Thursday, September 7, 2017

Question from a Writer - Part 1

I am going to answer this one in two parts. Each day, I will highlight what question I am answering...

I've been doing a lot of research about how to query an agent and one of the things that is hardest for me is how to define the genre of a manuscript. I've not submitted anything to anyone yet because I'm afraid of sending to someone outside of what they accept. I have read that you accept women's fiction and romance, both of which I think one of my manuscripts would fall under, but not exclusively. Also, none of my writings really adhere to one type of "aesthetic," if that makes sense. I read an article that said in the beginning (of attempting to be published) you should write for a specific audience so that you are certain of your place. Is that good advice? I feel like it would be good if my goal was to only be published (which of course it is) but I also want to be entertaining and not pigeonhole myself. All of this is very confusing. I feel like I might be ready to pursue something with my writing, but I just want to make sure I'm doing it right. 

I want to focus today on really understanding what genre you write. I am betting that this author is not talking so much the genre but the sub-genre of writing. This is really an important issue on several different levels. The first is something the author pointed out in her question, "I am afraid of sending to someone outside of what they accept." On a second level, submitting something and not knowing your genre (or sub-genre) displays what you know of the business and this may reflect poorly on you as an author.

For today, I am going to focus in on the portion of her question talking about romance and women's fiction, but, in reality, this works for every genre you might write.

The key in determining what genre or sub-genre you write is to focus in on both the main story arc and the message, or your take away of the book. Let's focus on the first one and then fine-tune it with the second part.

In the case of romance, the central story arc is the building of the relationship between the two characters toward the happily ever after moment. All of the story elements focus on the relationship. We watch them getting to know each other, going through the struggles of the early relationship building and finding a way to overcome those obstacles. 

Now, it is important to note that the level of sensuality and heat is entirely up to you. Too often, writers seem to believe that if they put the sex in the story then it is a romance, but if they leave it out, it is women's fiction. Not true. The key is, as I point out, the central story arc. 

When it comes to women's fiction, I want to start with a definition. I have found that true women's fiction focuses on the female journey. It is the opportunity for the reader to see the world through the female lens and see how these characters work through the realities of life. These stories may or may not have a happily ever after (although we do want to see a satisfying conclusion to how they worked through the issues in their life) and these stories may or may not have a romance included.

I noted that there was a second level and this was the message you wanted to include in the story. This is going to shape the sub-genre, or even determine if the story is a romance or women's fiction piece. If, for example, you have a romance but the central focus is to show how faith guides the characters toward happiness, the odds are you are looking at an Inspirational Romance. If you say that the story is about this building of the relationship, but the focus in the heroine coming to grips with balancing her relationship with her career, and not so much the relationship, you are likely looking at a women's fiction piece. 

Another way of determining what your genre would be, is to take a trip to the bookstore and find the shelf you believe your story would be sitting on. Look around it and see what those other stories look like. Read the covers and look at the themes. Honestly, I recommend this to a lot of male writers who believe they are writing romance. I show them a cover and ask them if this is their book. When they cringe, they realize the story is probably general fiction. 

I also like to take an approach of just talking about your story out loud. I do this with authors who pitch to me face to face. Many times, authors come in and want to read their pitch to me, or crank out the memorized version of their pitch. The problem is that they are often describing a book they want their story to be, and not what the story is. 

I have had authors come in telling me they have this romance with a little suspense to it. When they pitch the story to me, however, they spend the entire time talking about the suspense and never once mention the romance. This is telling me the odds are, we're simply looking at a suspense story. Even if the hero and heroine decide to have a relationship in the middle of tracking down the bad guys, the focus is the suspense and not the romance. Again, think about that central story arc.

I saw the same thing when an author came in and pitched a story that she said was not an inspirational  She said she didn't want to write in that genre and didn't want to be told otherwise. However, when she pitched the story, the whole focus was on the faith element. Regardless of what she wanted, she was writing an inspirational story.

Hope this helps... Tomorrow we focus on the issue of writing for a market.

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