Monthly Archives: August 2012

Genre? What’s the Big Deal?

I can understand why folk get worked up about genre. If I were a Western fan, I wouldn’t want my novels to cross over into, say, Fantasy or Gay & Lesbian territory.

But I reckon you can get too fixated with purity of genre. Take A Tale of Two Cities, for example. In terms of Amazon’s fiction categories, it could justifiably be classed under Adventure & Action, Historical, Horror, Political, Psychological, Romance, Thrillers and War, not to mention Classical and Literary Fiction. Considering what a mongrel it is, it has done not too badly.

Anyhow, are Amazon’s genres relevant or up-to-date? On Twitter, countless folk say they’re writing Paranormal or Young Adult, yet Amazon doesn’t count these as genres (sub-genres, at best). And why are Women Writers a separate category? Didn’t that go out with the ark?

The reason why this is on my mind is that I’ve made big changes to my novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, so that I can list it under Romance. Okay, it has a powerful love interest that runs through the whole book but it isn’t by any means a conventional romance and its lead character is anything but conventional. It’s also told from a male POV, which isn’t exactly standard.

What I’m confessing is that, while I think genre can be rated too highly, I’ve got down from my soapbox and given in to market reality. Romance sells consistently well, so that’s the place for me. If you want to make your mark on Amazon, you have to play by its rules.

Do I feel bad about what I’ve done? Not really. Quite the opposite, in fact. The sobering truth I’ve now discovered is that, by homing in more consistently on the love interest and ensuring it is never out of the reader’s mind, I’ve given the novel a much stronger, more compelling focus.

Maybe genre isn’t so bad after all.

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Writer or Marketing Guru?

Here’s the dilemma. My novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, is ready to enter the ebook market. When should I launch it?

It’s my decision. My epublisher is waiting for me to set him loose but I don’t feel ready. I’ve set up this blog and acquired 3.800 Twitter followers and 1,000 Goodreads friends in a fairly short space of time but that’s not all it takes.

I now need to engage more fully with them. They’re a friendly lot, quick to respond and offer helpful advice. I’ve tried to be equally responsive but it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the tweets that come flooding into my inbox. I haven’t managed to answer every tweet I should have, so I may have unwittingly upset some good folk along the way.

Am I worrying too much about social media? In a recent survey of ebook sales, 12% were traced back to Twitter, 50% to word of mouth tips. 12% isn’t a lot when you think how much time aspiring authors spend trying to claw their way up the giant literary ant hill of Twitter. What’s more, you’ve no idea if your followers will retweet details of your novel or, if they do, how many of their followers will have any interest in buying it.

To dilute this reliance on social media, what I’d ideally like is an influential sponsor (a guy can dream!). Not one who’d inject funds, just one who’d say nice things about my book. That would do more for it than Twitter. My top choices would be David Beckham and Tim Howard, the Everton and US goalkeeper, as they’re both pretty relevant to my novel. Tell me how to get in touch with either of them and you’ll be my friend for life.

A Good Editor is Priceless

As a new novelist, I should leave provocative statements about the art of writing to the experts. But I’m not made that way, so here goes. I reckon the editing is even more important than the writing.

What makes the quality of editing so crucial is that the writer has so many issues to grapple with. Here are just a few. What is the central conflict and is it convincingly resolved? Do the sub-plots work well with the main plot? Do the scenes follow logically and propel the action forward? How much variety is there in the pacing? Is the writing spare or verbose? Is the dialogue natural? Are the characters multi-dimensional or flat? Do they tell or show what they think? Are their backstories and “wants” clearly brought out?

With so many key questions to resolve, the editing process can benefit hugely from an external input. When I wrote the first draft of what is now The Girl with the Haunting Smile, it was a very different animal. The writing was too exuberant and one-paced and lacked focus.  Happily, I had the good sense to harness the talents of Gillian Stern, a superb London-based editor who works for Bloomsbury and other publishing houses. Gillian reined me in, weeded out my self-indulgences, made me re-assess the shape of my novel and taught me to focus firmly on fundamental issues like those above.

This, in my eyes, is what makes good editing so special. I’m surprised when I see folk tweet on #amediting or other threads that they’ve cracked it after an edit of a few hours. The only editing you can do in that time is to shave words or sentences and make the writing tighter. You can’t alter the structure of your novel or its pace. You can’t make your scenes flow more naturally. You can’t fill out your characters.

To me, the pruning and polishing is the easiest part of editing. It is far harder to stand back, take a dispassionate look at your beloved baby and spot any flaws in structure, pace and story or character development. That’s why skilled editors like Gillian are so priceless and so hard to find.