Thursday, April 7, 2016

Why Do We Study Our Genre?

Over the recent months, I have seen more and more submissions that make it clear to me that the author really has no idea what he or she is doing. This is not so much the fact that the author doesn't know how to write, or an issue of knowing how to submit a proposal (although this happens far too much as well). This is an issue of writers simply not understanding the genres they are writing. 

To truly write well in your genre, or sub-genre, you need to continually study it. This is not simply reading the genre for entertainment purposes, but really getting in there and looking at every single nook and cranny of the writing. 

I remember two classes in my undergraduate work that really drove this point home for me. I had a Shakespeare class and a class studying William Wordsworth. For the Shakespeare class, we did all of the normal study of the plays, but this instructor took it a step further. We were to look at the play from a performance perspective. How would we cast it? How would we "cut" the play to get across a specific message? How would we stage it? What would costumes look like? The point was simple. You could understand the themes and generic characters of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but do you really understand it the way Shakespeare saw the plays - as a playwright, actor and director. 

In the case of the William Wordsworth class, were were required to write in the style of the author. Again, not an easy task. It wasn't so much about the theme, it was about the pacing, the voice, the tone and the message. 

To do both of these assignments took a lot of analysis and study, and that is what authors these days are really not doing. 

When I first opened Greyhaus Literary Agency, I spent one entire year working with an intern I had hired on, to study and dissect series and category writing. What is it that really makes this style of writing work and tick. We took it much further than simply looking at the word count and the theme. In the end, we had a fantastic understanding of the genre. 
One of my current authors recently went through this. Ryshia Kennie had been writing romantic suspense for a while but we wanted to move her over to the Harlequin Intrigue line. To do so required research on her part. I honestly don't know how many of these she read, but it was a lot. She kept notes. She looked for trends. She looked for the voice. 

Her first came out February, 2016 with a lot more to come!

The success came not from having the right plot, but really knowing the genre well enough to write it. 

There are a lot of times when I see a submission, think the premise sounds great, but when I start reading, it really misses the mark. The writing is elementary. The author is doing things that he or she "thinks" is supposed to happen in the genre, or the story, but not writing what the story needs. 

A good example of this is the New Adult market. There is a belief that these stories have to be in first person and they have to focus on sexual awareness. While these might be common tropes, this is not what the genre is about. This belief comes from a lack of really reading and understanding the genre.

Being a successful published author and lasting over a lot of years requires not just having an agent, or simply writing a lot of books. It is a matter of understanding what you write and how it is written.

If you are not already doing this, I encourage you to start today. Start studying your genre as if it is a literature class in college. Think about it, not as a reader, but as a discipline. You may shock yourself with what you find. You might also discover exactly why that story you have been marketing to editors and agents is simply not selling. 

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