By Susan Mary Malone
Traditional publishing is rigidly structured. No news flash there! But the stratification and specs of categories often bumfuzzle writers. And since I’ve just had this come up several times in the last week, thought we’d talk about it here.
So often writers want to include everybody in their audience. Seems to make sense, no? The more people you can appeal to, the bigger the audience, the more books you’ll sell. Right?
Not really. The reason publishers’ imprints are so strict is that they’ve honed in on the audience for different genres and sub-genres. And they have long-established distribution chains to reach those book buyers. I.e., they know who’s going to buy a Paranormal Romance, vs. readers of Romantic Suspense. They target Science Fiction to those who read it, vs. ones who lap up Fantasy (and those genres couldn’t be more different). Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers are quite different in scope and specs as well, and never the twain shall meet. As unfair as it may on first blush seem, it’s the way books are sold. And trying to re-invent this wheel will bring you only frustration.
So, how do you focus your lens so sharply that you catch that agent’s eye? A few tips will help clear up the pages.
1. First off, what do you like to read? What is it that catches your eye? Nine times out of ten, that’s what you’ll be writing as well. Of course writers branch off and out, but first works especially will fall into the categories you like to read.
2. Identify that genre, category, sub-category. So you love to read Romance. A good start. But what sub-category of Romance, exactly? Go to the major Romance imprint sites, and study the differences in the books. You’ll find where the ones you like to read fit, and there’s the genre that most appeals to you.
3. Now, study those specs. You’ll find word count (all of which are very strict), content, basic formula for success. Can your main character curse? Not if it’s Inspirational Romance. Can there be “other-worldly” or paranormal or fantasy aspects? Not if it’s Historical Romance. The thing is, you’ll be able to find all of that under the different imprint submission guidelines. This is very important to follow in your book writing.
4. If you’ve already written your manuscript and have slipped across genre lines, you can always go back and fix the transgressions. Sometimes this takes a total rewrite; sometimes just a change of this or that, a going in a different direction from mid-way. If you’re in the process of writing the tome, all the better—you can stick to the guidelines before having to make whole-scale revisions. Pay close attention to your novel development. Sometimes it takes a novel editor to help you make the necessary changes to a story so near and dear to your heart.
5. Finally, stay in your genre with subsequent books. The whole point of book selling is to build an audience, beginning with the first one and continuing on with the second, third, and forever. I’ve often had writers complain, when after selling one book they’ve subsequently brought an entirely different genre to the agent, only to have the agent reject it. Why? Because the audience the writer has built resides in his first genre-community. And trying to sell something different a.) won’t appeal to that community, and b.) won’t be known in another. Can you write something entirely different? Of course. Just know you’re starting back over at jump as far as publishing’s concerned.
How do you identify your genre?