Genre Dilemma

Writing Process

I write character driven stories. I always have and not for any other reason than that’s just how I connect with things. I don’t come to a story through some really cool plot idea but I come to it through characters. This is my comfort zone and while I’ve really been trying to challenge myself lately with my most recent WIP, the fact is that it just isn’t going to be some fantastical thrill ride with a bunch of bells and whistles.

And here is my dilemma. This story isn’t quite realistic fiction but it isn’t quite fantasy or magical realism. It centers around a girl whose illness forces her to live in a kind of alternate reality and while this aspect is obviously significant to the plot, her daily struggle as a teenager trying to manage her illness is just as important. So my question is this: How important are genre conventions these days?

Because I have two options. I can alter this story to fit into one of the above genres, giving readers something they expect and maybe even something they’re sick of reading. Or I can tell this story how I see it in my head and potentially confuse a lot of readers by not giving them exactly what they’d expected while at the same time possibly giving them something better.

It’s a toss up really. Someone will be disappointed regardless of which route I choose. But aren’t they always? Because we can never please everyone. Never. And while identifying a clear genre has always been essential in traditional publishing for marketing purposes, I’m not sure if the current categories are inclusive enough of all the non-traditional stories that are finding a readership through indie publishing.

There is a plethora of untapped potential out there, of stories too alternative and too unique for traditional publishing. But does that mean we don’t write them? Or are readers ready for more experimental fiction? In my opinion, and speaking as a reader myself, the answer is yes. They’re ready and they’re open. And not just specifically for something experimental or even something different. But something unique.

So here is my hope–that my unique perspective will yield a unique story. That voice trumps genre conventions. That good stories can be recognized regardless of how they’re packaged. And that I can keep writing stories my way and that will be enough.

NA On Nightline

Self Publishing

So add me to the list of those completely dissatisfied with Nightline’s portrayal of New Adult Books. If you didn’t see the segment featuring Colleen Hoover and Cora Carmack you can watch it HERE; the accompanying article is also available HERE. Just the title of the article alone made me bristle. Smut? Really? According to Juju Chang, who we can safely assume has never picked up an NA book in her life, the category can be described as erotica for Young Adults.

Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the term New Adult, just as in the case of the term Young Adult, refer to an age group and not a genre? Just like you can have Young Adult books in the genres of fantasy, contemporary, historical, mystery, etc. don’t these genres exist under the umbrella of NA as well? It’s safe to say that after watching the above segment, I was incredibly confused.

I labeled my debut novel New Adult based on two factors—the character’s ages (17-25) and the maturity of the content, which contained violence such as torture and sexual assault, and a few instances of harsh language. The category was initially being described by writer’s digest as being carved between the most mature of YA and adult fiction and when I first read the description, I had that instant aha, so this is what I’ve been doing all this time feeling. And let me tell you I was relieved. It was like knowing you have this strange affliction and then finding out, oh hey, it has a name. Very helpful. You know in case I wanted to google it or hang out with other people who have it or I don’t know maybe market it to the correct audience. Yeah, that’s important. And it’s something I was struggling with up until I read about this new category.

Most of what I write is about characters between the ages of 17-25—young adults by any standard except that there’s a big difference between the everyday lives, challenges, and emotions of say a 15 year old (also considered a young adult according to genre conventions) and a 20 year old. I always felt that marketing my books as YA simply based on the characters’ ages would not only have been incorrect but dishonest. So I spent a lot of time trying to come up with blurbs and teasers and descriptions that accurately portrayed not only the maturity level of the content but also the appropriate maturity level of a potential reader. And then I heard about NA and I thought it would be the solution to my dilemma.

But now I’m concerned that the media is taking this category, which could have been the solution for writers like me who want to be completely forthcoming about the content of their books, and turning it into something that it’s not. Turning it into something, that for some, may have a negative connotation.

So who’s in control here? Writers? Readers? The media? I was really glad to see in the segment that when Juju Chang tried to push the “smut” label, readers were the ones shooting her down, defending the books they loved and the authors they respected. I’m not too worried about loyal readers of the NA category being swayed by this depiction but I do wonder about potential readers and parents who are responsible for screening books before their children read them. What kind of implications could this have if we can’t all get on the same page about what readers should expect? Because that is what is most important—giving readers the opportunity to make informed decisions on what they should read next and freedom from the fear of being blindsided by content that might make them feel uncomfortable. So who get’s the final say? Hopefully the only two groups that matter in the publishing ecosystem—writers and readers—and for the sake of the relationship that exists between them I hope we can all come to a consensus soon.

The Book of Your Heart

Motivation & Inspiration

I recently came across a blog post by a YA author called “The book of my heart”—all about that one special book you loved writing more than anything and that is so amazing and so profound that you just don’t know how you’ll ever top it.  I’m not sure I’ve written the book of my heart yet or if such a thing even exists.  But this particular author detailed how after writing one such book that it came so close to landing a publishing contract only to ultimately be rejected which not only deflated her ego but caused her to shelve the novel indefinitely and now it will never see the light of day.

The true intent of her post was to encourage writers that just because the book of your heart doesn’t sell, doesn’t mean that you can’t write another one that will.  But here’s what was implied—that any book that isn’t picked up by a big six publisher isn’t any good. Yes, I can understand negative feedback or any kind of critique leading to a revelation that maybe it really wasn’t any good. But if this is the book, I mean THE BOOK of your heart, why let yourself be so easily convinced?

So much was implied in this post about traditional publishing being the only legitimate way to go and how we should abandon anything that they don’t deem worthy.  It was sickening really because all I could think about were the countless authors out there willing to give up on a story just because someone else said it wouldn’t sell.

First of all if you’re only in this to make sales then you deserve whatever torment comes your way from laboring over book after book because you’re constantly in pursuit of that blockbuster hit/someone else’s approval.  But if you’re in this because you love to write, because this is what you’re meant to do then why would you ever let anyone tell you a book you’re more passionate about than anything you’ve ever written before isn’t important?

Where’s your back bone?  Where’s your self-worth?

Stories are like seeds and if one’s been planted in you, then you are compelled to write it—not by pop culture or the current market or by money or even by your own desires.  No.  There’s got to be something bigger out there pulling the strings.  Especially if this is THE book, the book of your heart.  You are not writing it just to further hone your skills, you are writing it because it needs to be written and if it needs to be written then trust me it needs to be read.  And it is your responsibility as an author to make sure that happens.

So enough of this bowing to the powers that be and making their word law. Please don’t misunderstand. This is not me saying traditional publishing is evil and this not me supporting the self-publishing of trash that takes longer to upload then it did to write. What I’m saying is that writing the book is not your only responsibility as a writer. Getting it out into the world, that is also your responsibility. And if traditional publishing isn’t conducive to that don’t let your ego stand in the way of exploring other options. Especially when you realize that traditional publishers only cater to the majority, and that your readers might not be in that category.

Think about this for a second—what if your favorite book had been rejected by every major publisher, ever indie conglomerate and small press? And what if the author of that book said ‘ok, you’re right. I give up.’ Can you imagine how your own life would be different, what kind of writer, what kind of reader you’d be without that book? If you’re a lover of books or art in general then you can see the serious implications behind this kind of deprival.

So here is my plea. Do not ever give up on something just because it seems like you’re the only one who believes in it.  There is a reader out there who at this very moment is looking, waiting for a book just like yours. So don’t you dare just let it sit in a drawer gathering dust.