre from the book but not the other. In some cases, that wouldn’t matter but in this case, it was huge. I had to figure out how to fix it so both main genres/sub-genres were there. Otherwise, I risked pissing off readers and that is something, as a writer, I never want to do. (Well, not when it comes to my fiction. VBEG)

I finally fixed the blurb. I’ll probably tweak it some more between now and final publication date. I always do. Nothing major. Just tightening the prose. But the gist of the book is there and the genres/sub-genres are cued. Hurdle one cleared. (Caveat here: always go back after your title goes live and re-read your blurb. I found two minor problems with mind this morning — one “is” for “it” and an extra word — that I’ve corrected and resubmitted. That’s what I get for trying to edit the blurb in the very small window on the KDP dashboard instead of in a text editor or word processor.)

So, how do you know what genre(s) you book falls into?

You do your research and you have to be honest with yourself. If your book has rockets and aliens and takes place in outer space, it’s a safe bet it’s science fiction. But what type of science fiction? Is there a mystery involved in the plot? Romance? What part of the plot is more important: the alien invasion of Earth or the relationship building between your lead characters? Or how about that little fact someone killed the head of the Space Defense Organization and your main character has to find out who before he’s charged and executed for the crime?

The research is simple. You read. But you read not only for enjoyment but with a critical eye — and you read both the classics and what’s trending now. You read traditionally published books in your genre(s), especially if you are trying for a traditional publishing contract. You read indie to see what others are writing. You keep an eye on the best sellers lists, both the “official” ones like the NYT and those compiled by Amazon and other online retailers and you read entries from them. You also keep in mind that those books brought out by the large publishers have been in the line for a year or more and that’s after the author finished the book. You analyze it all to see what’s working and what isn’t. Then you look at your own work with an open and honest eye and see how and where your work fits.

And this is where the path diverges for those searching for a traditional publishing contract and those going indie. Those going down a traditional path need to pay attention to what agents and publishers say they re looking for. You have to play the game. If they want a book about a purple, balding, gender uncertain alien who is misunderstood and bullied, that’s what you need to write. Yes, you put your own spin on it. You try to make your story stand out and stand apart. But you write for what they see as the current trend or the next trend. In other words, you give them what they want.

For the writers going the indie route, you need to pay attention to what is selling well now. Why? Because you aren’t constrained by the bottle-necked publishing schedule of the traditional publisher. The only limitation is your own writing speed and how quickly you want to put something out. Even so, you want to make sure what you have is promoted in the right genres and sub-genres and that you have hit the tropes of that genre, as well as the structure, correctly.

Over the next month or so, I’m going to go more in-depth about this, breaking it down by genres. Before I do, here’s the biggest piece of advice I can give. Don’t try to write in a genre you haven’t read. Don’t try to write in a sub-genre you aren’t familiar with. Do your homework first. Otherwise, you will find yourself frustrated when you give your story over for critique and your critique partners/beta readers wondering what the crap you’re doing if you don’t know the basics about the genre you’re writing in. (Yes, I have had this happen in critique groups before and it can be painful.)

I have one last caveat before I go on. Don’t be discouraged by readers who say they won’t read anything but pure genre books. Yes, there are some who stick to that rule, no matter what. But most of them don’t realize they are reading a book with mixed genres. Why? Because the author did his homework before starting. They 1) decided what the primary genre was going to be at the outset and 2) carefully wove the secondary genre(s) into the plot in such a way the primary genre remained just that — primary.

And this is why it is so necessary to learn the structure and tropes and reader expectations of your genre before you hit that “publish” or “send” button.

Now, for the obligatory bit of promotion (and please, may the gods of Amazon have corrected the blurb before this post goest live). Light Magic is the second book in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series. Witchfire Burning is the first book in the series. (Skeletons in the Closet and Slay Bells Ring are related titles.)

When Meg Sheridan arrived in Mossy Creek, Texas, she had one goal in mind: to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. Now, less than a month after burying her mother, all Meg knows about the town is that it has always been a haven for the Others, even before they made their existence known to the world. As an Other herself, that should reassure Meg. Instead, it raises more questions than it answers. More than that, she has one very large problem. She doesn’t know why her mother wanted her to come to Mossy Creek. Worse, she soon learns not everyone is willing to welcome her with open arms.

Faced with the daunting task of discovering not only why her mother sent her to Mossy Creek but also with uncovering why her mother fled there years before, Meg is determined to find the truth. Along the way, she discovers something else. Even in death, her mother is looking out for her – if Meg will let her.

And if she will accept the friendship and love of those who knew her mother all those years ago.

But danger awaits her as well. Secrets decades old and resentments going back generations seethe just below the surface. Do those secrets have anything to do with why Meg’s mother wanted her to come to town? Will discovering them help her understand why her mother fled Mossy Creek so long ago?

Or will they lead to something much more sinister. . . and deadly?

Light Magic is now available for pre-order. Release date is Feb. 27, 2018.


38 thoughts on “Knowing Your Genre

  1. Grumble Grumble

    Somehow (not Amanda’s fault) I got the idea that Light Magic would be available for immediate purchase & reading today. 😉

    1. Paul, originally it was going to be. I talk about it a bit more over on Nocturnal Lives. But, long story short, I wasn’t quite happy with the pacing of the ending and wanted a bit longer to tweak it. So, pre-orders start today and it will be available on the 27th for download. I’d rather postpone it a few weeks to make sure it is the best I can than to rush it out the door.

  2. I’m probably going to get carped for this, but the animated cat gif is really distracting… as in I have to cover it to be able to read until I can scroll it off page. Maybe I’m too CDO (that’s OCD in alphabetical order.)

  3. “I’m going to write a Fantasy, and it’s about a princess who rescues herself! It’s so completely original and nobody else has ever thought of this!”

        1. It’s because we all live in time capsules. NOT JUST PUBLISHERS. What was “true” when we were very young remains true to us. And even applies to “this stuff existed but we never found it.”
          Rationally we know the stuff exists, but emotionally we don’t.
          And yes, it’s an issue. Particularly right now, because things have changed so much so fast.

          1. When I wrote the Princess in Sparrowind I wrote her as a big sister figure in my mind first, proud princess second. It worked out rather well, and it was only later that I noticed she essentially ‘saved herself’ largely because I didn’t want to go the ‘adults are incompetent’ route that is so popular in children’s books.

        2. No, worse is when they pull whole lines, including books about to be released, to redo all the covers so they 1) all look alike and 2) all look like the current “it” novel, even if the book about to be released is nothing like the “it” book. Then there’s the final problem: blaming the author of said recovered book that now sends the wrong cue to the readers for poor sales. And yes, this did happen and more than a few authors found themselves in trouble with their publishers because of something they had no control over.

          1. You know, the more I read on MCG, the more the relationship between publisher and author sounds like the one between abuser and victim.

            “Why did you make me screw up the entire marketing scheme for your book so that it didn’t sell because no one could figure out what it was about? I didn’t want to destroy my sales, and if you weren’t such a lousy author, you wouldn’t have made me!”

          2. Yeah, I stood in the bookstore caught between outrage and a gigglefit when I found a Jane Austen book tricked out like a Twilight clone.

      1. Alas, even people whom I know are natives to the field will talk about the non-existent demure and delicate princess as if she were the Typical Princess.

        1. I have been a voracious reader since childhood and can remember no demure and delicate princesses, with the *very possible* exception of Arwen from LOTR, whose strength does require a bit of reading-between-the-lines to recognize. (A fanfic author I used to know pointed out some fascinating parallels between Arwen and Luthien, who worked some worldshaking magic through *textiles*, and asked if we really knew what all went into the banner Arwen sent to Aragorn… 🙂

            1. And IIRC, unrolled it as part of calling the Army of the Dead. They left that out of the movie.

        2. If I could, for sheer twisting of tails, I’d come up with a demure and delicate princess that needs to be rescued.

          Unfortunately, every time I tried it, I realized that the waiting-to-be-rescued princess trope is so passive she commits the unforgivable sin: being boring.

          Which explains why she doesn’t exist in stories; no successful storyteller ever bored his audience into liking a tale!

          1. I think the trope comes from the fairytale set where one well… sub-genre of tales has the hero overcoming various challenges and typically winds up marrying the princess as part of his ‘prize’. The princess typically does not have a speaking role in those since the focus is on the hero.

            1. Oh, yes, there are plenty of princesses — and princes, too — who are non-entities. The three princes in Molly Whuppie, for instance, exist only so the king can offer to let the oldest marry her oldest sister, the second her second, and the third Molly herself, each time in return for a feat from Molly.

              Though they can sometimes have character and act. For instance, in “The Grateful Beasts,” the princess objects that her father is acting tyrannically until her father locks her in a tower; in “The Lord of Lorn and the False Stewart”, the duke’s daughter figures out how she can hear the hero’s story despite his promise; and, of course, many Mad Scientist oops — Ogre’s Beautiful Daughter is the source of knowledge about HOW to overcome the challenges.

          2. She can need to be rescued some of the time. Particularly if she needs it because of some heroic sacrifice on her part. And when she returns the favor, she can rescue the hero by clever tactics rather than brute strength.

    1. But you forget that she is gender fluid, wants to kill all the alpha males and will then rule with glitter and everyone will wear pink pointy hats.

  4. I just had a thought: if part of being an author is keeping up with the latest trends in your genre, and the way to do that is to do a bunch of reading, does this mean I can write off my book budget as an expense on my taxes?

  5. I won’t do this again if it’s out of line. Just say!

    The cover of the book you posted here is so close to Just Right it’s painful.

    Turn the light off on the lantern and let it fall into the background shadow. I’d normally say “lose it” but based on your blurb it’s giving your potential readers a valuable New Orleans visual cue.

    Lose the halo effect and let the parts of the girl’s hair farthest from the light source fade into the backfire dark, and have the girl cast a shadow onto the lantern.

    That shadow you’ve got on the title and subtitle text? Expand it just a bit, esp. on the series name. That needs to be more readable, since you’re using a decorative font. A good choice that fits the kind of story this seems to be, but it’s a tradeoff.

    When you have a killer bit of art it’s tempting to let it take center stage, but you aren’t selling the illustrator, you’re selling the writer.

    So. Close.

    Also – effective blurb!

    1. Sorry, I’m not going to ask Sarah to change the cover. It is perfect for the book and it clues the genre. But, thanks for the comment on the blurb. I had a hard time pulling it together.

    2. Sadly, if you take out the glowy bits, you kill the signalling that it’s urban fantasy. She could do it by killing those and adding other lighting effects… but I suspect at some point the cover artist would rebel.

    3. The text on the cover really doesn’t really HAVE to be all that legible when books are sold on Amazon, because the book title, series title, and author name are all printed in block letters on every page referencing the book. It would be a far greater error, IMHO, to obscure that phenomenal artwork.

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