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1. Open mic and the classroom

perkins open mic1 Open mic and the classroomI confess that I have been known to say that many, many books are my absolute favorites, to the extent that sometimes people roll their eyes and avert their attention. And I think that as a reader, this is true — I fall in love a little with story after story. But it is not true that as a teacher, I fall in love with every book that passes by. I read with different eyes for my classroom, and given limited time and resources, I get to choose fewer books on that front.

So recently Mitali Perkins released an edited volume called Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, a collection of pieces about being bicultural, and I fell in love twice. As a multiethnic person who loves thinking about these issues, I was on board immediately with the poignant, wry, and funny accounts about being in-between. Those are feelings I know well.

But I didn’t just fall in love with Open Mic as a reader — I feel in love with it as a teacher. The Common Core Standards (if your state is into those) push us to teach across genres more, to use multiple texts to work on synthesis skills, and to expand our text repertoires in ways I think could be important and useful. But in practice, I have found that my repertoire of texts is going to need some shoring up if I am going to shift my teaching that way.

In addition to having an exciting theme that I absolutely love for my classroom, the texts in Open Mic vary in genre. There is a poem, a personal account, a graphic opinion piece, and so on.  Those different genres give me a whole new window into how we can build the skills to synthesize and analyze, because crossing genres necessitates that work. I can see the great usefulness of a collection like this, and I hope lots of other cross-genre collections around themes are on my near horizon. I can hardly wait to get started.

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The post Open mic and the classroom appeared first on The Horn Book.

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2. Plot Genres

In my last two posts I covered a variety of alternative plots that deviate from traditional arch plot. In this post I want to address what is known as a plot genre.

You’ve probably stumbled across craft books that told you there are x-number of plot types and the story you are writing probably falls into one of these catagories.  For example Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat offers the following list:

  1. save-the-catMonster in the House
  2. Golden Fleece
  3. Out of the Bottle
  4. Dude with a Problem
  5. Rites of Passage
  6. Buddy Love
  7. Whydunit
  8. The Fool Triumphant
  9. Institutionalized
  10. Superhero

Or maybe you’ve stumbled across Ronald Tobias’ 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, which offers these as plot variations:

  1. 20 Master PlotsComing of Age Plot
  2. Atonement Plot
  3. Love Plot
  4. Forbidden Love Plot
  5. Revenge Plot
  6. Mystery Plot
  7. Adventure Plot
  8. Rescue Plot
  9. Escape Plot
  10. Temptation Plot
  11. You get the picture…

So, why aren’t these alternative plots? Why didn’t I include them in my alternative plot list?

Great question.

This is the difference between what I call a plot type and a plot genre. The list above is a category: romance, mystery, superhero, buddy flick, etc. They all come with conventions and audience expectations. And yes, they sometime even come with what one might call “obligatory scenes” (i.e. a scene you would expect from that genre of story). In my book, however, these are all still variations of the hero’s journey/goal-oriented plot. They don’t push the envelope of plot in a new way. Instead they use the conventions of arch plot to tell this variation of the goal-oriented story. Instead of a quest, it’s the goal to “get the girl” or “seek revenge” or “solve the mystery.” The reason we often hear that there is only “one type of story” is because we often lump everything (including all these genre variations) under the umbrella of a goal-oriented story.

Of course you can take any one of these genres and decide to use an alternative plot! Of course you can! And I’d love to see you do that.

But let’s not get confused. A plot-type is defined by the type of action and it’s cause-and-effect relationships. Whereas a plot-genre is defined by the category of the story-type and the expectations and conventions of that category.

genre


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3. Plot Genres

In my last two posts I covered a variety of alternative plots that deviate from traditional arch plot. In this post I want to address what is known as a plot genre.

You’ve probably stumbled across craft books that told you there are x-number of plot types and the story you are writing probably falls into one of these catagories.  For example Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat offers the following list:

  1. save-the-catMonster in the House
  2. Golden Fleece
  3. Out of the Bottle
  4. Dude with a Problem
  5. Rites of Passage
  6. Buddy Love
  7. Whydunit
  8. The Fool Triumphant
  9. Institutionalized
  10. Superhero

Or maybe you’ve stumbled across Ronald Tobias’ 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, which offers these as plot variations:

  1. 20 Master PlotsComing of Age Plot
  2. Atonement Plot
  3. Love Plot
  4. Forbidden Love Plot
  5. Revenge Plot
  6. Mystery Plot
  7. Adventure Plot
  8. Rescue Plot
  9. Escape Plot
  10. Temptation Plot
  11. You get the picture…

So, why aren’t these alternative plots? Why didn’t I include them in my alternative plot list?

Great question.

This is the difference between what I call a plot type and a plot genre. The list above is a category: romance, mystery, superhero, buddy flick, etc. They all come with conventions and audience expectations. And yes, they sometime even come with what one might call “obligatory scenes” (i.e. a scene you would expect from that genre of story). In my book, however, these are all still variations of the hero’s journey/goal-oriented plot. They don’t push the envelope of plot in a new way. Instead they use the conventions of arch plot to tell this variation of the goal-oriented story. Instead of a quest, it’s the goal to “get the girl” or “seek revenge” or “solve the mystery.” The reason we often hear that there is only “one type of story” is because we often lump everything (including all these genre variations) under the umbrella of a goal-oriented story.

Of course you can take any one of these genres and decide to use an alternative plot! Of course you can! And I’d love to see you do that.

But let’s not get confused. A plot-type is defined by the type of action and it’s cause-and-effect relationships. Whereas a plot-genre is defined by the category of the story-type and the expectations and conventions of that category.

genre


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4. The Importance of Background



When I first started taking art classes and learning how to draw and paint, I made a mistake common to most new artists: I painted everything in the middle of my paper and without any kind of background. Everything I drew just kind of hung in mid-air without a context to keep it anchored within the (nonexistent) setting. Over and over I'd have to go back into my pictures and add my backgrounds, if I could be bothered to do so at all, and that wasn't always an easy thing to do.

It was the same with my writing: I'd freewrite an exciting conflict scene out of the blue, add some troubled characters, and then have to figure out where they all came from. I'd have to travel back in fictional time and ask my characters questions straight out of a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel: "You want to marry whom? Where's he from? What's his background? Not one of those dreadful Van der Leeden Hoopsie-Kopecky boys is he??"

A quick and easy fix to both these problems has been to tackle my backgrounds first. The benefits of this have been practically endless, not the least being "No More Blank Paper Staring Me in the Face," and "No More Wondering What to Write or Paint."

This is especially helpful when I find myself with a limited amount of time to work on a project, for instance a spare half hour or two when I know I could do something creative, but I'm not sure where to start. Working on the background for a future painting or story is the perfect solution. For some well-spent art time, I try:
  • Gessoing art journal pages or full-size paper or canvases. (Admittedly not the most exciting item on my list, but getting it done ahead of time is a huge step forward.)
  • Adding some color to the gesso--or simply using color on its own, perhaps mixed with a clear acrylic medium for texture and durability--is a great way to step up the excitement factor.
  • As is experimenting with brushstrokes: swirls, linear patterned grids, stippled dots.
  • Or doodling into wet gesso with a stick or the end of a paintbrush. A dry sponge or any other kind of imprint-making object is effective too.
  • Abstract collage: old newspapers, junk mail, decorative art papers--tear them up, paste them down, paint over with either a thin coat of gesso or a clear acrylic medium.
  • Sprinkle sand or seeds, confetti or even dirt into the damp medium for a super textural effect.
  • If you want to go beyond an abstract design, try drawing or painting a background of a more structured surface such as stone, brick, or wood. Or practice painting or drawing drapery of different kinds of fabric: seersucker, silk, cotton, terry cloth.
While I'm working on these visual backgrounds, I find it's helpful to not think about what I might place in the foreground. My job at this stage is to build up a good collection of styles, colors, and textures that I can easily turn to when I've got the time and inspiration for a longer painting session.

The same is true for writing. Having a collection of pre-written back stories on hand guarantees that I'll always have something and someone to write about in the future. You can do this too:
  • Without referring to any physical references such as a photograph or actual person, start by choosing a name at random, any name: Bunny McPherson; Lucky Holmes; Wendell Marlow. This is your new character. Now write about his or her early life: where have they come from?
  • The ancestors--who are they? What's their story?
  • Write about your character's childhood through the POV of a best friend--or a worst enemy.
  • Write about the various settings in which you could place this person: e.g., home, work, vacation/travel spot.
  • Write about a severe emotional trauma this person experienced as a child.
  • What's this person's biggest secret?
  • Place this character in a setting: restaurant, bus, city sidewalk, farmyard. Now envision the other people in the background: what are they doing? Who are they? How does your character interact with this background? Could any of them become secondary characters in a longer work?
I promise if you do this often enough and on a regular basis, a short story or novel will emerge without you even trying. Goal, conflict, and motivation--the big three essentials to plot and page-turning--are all in that background somewhere, just waiting to be uncovered.

The best part of having all my backgrounds--written and visual--in place before I start any new work is that often the finished background will determine what my next piece will be. Two weekends ago I took out a large piece of paper I had pre-painted in various shades of yellow and green. It turned into a scene I titled "Sunday Lunch." The green leafiness of the background brushstrokes lent itself to framing a shady outdoor terrace set for a lunch party. And because I always think art and writing are but two sides of the one story-telling coin, I was next inspired to write about the people who were going to eat their lunch there--more background grist for the writing wheel!

Tip of the Day: Shake it up: writers, try some painting! Artists--get our your pens and journals! Everybody: practice some backgrounds--ideally it would be fun to put both disciplines together into one lovely piece. How about writing a story or poem onto a painted background?



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5. Friday Speak Out!: Why Cooking is Like Writing, Only Better!, Guest Post by Karen Guccione-Englert

With my recent down time, I’ve been doing some thinking since I am not doing too much else. I’m thinking writing is a lot like cooking. Now for those of you who know me well, this may seem like a strange comparison considering that I dislike cooking and am rather fond of writing. Allow me to explain.

My husband and I have a blended family of six. Our mixture of his and hers children creates a unique schedule for many meal times. Some nights it’s just the two of us and other nights, we are feeding six. Over the years, meal time caused a certain level of angst for me. Trying to make sure I created meals that were healthy, that pleased everyone, and that were within budget were a challenge. I have never enjoyed cooking but trying to tackle this task made it more daunting. I fretted over meal planning, shopping, preparation, all of it.

As time as passed, I have started to worry less about covering all these bases. I began to focus on creating meals that were a little more fun and different and thought less about trying to please the masses.

And this is why I think cooking is like writing. So often, we are encouraged to write in a genre or style that we are not passionate about or simply have no interest in. As writers, we are sometimes pushed to try a new category because it is what’s “new” and “popular” but when it comes down to it, we may not care a bit about it.

I love writing children’s stories and short stories. I am also working on my memoir about my battle with heart disease. My focus is narrow and I am okay with that. I could try to write paranormal or horror but I promise, it would not worth anyone’s time. I think it is better to stick with what makes you happy. In my case, I write because I enjoy it rather than it being my job. Since I have that luxury, I can be picky. And as for the cooking, I fortunately married a fantastic chef!

* * * * *
Karen Guccione-Englert fell in love with words at an early age and now shares her love of reading with students at Orchard Farm Elementary. Outside of the classroom, she primarily writes children’s stories and short stories. Karen enjoys entering a variety of writing competitions to practice and refine her craft. In addition, she is an active member of Go Red for Women with the St. Louis chapter of the American Heart Association. Karen resides in St. Peters, Missouri with her husband, four children, and loveable pug.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

5 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Why Cooking is Like Writing, Only Better!, Guest Post by Karen Guccione-Englert, last added: 3/9/2013
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6. Friday Speak Out!: Defying Stereotypes, Guest Post by Beth Cato

When people find out I'm a writer, sometimes they ask straight out: "What do you write?" Other times, I get a response that makes me fight the urge to snarl and froth at the mouth.

"Oh, you write children's books?"

It's not that I have anything against children's books. I love them to pieces and have hundreds on shelves throughout my house. As I grew up, Stan and Jan Berenstain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and C. W. Anderson were demi-gods of literature. The thing that drives me bonkers is the assumption that because, 1) I'm a woman, and 2) I'm a mother, therefore I must write children's books.

There were several years there, when I first started writing, and I was afraid to tell anyone. If asked about my job, I said I was a stay-at-home mom. I always felt like a liar when I said that, though, because I wasn't happy with that role alone. Now, I'm honest.

I love being a mom, I love my kid, but I'm also more than that.

I may be home all day, but my brain is not confined to these walls. I'm on Wikipedia, looking up poisons and how to resuscitate people who fall into icy ponds. My mind travels to steampunk fantasy worlds, flits across the universe faster-than-light, and reads paranormal western novels before bed. I'm googling how to set up trip wire bombs and make meth labs, and probably flagged on more than one FBI watch list. I write dark stories about grandmothers who morph into cockroaches, or light tales about toilet gnomes who use magic to keep plumbing in good order; I also write feel-good Chicken Soup stories about beloved cats, or raising my autistic son.

I'm complicated, and proud of it.

When people assume I write for children, I politely correct them. "Oh, no. I write science fiction and fantasy, mostly, but I've also had stories in a number of Chicken Soup anthologies."

I get a lot of funny looks when I mention I write fantasy and science fiction. It confuses them. That's okay. I confuse myself sometimes.

Even if they shift awkwardly and change the subject after that, I know I have broken their concept of me, and broken the assumption they established for all writers who are also mothers. And most importantly, I've been honest with them and with myself.

Maybe, just maybe, I will write children's books someday, but I won't be confined by any genre or age group. I'm a mother and a writer, and my imagination is too big for any cage.


 
*** 
Beth Cato is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with stories in Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, and many other publications. She's originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Buckeye, Arizona, with her husband and son. Despite how often her husband's co-workers beg, she will not quit writing to bake cookies all day long. Information regarding current projects can always be found at http://www.bethcato.com. Sometimes those projects do include cookies.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

13 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Defying Stereotypes, Guest Post by Beth Cato, last added: 2/11/2013
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7. pen names and genre rodeos

Publishers seem to prefer to keep their authors focused on a particular genre after they've achieved at least some initial success.  No doubt there are business and marketing principles at work, and there are undoubtedly payoffs for both parties, but it might also be like fitting the author with a pair of horse blinders (remember those side flap goggles worn by the horse pulling the junkman's cart, to keep the horse's attention on the road ahead?).

The publisher may feel it has money invested in the author's name--the brand--and has hopes of building a faithful, ever larger consumer base for the brand.  Our author meanwhile may be pleased by the past commercial success, but he's an artist for god's sake and may want to give free rein to new creative energies.  So what if a venture into the new genre doesn't sell as well?  Well, life is hard, money is tight, shareholders have expectations, and authors might be a little crazy.  Still, if an author has a day job to meet subsistence needs, riding a new bull at the rodeo might be exhilarating.

Famous authors are more likely to get a nod from their publishers when submitting cross-genre work.  Some whom I have read with good crossover adult, young adult, and middle grade novels within their individual collections include Louise Erdrich, Carl Hiaasen, and Neil Gaiman, to name just a few.  So it can be, and is, done.  It's just less of a financial risk for the publisher, or career risk for the author, if the author already has a following.

Of course it's also less of a risk if the author is still inhabiting the same moral and physical universe of his other genres.  Neil Gaiman might not reverberate in romance genre as well as in his more typical fantasy genre.  It could be interesting to see what happens though.

Another way to potentially upset your hardworking publisher is to run your next piece of work past him with a pseudonym on it.  "Some famous authors publish under pseudonyms so that they can get a fresh reading of their work," says an article in the NY Times (2/23/2012).  "In 1987 Joyce Carol Oates released a book under the name Rosamond Smith but apologized and swore off pseudonyms when her publisher discovered what she had done."  Apparently they didn't think it was a very good decision in her case, but authors might resort to using pseudonyms for various reasons.  In earlier times women authors sometimes adopted men's names in hopes of being taken more seriously as writers.  Joanne Kathleen Rowling took the neutral gender J. K. Rowling in hopes of better attracting more boy readers.

The same Times article discusses an author, Patricia O'Brien, who had published several books including a novel, but whose most recent novel had been submitted to 13 publishers by her agent without finding a home.  An Internet check on BookScan showed it had sold only 4000 copies, which was considered a flop.  However, her agent, who had a lot of confidence in the book, said "I realized that the book was not being judged on its merits.  It was being judged on how many books she has sold.  I needed somebody who couldn't look on BookScan."  When the book reached another publisher under Ms. O'Brien's new pseudonym, Kate Alcott, there were no adverse digital footprints found on Internet searches, and it received an enthusiastic reading, and was accepted.  In time Ms. O'Brien came clean with the publisher, everyone remained friends, and the same publisher later bought another novel from Ms. O'Brien.  A fortuitous outcome in this case.

8. Choosing a Genre

I have written a novel where the main POV character is around 18 years old. There’s also a secondary POV character who’s 45 years old. This secondary character takes up almost as much page space as the younger character. It’s maybe a 60-40 split. There’s a mystery involved, and while the younger character gets involved in the mystery, his story is really a coming of age. The secondary protagonist’s job is to solve the mystery.

My beta readers all say I have written a young adult novel.

Based on the younger protagonist’s POV then yes, I can see what they’re saying. Also, my writing style fits YA quite well. However, almost half the book is from an older woman’s point-of-view.

I might add that the book was not written as YA. It’s just that the protagonist was young.

If I take the basic rules of query writing – stick with the character you start the story with and follow their arc – then when I query it’s going to be about the kid. Sample pages will be from the kid’s point-of-view, because the first couple of chapters are his.

Does it matter if I say it’s a young adult novel and then have a major secondary character who is a lot older?

If I say it’s an adult novel – or rather, don’t say it’s YA – how will an agent feel when they read the query and the sample pages? This author has no idea of her own market?

Do I need to explain about the two different protagonists in the query?

Does the very thought of a combination like this make you, as an agent, throw up your hands in horror?



This is one of those situations where I would have to read the book to know which genre it fits into. Honestly, based on your plot description, it doesn't necessarily sound like a young adult though. It sounds like for one character you have a coming of age, but the book overall is a mystery.

Ever since YA became "the thing" there's this assumption that just because you've written a great young adult character in a book the book has to be characterized as young adult. Not true. There are many fabulous works of fiction that have included well-written young adults, but would not be classified as young adult. One that pops into my head at the moment, or an author that pops into my head, is Jodi Picoult. Jodi regularly includes a character arc for a young adult character and often that character arc plays as strong of a role as the adult's arc, but never (to the best of my knowledge) have her books been classified as young adult. Part of that is that she doesn't have a young adult voice.

I think what matters is knowing who your audience truly is. Is this a book that would fit in today's young adult market, that would sell on those shelves to those readers? if so, it's definitely young adult. Or would you say this is a book that would appeal more to mystery readers because the mystery is truly the element that's the strongest? What about fiction, is this maybe a piece that's better classified as women's fiction or literary fiction? Who do your readers otherwise commonly read? Where is that author placed on the shelves? Maybe that will help you have a better understanding of where you should classify it.

I don't think you need to explain the two different protagonists per se, but I do think it's important that you explain the story as a whole. If the older woman plays as strong of a role in the book as the younger character, are you misrepresenting the book by only talking about the story arc of the one character? In other words, is it the story of "two very different people..." instead of focusing on individual characters?

A lot to think about, I know, but without reading your query and knowing your book I'm afraid I don't have any specific answers.

Jessica

9. The Book/Author I Wish I Had Discovered

This post is actually inspired by a series of tweets agent Deidre Knight (@DeidreKnight) did a while back.

What book or author do we wish we had discovered?

When I first read her tweet there was one person who immediately popped into my mind and that's Sarah Addison Allen. I've read all of her books and I can say I have loved almost all of them, the other one I just liked. I love the way she weaves mysticism into women's fiction, creating almost a genre of her own. This is someone I would love to have found in a slush pile somewhere.
—Jessica Faust


Just one? Of course, I wish I had discovered J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Other dream books are Megan Hart's Dirty and Mary Roach's Stiff. Three very different books, but three I never get tired of rereading.
—Jessica Alvarez


R. L. Stine. I know that sounds weird, since I don't represent horror for any age group, but I admire Stine (and his 350 million books sold) because he's been writing for decades, has churned out one fun, cool title after another, created a middle-grade series (Goosebumps) that became a television series and selection of movies, and most intriguing and valuable to me, he writes in several age groups from middle-grade to adult—and he shifts with changes in publishing. Aside from all that, I still read his books . . . and I'm still scared. If R. L. Stine suddenly queried me, I'd represent horror.
—Lauren


While it may seem like too obvious or easy an answer, I have to say Suzanne Collins. Honestly, even though I first read The Hunger Games as a book and not a submission—and even though millions of readers had already found her before me—when I was turning those pages I felt like I had made an amazing discovery. That trilogy—especially the first book—really is the whole package: characters we care about, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and an always-keep-us-guessing romantic triangle. When I finished it, I really felt like I'd just ridden a roller coaster and experienced a true classic at the same time.
—Kim

7 Comments on The Book/Author I Wish I Had Discovered, last added: 2/5/2012
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10. Now Write! Mysteries and My Blog Giveaway


It's here!  My big blog giveaway where 3 lucky followers will be chosen tonight at 7.00 PM Mountain Time through a random drawing to receive a variety of prizes, including the brand new Now Write! Mysteries; Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers published on December 29, 2011. 

And (drum roll, please...) I am so thrilled and honored to tell you that I have been included in this collection.  My article "Deep Motivation: Characters Have Feelings, Too" starts on Page 267.

Edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson, Now Write! Mysteries is the fourth volume in a series that includes Now Write! Fiction and Now Write! ScreenwritingRight now I'm totally enthralled with this book (and not just because I'm in it...) and I'm happy to report I'm also doing each and every one of the exercises as per my recent post on staying creative every day.  I'm up to page 20 and, people, I am inspired.  This is an amazing book full of great advice.  I think it's going to keep me happy and writing for the rest of the year and beyond.

If you'd like a free copy, there's still some time to follow my blog today and be included in the random drawing tonight via Random.org.  Note:  Anyone who has signed up to follow my blog through my page at JacketFlap.com is considered a "follower" too and will be included in the drawing.

Prizes in the drawing will include:

1st Prize: The Essential Guide for New Writers
Now Write! Mysteries
Unleashed, of Poltergeists and Murder
Better Than Perfect
The Great Scarab Scam
Journal
Pens
Tote Bag
And a Surprise Gift!

2nd Place:  The Essential Guide for New Writers
Now Write! Mysteries
2 Comments on Now Write! Mysteries and My Blog Giveaway, last added: 2/2/2012
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11. Understanding Women's Fiction

I've been trying to wrap the basic marketing language around the book I'm close to finishing, and am having a tough time classifying it. My main character is a tough, no-nonsense, middle-aged woman who kidnaps her granddaughter, and the story takes place in large part on the road in rural Alaska. It's edgy and stark, a little frightening in places, though it isn't horror/crime/mystery, and while the heart-warming moments are few and far between, it DOES revolve around this woman's relationship with her son and daughter-in-law and the tough choices we make as parents.

As I get ready to query, would calling this women's fiction, since the primary market would most likely be women, throw an agent off since it seems to depart from the loose definitions of women's fiction I'm seeing? Is there a better way to wrap it?


As I often say, it's all about the voice. Women's fiction is not simply a book whose target audience is women. It's also a book about a woman's personal growth and change and it tends to be strongly emotional. It sounds like your book is women's fiction, but without reading it I have a hard time judging.


Jessica

6 Comments on Understanding Women's Fiction, last added: 11/18/2011
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12. Genres

What am I learning about writing lately? One thing I'm learning is that the possibilites of what types of writing I can pursue are as endless as the subjects about which I can write. Sometimes thinking about all the things I could write and submit is a bit like walking down the cereal aisle of the grocery store. It's overwhelming--especially when you're hungry. I need to focus on narrowing my

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13. Your Target Market

I'm writing a novel about three 15-year-old high school students who are bullied and come up with creative schemes for solving the problem. The target market is middle grade and young adult. Along with some lighter moments, the story becomes quite dark and violent (before progressing into a happy/satisfying ending). There's swearing, bashing, blood, minor knife violence and a shooting. The violence isn't gratuitous, it's integral to the storyline and assists with raising the stakes throughout each stage of the plot.

Am I writing a novel for a target market that's too young to be exposed to the material? Would the older end of the target market, say 18-25-year-olds, still be interested in reading about 15-year-olds? Have I completely ruled out both ends of my target market, and will publishers reject the book because of this?


My immediate concern when reading this question was not so much whether the market is too young but that your target market is “middle grade and young adult.” You really need to pick and choose. Certainly, I’ve represented a lot of books that have crossed genre lines, and I love books that cross genre lines, that appeal to readers of two different genres, but I think when writing a book you have to essentially choose your market so that you’ve chosen where the book will be shelved.

I also feel that crossing genre lines between middle grade and young adult is trickier than, say, fantasy and young adult or fantasy and paranormal romance. While you might have kids willing to read both, they will tend to be middle grade readers. In other words, you will likely have middle grade readers who read up, but unlikely to have young adult readers who read down.

One of the things I love most about today’s young adult market is that the books cross over to an adult market. Harry Potter and Hunger Games would not have been the huge successes they’ve become by appealing only to a young adult market. They’ve been break-out successes because everyone is reading them, everyone from kids to adults.

Without having read your book it’s difficult for me to say what target market it’s best for or if the material is too heavy for a middle grade audience. My gut tells me that you might have more success with a book like this if you raise the age of the character by a year or two. I’m not sure why exactly, but I don’t always understand my gut, I’ve just learned to trust her and, honestly, to me the book sounds better suited to the young adult market.

Jessica

14 Comments on Your Target Market, last added: 10/29/2010
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14. Blow Me Away

Occasionally on Twitter I host an #askagent session that allows fellow Tweeps to ask me questions live. If you’re ever up extremely early in the morning (roughly 4 a.m. EST), hop on to see if I’m hosting.

In a recent session I was asked about a recent submission that wowed me, and I thought this was a great question to share with my blogger friends as well. Very often when I read an amazing submission, or an amazing book, it makes me want more of the same. So to give you an idea of where my head is at this very moment, here is a list of some things I’ve read recently that have blown me away.

In no particular order, here are five things that I’ve read that have blown me away. Keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons they’ve all blown me away was because of the author’s voice.

  1. A narrative about a puppy and the animal control system.
  2. A memoir by a mommy blogger
  3. A steampunk YA
  4. A cross-genre fantasy romance
  5. Warrior by Zoe Archer

Believe it or not I seem to be opening more and more to memoirs and current affairs narratives.

I absolutely loved the steampunk YA. Can’t stop thinking about it. I would love to see more like this.

I’ve always really enjoyed the cross-genre fantasy romance and feel that some of the books I’ve done definitely fit this area. In my mind, they are books that go beyond paranormal and appeal to both types of readers.

Warrior is just a great book.

Jessica

12 Comments on Blow Me Away, last added: 11/5/2010
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15. Choosing a Career Path

I finished my first novel, a humorous women's fiction (chick lit), earlier this year and began querying agents. I received my fair share of rejections off the bat, and I began to think that part of my problem is that chick lit has taken a drastic dive in popularity. But, as I had spent a year of my life writing the blasted thing, I persisted. In the meantime, I started and almost finished my second novel, a modern day Bonnie and Clyde that would probably appeal to the YA market.

In recent weeks, I have had several agents respond to my first query, asking to see partials and fulls, and one offer of representation.

My question is this: Should I abandon my second novel for now and start writing some more humorous fiction in order to build a following? Or should I finish my YA ms. and then switch back to chick lit? I hate being confined to one genre, because after spending a year writing in one style, it is very tempting to try something new. But I don't want to confuse my fans (assuming, of course, that I get any).


The simple answer to this question is that you need to talk to your agent if you choose to sign with one. Personally, I think there’s definitely a correlation between what was once chick lit and what people are writing as YA now. We’re seeing a lot of former chick lit authors go in that direction. However, yes, it could be a problem if you’re published as a women’s fiction author and suddenly switch to YA, unless you feel that you could write two books a year, let’s say, and do one of each.

If you choose to sign with an agent, or are considering signing with one, this is a discussion you should have before signing. Find out how the agent envisions your career and what she thinks about your two directions. Having this discussion may help you decide if she’s the right agent for you or what you should be doing.

Jessica

9 Comments on Choosing a Career Path, last added: 11/10/2010
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16. Excited for Something New

One of the best parts of my job is the thrill of the hunt. Sure, I am frequently overwhelmed by the hundreds of queries I find in my in-box, but when time allows, there’s nothing more exciting than sitting down and sorting through them in the hopes of finding that one big thing. Think Indiana Jones and the search for the Ark of the Covenant. There’s no doubt that the pit of snakes was a little much, but in the end, the thrill of the hunt and the final prize were worth every slithery creature.

As I said earlier, I have had time to refresh myself, clean out my in-box, and take a deep breath. And I’m back at it with a vengeance. With the new year comes renewed excitement for something fresh, something that will make me stand up and take notice and a book I can sell with enthusiasm.

While of course I’m looking for every genre (within the confines of those I represent, of course) there are a few things that I’d really like to see right now.

Steampunk. Please, please send me steampunk of all sorts. Adult, young adult, romance, mystery. I personally love this genre and can’t get enough of it.

Historical mystery. I represent a lot of cozy mysteries, but very few historicals, which is funny since historical mysteries were what I cut my teeth on. I would love to see more historicals like the one I sold, Amy Patricia Meade’s Rosie the Riveter series featuring a real-life Rosie the Riveter in WWII-era New York City.

Contemporary romance with a sense of community and big issues. Books that face life head-on and prove love can be found. I have a couple on my list right now and I’m excited about this genre. Many of the books have a flare of women’s fiction in them and more and more editors are asking for these types of books. Examples of books in this genre are those written by Kristin Hannah or Susan Elizabeth Philips or Susan Mallery. Or, of course, our own Bella Riley (yet to be published).

Big fantasy romances. Romance that crosses over into the realm of fantasy, beyond simple paranormal. Worlds like J. R. Ward's or our own Elizabeth Amber's (although it doesn’t need to be erotic).

Historical romances. I really love this genre and would love to see more. I have to admit, my preference in historicals tends to still be Regency England. I love the sweeping historicals like those of Sharon Page as well as the lighter, more contemporary feeling historicals like those of Sally MacKenzie. And I suppose all of this ties nicely into my desire for more historical mysteries and steampunk.

And last, in nonfiction, I’d like to see more journalistic narratives like the one I’m currently representing about the animal control system in the United States.

Let me reiterate that I am still looking for all sorts of great mysteries, romances in all sub-genres, fantasy, women’s fiction, and nonfiction. These are just the subject areas I’m most excited to be reading in right now.


Jessica

27 Comments on Excited for Something New, last added: 1/30/2011
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17. Switching Genres

There’s always a lot of talk, especially among unpublished authors, about switching genres. Many of you are writing in multiple genres and want to continue doing so after you are published. Which inspired this question . . .

Is switching genres with each book a bad thing?

I currently have a Fantasy book finished (final re-editing, working on query perfection, etc.), but I started writing a chick-lit in the first half of the year. I also have some good ideas penned down for a sci-fi and a crime thriller. So, based on your post, should I be focusing on just one genre or continue with my whole "branch out and conquer the world" process? I am not working on all of these things at the same time, but still keeping the ideas for the future.


To some degree, yes, I think it’s a bad thing. Remember, once you decide to get published you are building a writing career and not just writing anymore, which means your goal is to find an audience. While you might find it fun to switch things up from book to book, most readers are fairly loyal to what they read. In other words, few fantasy readers will happily jump to chick lit with enthusiasm. Let’s face it, most readers read within a few specific genres. If your fantasy readers love your first book and look for your second, they might be very disappointed to discover how different it is. Most important, it might turn them off from picking up your third.

Most publishers want you publishing at least 9 months apart, so if you can have two different names and publish each name 9 months apart (writing a book every 4 to 5 months), then you can easily write in two genres. If, however, it takes you 9 months to write a book, you might want to stick with one genre, at least until you’re established.

As for writing prior to publication, I think it’s great to write in various genres and explore your strengths.

Jessica

9 Comments on Switching Genres, last added: 2/28/2011
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18. Book Genres and Blog Stats

I had fun collecting stats on my sidebar polls last week. Thanks to all 1,453 of you who answered the questions!


Turns out:

→ 93% of you are writers
→ 85% of you are writing fiction
→ 73% of you are not yet published
→ 77% of you are writing for the general (not Christian) market

By far the most interesting info I gathered was the genres my blog readers are writing (or at least those who chose to vote). Here's how it stacked up:

26%  Fantasy or sci-fi
21%  General/other (non-genre fiction)
12%  Women’s fiction
12%  Mystery/suspense
10%  Supernatural or paranormal
9%    Romance
7%    Historical (romance or not)

I was particularly interested in the fact that the largest percentage was fantasy and sci-fi. I don't typically rep fantasy or sci-fi, so I really appreciate all of you reading my blog!

When the numbers first started coming in, I immediately noticed the large percentage who checked fantasy/sci-fi, and I wondered whether there might be a disproportionate number of writers in that genre vs. readers (hence the difficulty many of you are having getting published). I set out to try and run the numbers, but it's ridiculously hard to find accurate data on book sales by genre. So I went about it a different way. I decided to look at recent book deals as listed on Publishers Marketplace.

I chose two months: April, 2011, and October, 2010, and looked at all the fiction deals reported. There were 309 total deals. Here is how they stacked up by genre:

38%  General/other (non-genre fiction)
30%  Women’s/Romance
11%  Thriller
10%  Mystery/Crime
6%    Sci-fi/Fantasy
5%    Paranormal
<1%  Horror

I realize this isn't scientific, it's strictly anecdotal. But the anecdotal evidence supports the initial instinct I had when I saw the numbers. While 26% of those voting report writing fantasy or sci-fi, sampling from two recent months suggests only 6% of book deals were done in those genres. That's not a minor discrepancy...it's a significant difference.

What do you make of this?

What other conclusions might you draw from these two lists of (unscientific) statistics?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

95 Comments on Book Genres and Blog Stats, last added: 4/28/2011
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19. What’s In Our Full Manuscript Queue

STATUS: This is a first for me. CBS films has a dedicated FB page for LEGEND the Movie. And you get first peek at the just released cover. Sweet.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MISSIONARY MAN by Eurythmics

This is actually a good question. A quick look shows that we have 8 full manuscripts in the queue to be read. And here’s where they fall:

6 titles are Young Adult (breakdown by genre, 3 fantasies, 2 paranormals, 1 contemporary)

1 title is adult literary fiction

1 title is adult women’s fiction

We just sent responses to an adult fantasy that we passed on as well as a middle grade title that had several agents interested but ended up not being quite right for us.

Of the 3 clients Sara just signed: adult SF novel, adult Historical Romance, and Paranormal YA.

And as a bonus, here is Kristin as a talking head yet again. This time I’m reading a short excerpt from the Philip K Dick nominee SF novel SONG OF SCARABAEUS for the awards ceremony last Friday. The sound is not the best so you’ll probably have to turn up your volume all the way up to remotely hear me. Warning, this scene will probably hook you in!

The author Sara Creasy thought I looked quite spiffy!



17 Comments on What’s In Our Full Manuscript Queue, last added: 5/1/2011
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20. Random Questions

I've been going through, not kidding, years of blog questions submitted by readers. I go through them regularly and pick and choose those I want to answer. Some I store away because I don't know how to answer, others wait because the answer is more complicated, and so many wait because I feel I've touched on the subject before. That being said, there are a lot of questions in there that are important, but don't get enough of an answer for a full blog post. The answers are short and sweet. Here are some of those.

I have a quick question, if that's all right. So many different agencies state that they are not excepting "science fiction", but fantasy is often classified with Science Fiction. If I've written a fantasy novel and I'm looking for an agent, should I assume that the agent won't accept my genre simply because they don't accept science fiction, or vise versa?

Fantasy and Science Fiction, while often shelved in the same place in bookstores, are two different genres. Therefore, an agent could easily represent one and not the other.


My novel just happens to be christian fantasy, but is that considered a cross-over genre? Because there are those out there who want fantasy but not christian, or christian but not fantasy . . . or who will except either but not if the two are combined. It gets really confusing.

It can get confusing, but don't overthink it. Submit to both Christian and Fantasy agents, especially those who do both. Some might feel it's too Christian, others too Fantasy, but you won't know, and won't find the right agent, until you try.


Are published authors required to make public appearances and give interviews or is that optional or does it vary per publisher?

It is typically in the publisher's contract that the author will be available when needed. If there's a specific reason you can't or won't, that should be negotiated up front.


A lot of agents prefer to receive email queries (definitely easier). I've
noticed that some agents will tell you to mail in your query, synopsis and
first 3 chapters with SASE. Then they will tell you that if you prefer to
e-query to just send the query. My question is which is better? Do I want
to package and mail out the hard copy (they are asking for more that way) or
is it better to just do the e-query and let that be all they see?


I guess what's better depends on the agent. I think that anytime you can get your work in front of an agent, your actual writing, that's better. That being said, sending a query via email is definitely cheaper, and if the agent isn't interested in your genre you haven't wasted the postage.


Jessica

15 Comments on Random Questions, last added: 7/19/2011
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21.

Steampunk is Not for Me

by Jo Barney

Graffiti Grandma is out to three agents. Wednesday Club, the script, is entered in a contest and is sent to two producers, and Solarium just got its twentieth rejection, one more to go. I don't know where Mom, my hockey novel, is. Its cards have escaped my card file. Marshall, the miniature horse, has not made it into the card file yet. He's romping around in SASE land. I've thrown all of my literary children to the winds. Likely, they'll never return. "Just not right for me," their epitaphs will read somewhere out there in the ether.

The only thing for me to do now is write something new. Margaret is shuffling in the wings of this computer. She's seventy-six, straight bodied, aching in only several non-essential parts, and she doesn't know what she's in for. This old lady is going to be manipulated, mulled, cut into pieces, disdained, wept over, and then, if she's like the rest of my literary offspring, laid to rest in my Zip for someone to find when I myself lie in the same sort of quiet place.

I sometimes think how angry I will be if my human children, posthumously for me, discover my Zip storage system, send out its quiet occupants, and make a million dollars in movie rights, and at just the right time for their retirements. I'll really be pissed. If one can be in that condition sans bodily components.

My timing has always been off. I wrote of sad divorces in the early 80's, a few years after most of the debris from the free love decade infiltrated stolid 50's marriages. Then Umarried Woman and Jill Clayburgh took all the wind out of my muse's sails.

I described of the travails of being single with children just after Jane Smileys Ordinary Love came out and said it all for me. Elizabeth Berg covered the drives of singleness: sex, loneliness, missteps in choosing while very needy, even as I was being driven all over the map and not writing.
One of my novels dealt with foundering young sons when my own sons headed out into the world. Research into the genre revealed that not only Salinger but Brad Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, even if I disliked their books, got into a young mans psyche a lot better than a mother could.
Remarriage, oh god, with children, led to six unpublished articles, right about the time Joanne Trollope Viking wrote Other Peoples Children and dissected a stepmother role as precisely as it can be done.

I can write as well as a few of these authors. I just need to find my niche before someone else does. What will sell three years from now? What will be at the front edge of the next wave? I don't do vampires and I get too depressed with dystopic scenes. Who wants to eat a friend's finger? Or sacrifice a person you've just had sex with?

Wait! I can imagine that, sort of. Perhaps I can create a new genre, a hybrid combination of romance, mystery, fantasy, dystopia, and chick lit.

I Googled "genres" and found one that might be work, slightly adjusted: Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. The modus operandi seems to be the use of a normal story to simply explain difficult and/or dark parts of human life.

I will call my new genre Geriatric Bildungsroman. Coming-of-old-age stories. I know its been done, but not by me yet, not the way I'm thinking about Margaret.


* * *
Jo Barney is a retired educator who is delighted to have time to write even when it means rejections every once in a while, or more often. S

1 Comments on , last added: 7/22/2011
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22. Creating Genres

When I host #askagent sessions on Twitter I get a lot of questions about genre. People ask about the use of the genre term "new adult" or "romantic adventure," for example. I've also been in discussions with authors about the term "romantic thriller." Now, some agents might disagree with me, but I think using all of these is fine.

The point of genre is to find the reader. In other words, readers who read mystery want to know that a book is a mystery. That's the genre they read, so knowing ahead of time will help them place the book before seeing if it's something they'd like to buy. In addition to finding a place in the bookstore, the genre is also, more important, a description. When I say mystery you all know exactly what I'm talking about. The same holds true for romance, fantasy, paranormal romance, memoir, business book, etc. Now, technically romantic thriller isn't a genre, but I guess you could say that there's no romantic suspense section in the bookstore either. That's okay. When I hear "romantic thriller" I know exactly what you're talking about. The description works. If you tell me, however, that your book is a mystery, romance, and fantasy, I have no idea what you're talking about. Where would that go in the bookstore? It's a little of everything, which probably leads to a lot of nothing.

The term "new adult" keeps popping up over and over. I hear it from writers a lot. Oddly I haven't heard it from any of the editors I've been talking to. That being said, it is a term that's being tossed around so you're unlikely to shoot yourself in the foot by using it. Unless of course it becomes a trendy term like "chick lit" and one day it's in, the next is out and you've missed the day it left.

So when thinking genre think description, just make sure it's a description that makes sense and, with anything, if you doubt the term you're using, then don't use it.

Jessica

20 Comments on Creating Genres, last added: 7/29/2011
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23. What I’m Looking For

Though I’ve only been with BookEnds since April, I’ve already made some shifts in what kinds of projects I’m looking to represent. Some of this has to do with changes in market trends, but a lot really has to do with my personal reading preferences. I want to be enthusiastic about each and every book I work on, and if I’m just not getting excited about submissions in a particular genre, I think it’s better for everyone if I concentrate my energies elsewhere. With that said, my focus is absolutely still on a wide variety of full-length, adult romance and women’s fiction. I’m not actively looking for YA, novellas, or nonfiction.

To help give you a better idea of what I’m looking for, maybe I should tell you about some of the clients I’ve taken on. I have a bit of a spread. So far, I have clients who write historical romance, historical erotica, paranormal erotica, category romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, and African literary fiction.

That last one may have surprised you, right? It’s actually not quite as outside of my stated interests as you might think. While I am looking to focus on commercial fiction, I absolutely love women’s fiction set in exotic locations, and would love to receive more projects set abroad. I have a special interest in books set in Iran, India, and Southeast Asia, but would also welcome more submissions set in African or European countries, or set in the US but with a focus on immigrant communities.

I’m looking for a wide variety of contemporary romance, but I’d particularly like to see more small-town books in which the town and community are richly developed. Southern settings and New England settings work particularly well for me. Overall, I tend to gravitate toward darker voices and storylines, but quirky, comedic stories can be great, too.

With historicals, I have a strong preference for very sexy Regencies and Victorians. Also, it’s probably worth noting that I tend not to enjoy historical fiction as much as I do historical romance. As with contemporaries, I tend to like darker voices in historicals, and I like books with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the protagonists’ relationship—like a story about a duke and a fishmonger’s widow.

While I still am looking for paranormal romances, I’m no longer looking for urban fantasy. I love kick-ass heroines, but I prefer to see them falling in love. What I really want in paranormal is something so different and original that I’m incapable of even coming close to now imagining what that might be. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf tale, but the market (and my in-box) has been so saturated with them that it’s difficult for me to find something I get excited about.

For erotica, I’m mostly looking for books in which the central storyline is m/f. These can be contemporary, historical, and/or suspenseful or paranormal, but I’m probably not the right agent for anything futuristic or sci-fi. A few things that are absolutely necessary to me in erotica are emotional depth, rich characterization, and an actual plot. I may live to regret saying this, but it’s pretty darn hard to shock me with erotica. Graphic, kinky novels are welcome.

The above doesn’t encompass everything I’m looking to represent, but I hope it gives you more insight into my preferences. As always, I look forward to reading your queries!

Jessica A

16 Comments on What I’m Looking For, last added: 9/14/2011
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24. Nelson Literary Agency Has No Prob With LGBTQ

STATUS: I'm feeling a tad riled up.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MY HEART BELONGS TO ME by Barbara Streisand

Holy cow! Can't believe I missed this article yesterday. I'm so glad an agent friend forwarded to me. Take a moment to read it and tweet it on but in short, it's an appeal to support literature with gay and lesbian characters and the fact that there are some appalling agents and editors out there who are making requests that the writers make a gay character straight.

Seriously? What year are we in?

I cannot tell you how delighted I was to see a link to a list of YA literature that features gay/lesbian characters and my author Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON'S LEXICON series was on it.

This author of mine is brilliant. It's a wonderful series and her new trilogy that I just sold to Random House also has an absolute kick-a** gay/lesbian main character. The first book UNSPOKEN publishes in fall 2012.

Not to mention, I have a Monica Trasandes' debut adult literary novel coming out in spring 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. It's called BROKEN LIKE THIS and features three main protagonists: a bisexual character, a gay/lesbian character and a straight male character (had to throw that last one in there-LOL).

A multicultural author to boot. I'll tell you right now it was a tough sell but I loved the novel and I sold it.

So add these to your wish lists if you want to show support via your buying dollars. If I had cover art or anything yet for these two titles, I'd post it here but we are in the middle of the cover design and the buy links aren't available online yet.

And let's not forget the incredibly brilliant, witty, impeccably dressed and extremely powerful Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate series.

I must admit it never occurred to me to add to my agency's submission page that we are open to accepting material with LGBTQ characters because I kind of thought it went without saying but I'm rethinking it now.

Feel free to link to this blog post that it's a-okay with us and I have NEVER asked an author to change a character's ethnic background or orientation.

And because we are talking about multicultural too, check out my author Kimberly Reid's debut YA novel MY OWN WORST FRENEMY. It's an African-American urban Nancy Drew series. I mean, just how cool is that?


Note: LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning.

25. Classifying Your Novel

My novel is about a collage age student on a journey of self discovery. There are paranormal events, some sci fi components, romance, but ultimately it is about the main character finding herself and accepting all that she is. So here's my question, where would my story fit? I have tried representing it in different ways, but some agents suggest different catagories. I even had it classified as New Adult, but is that the best place? Any resources or help would be greatly appriciated. :-)My goal is to reach a larger audience, but if I classify my novel as New Adult, would these other components be okay as cross genres?


It's really hard for me to tell you where your story will fit without reading it. My question to you would be who will read your book? What else are they reading? Personally, I'm not a fan of the term "new adult." I think it's silly and, yes, I could easily be proven wrong and it could become a new genre, but in my mind it's a trendy term that's going to be gone tomorrow. Besides that, at what point do people go to the bookstore or log into their ereaders and ask for the "new adult" section. There's YA, there's mystery, there's SF (not Sci Fi, by the way), there's romance, etc., but I've never seen new adult. When all else fails, label it fiction, but it sounds like you're writing a genre that needs a genre home. You need to find which home.

One thought, the one authors hate most to hear, is maybe it doesn't fit anywhere. Maybe you've tried to make your book into something it can't be and you need to go back in and strengthen certain areas of your book so that it is something.

Now, before someone named "anonymous" jumps in to tell me that this is the problem with publishing and all of us who work in it, that we have no imagination and need everything to be the same, let me point out that in the advent of ereaders we're seeing a real strength in proper categorization. Generally labeled books are not doing as well as genre labeled books. People are finding it easier to go into a section in their ereader bookstore to buy a book than they are sifting through a fiction section where some books might fit their interests while a lot do not. That does not mean that you slap any label on a book. Your label needs to fit the expectations of the readers.


Jessica

16 Comments on Classifying Your Novel, last added: 10/25/2011
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