Tuesday, 20 January 2009

G is for Genre

For those who haven't died of boredom, or migrated to more regularly updated blogs, I thought I'd jot down something about genre. The G-word. That's easy then, because that just means type or class or style or content. No problem. Or so I once thought. (Actually, I didn't think. That was my problem.)

Genre, I'd say, was the single biggest stumbling block on my path to publication. Oh, that and actually having the staying power to complete a novel, deciding what to write about, er...not writing drivel, um...getting an agent...yadda yadda...

When I was seven or eight, I wrote a story about a rabbit. And her husband rabbit. Really, it was a tale about me and the boy I was sweet on in my class. I showed it to him and he got it. He said 'I'm that rabbit, and you're the girl rabbit.' I blushed. No one else in the class understood. They thought it was stupid and laughed. True, it was rather an exclusive book. (Six stapled-together pages and only one copy ever printed.) It wasn't easy to identify with. It wasn't strictly romance, and neither was there an adventure. It didn't have pictures and there wasn't much of a story. Genre wasn't even a twinkle in my eye back then.

Going on ten - a little more jaded (think the rabbit had dumped me by then) - and I got into horror stories. I didn't know I was writing horror, but I always used to wait until everyone had gone out of the house before I began. I would scare myself witless with tales of ghosts and zombie children and haunted houses that swallowed people up... You get the picture. At least I was experimenting with a real genre, even though I hadn't yet got a clue about such things. I went through a boarding school phase, inspired by Enid, of course. Then there were the fantasy epics, quite a bit more romance, some science fiction and quite a large number of pages that had absolutely no genre whatsoever. I think I was trying to be literary.

So while I was experimenting with genre, I didn't actually know it. Didn't realise how important it is to be successful. And I didn't realise either, the subtlety of sub-genres or that genres suffer from trends and popularity - or lack of - just like any other product.

Has anyone ever asked you what your book's about? Isn't that the most annoying question ever? Well, it was for me. Because I couldn' answer. Not easily, anyway. 'Oh, it's...um...well, there's this girl in it and...well, something happens and...'

Yes, but what is it?

All anyone wants to hear (initially) - especially those in the business - is what IS it? A romance. Horror. A thriller. Crime. Women's fiction. Young adult. Science fiction. Historical. If you can answer that, then really, nuff said. To begin with, at least. From the moment you approach an agent or editor, their minds are fast-tracking to how/where they can place the novel. How they can categorise it. For that, it needs a label.

Imagine if, overnight, every supermarket manager decided to mix up and randomise ALL the products on ALL the shelves in the shop. Worse - they peeled off all the labels too. So you have ten minutes to grab something for dinner on the way home before you fetch the kids... Supermarket sweep takes on a whole new meaning. Your spaghetti bolognese may well be made with custard.

What if bookshops did the same? And I completely agree with everyone who's now shouting out: But what amazing literary discoveries we would all make! (Custard bolognese). Yes, but also imagine the confusion, the let down, the sales that would be lost when a reader desperate for the next thriller in a series could only find...a kids' picture book, a romance. You go in for salmon and come away with frozen lamb chops. Yuk. Or maybe a better analogy is what if Whiskas cat food started making sandwich fillers. In pink foil sachets. For humans. It's all about expectation. Wasn't there green ketchup once?

Anyway, enough of the food analogy. Genre is important. Books are products, after all. They need to be created with selling in mind. (Yes, of course killer story, amazing characters are important too etc).

Most readers (I realise there are exceptions) want a book to do what it says on the tin. In the correct section of the bookshop. With a cover that shows what lies inside. And all this is important for the author too. It's not just so that CEOs of publishing houses can stack up figures. With some exceptions, most authors want to sell as many books as they can. Right from the start of their careers, they'll be faced with genre. Approaching the right agent (no point sending a YA novel to an agent that deals solely with crime thrillers), the agent sending out the typescript to appropriate editors, the editors balancing their lists/positioning titles and genres in the market place, publicity and marketing strategies - all of these these things are based on genre. What works for one type of novel, may not necessarily work for another.

In the commercial publising business, genre is so important. Decisions are made based upon it. An author needs to be true to their genre - and maybe will have more than one genre - think pseudonyms. I'm constantly excited by writing what I write. Emotional and psychological thrillers. For the moment, I can't imagine writing anything else. I have a ton of ideas stacked up. It feels right. While authors don't want to bore readers with one novel after another that are so similar in content only the cover art makes them unique, we do like to be consistent. It's all about fitting in.

Odd, given that most authors strive to break right out.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

From Russia

Just a quickie to show off the Russian cover of Blood Ties. I totally love it! Quite different to the other BT covers, but very classy and mysterious. Almost a little Salvador Dali with that clock and those errant chairs. Looking forward to seeing what they do with Unspoken, recently sold to Phantom Press. I did a babelfish translation on the title and it gave me: My Strange Daughter.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Seeing as it's up on Amazon, I guess it's OK to shout out about my new book. It's called TELL-TALE and the hardback is out this September. I don't have a release date for the paperback yet, but assume it will be early next year. It's a psychological thriller about a woman living under the witness protection scheme, a paedophile ring operating from a children's home during the 1980s, and it opens with a suicide. It's about the consequences of telling tales, that it doesn't always pay to tell the truth. I'm proud of this one. I haven't seen a cover yet, but have a feeling Headline will do a fine job.

Meantime, the paperback of UNSPOKEN is soon to hit the shelves. My publicist is working hard to make sure everyone knows about its release on 19th February. I love this book and have been getting some very nice emails from Australia where it's been out for several months already. It should be widely available (supermarkets, high street stores etc) but can also be pre-ordered from Amazon. And don't forget to let me know what you think when you've read it. It's a real thrill to hear from readers.

Finally, I'll soon be posting the next in my publishing A-Z series. Thought I'd talk about genre - unless anyone has any better 'G' ideas. Drop me a line.

Sam xx

Monday, 5 January 2009

Must try harder

Not doing so good on the resolutions. I've already been in hospital having X-rays for a broken knee cap. I can't walk very well. Therefore I can't do anything with my poor neglected garden. It hurts to sit for long periods, so writing is tough. I could lie down and watch a movie, but of course I fall asleep.

Still, at least I spoke my mind when I was skittled onto concrete by a thug who clearly took the laser game too seriously.

Anyone else flunked out on the self-imposed regimes that January brings?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Great Joy

You gotta love it, Christmas. New Year.

Haven't you?

We got nine months in the clear, folks. No more tinsel. No more presents. No unusual diet.

I'm basking in this Great Joy.

Resolutions for 2009: (In no particular order)

* Continue running (without breaking my leg again would be nice).
* Write two novels.
* Sell lots of books.
* Keep in touch - with what/whom remains to be seen.
* To grow better vegetables this year as 2008 was, if I'm honest, a bit of a let down produce-wise.
* Speak my mind.
* Not fall asleep in movies.

Pretty good, huh? And there are ways you can help me. Please buy a novel (preferably mine), or send me an email. How about both?

What are your resolutions?

Have a happy, lucky, and healthy 2009!