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.