Mandy Eve-Barnett's Official Blog

Inspiration for Writers & Building A Community ©

Ask A Question Thursday

January 17, 2019
mandyevebarnett


ask-a-question-logo-300x150

The initial question was: Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

(Look at the bottom of this post for the continuing query – Are genre formulas a myth?)

Last week’s responses:

I always have a vague idea of what the genre is going to be before I start a piece but if the inspiration takes me somewhere else then I don’t try and steer back because the characters lead the story.

Kristen Lamb 

Genre is essential for those who want to write professionally, for an income and for a living. For those who are having fun simply writing? No, doesn’t matter. For those who are new and learning? Not as huge of a deal but starting to be important. Those who want to be experimental and maybe want to win awards? Meh.

Yet, for anyone who want to be PAID for their books (code for product), genre is our lighthouse to keep us from smashing on the rocks.

The entire point of genre is so the author can locate and cultivate fans who will BUY his/her books…which they (readers) will also be able to locate because they will know where the book is shelved or what genre it’s listed under.

If no one has any idea WTH a book is, where to shelve it, or how to describe it? That’s bad.

If the book gets into a bookstore, then where do they put it? “General Fiction.” Okay. Sucky but okay.

But, since most people discover and buy books online, what keywords would you attach? Genre will matter BIG.

What other product/service/ business would be so indeterminate and hope to have any commercial success?

“You know, I am going to open a restaurant and just cook what I feel like and the ingredients just tell me what to do.” Um, have fun storming the castle. Rock on!

But marketing and advertising will now be a total nightmare. Good luck finding those who will eat a place no one can accurately describe.

Same with books.

Not impossible but adds a TON of unnecessary work when authors already have a ton to do as is.

I think a MAJOR misconception is genre somehow locks us into formulaic writing, which is patently false.

First of all, yes there are formulaic genres. Write a category sweet romance and there is a strict formula because these publishers know their readers and what they want.

And, since romance brings in BILLIONS and makes up over 70% of all books sold? Probably a good idea to listen to the guidelines.

Beyond that, genres can be melded and we (as writers) can get creative much like musicians who create fusions of sound, juxtaposing different types of music for a wholly unique sound (I.e. old gospel hymns influencing heavy metal).

Yet, the musicians KNOW music before playing around and reinventing new sounds.

Similarly, we should know and understand genre expectations. They exist for a reason.

Genres help us identify who is most likely to buy our book (which in the new paradigm we need to know no matter which way we publish).

Secondly, genres have rules and we break the rules at our own peril.

Breaking rules is fine. I do it all the time. But I know the rules BEFORE I break them.

For instance, there used to be a rule that one couldn’t mix POVs. If you began in first you had to stay there. If you began in third, you stayed there.

But WHY did the rule exist? Namely to stave off confusion. YET, Jefferson Parker (genius he is) wanted the audience to gain a closer psychic distance with the antagonist to make them more attached and thus more conflicted about him being apprehended/stopped.

So he wrote the antagonist in close first and the MC protagonist in third to make the reader psychologically struggle at a whole new level. Jeff knew genre, the rules, the constraints, THEN he bent them to do something never done.

Thirdly, genre is primarily for readers. It helps them find what they are looking for. When we don’t want to put a genre on our work because it ‘limits the muse’ or whatever, it is like asking our audience to go grocery shopping and buy canned goods with no labels and just trust it will be yummy.

Genres help readers have SOME idea of what they are getting. If we mislabel, there can be consequences.

Years ago, I had a client who believed she had a romance (but obviously hadn’t studied genre rules/expectations).

She self-published and got SLAYED in reviews, and panicked and sobbing, hired me to help. I took one look and knew the problem.

Yes, her writing was good and so was the story, but in her book…guy and gal didn’t end up together in the end.

In romance, (back then) you needed an HEA (Happily Ever After) which has loosened up to an HFN (Happily For Now) but the couple still has to end up together.

Without that? NOT a romance. She had a Women’s Fiction. She got a new cover, relaunched, slated in the correct genre and BOOM. Sales and great reviews.

In this instance, we had a case of completely different audience with different expectations.

When we slot a book in the wrong genre it’s like serving someone Tofurkey and trying to tell them it’s actually turkey. They are going to HATE it because the basis for comparison is TURKEY not vegan meat substitutes.

It’s like a bad bait-and-switch that ticks off readers.

Then, genre is going to give guideposts to word count. How LONG is the book roughly supposed to be?

Audiences in certain genres have preferences. Epic high fantasy readers give no figs about reading a 180,000 word book. Someone who likes cozy mysteries? No. Like 65K. Sure, feel free to write a 180,000 word cozy mystery but no one who loves that genre is likely to buy.

As far as considering genre ahead of time? I don’t understand how an author can’t do this, at least loosely. Stories are for the audience, not us. Unless we only want to sell a book to ourselves.

And this isn’t me saying “write for the market’ because that sort of “writing for the market” is when you, say, love writing Jane Austen historical romances and decide, instead, to write a techno-thriller because the genre is hot at the moment…and yet you can’t use your printer without tech support and are so bored by military fiction you want to kill yourself…but you write it because it is HOT.

Just no.

But beyond that, looking at genre is a FANTASTIC resource to understand our readers, who they are, what they want and not only give them what they want…but also slip in something they never knew they wanted until they read your book!

***This is why agents need to know genre. They have to have ammo to SELL our manuscript for the most BANK. If they can’t articulate what it IS, who is going to buy it? No one. Bye, Felicia.

Back to process. To me, failing to even roughly determine genre ahead of time is madness. I’ve done it (when I was a n00b) and it sucks and I have the scars to prove how dumb this was (for me).

My time is valuable. Without determining some broad strokes regarding genre, that is a formula for revision HELL. To be retro-fitting the Space Station for a hot tub.

It will make SEO and keywords a BEAST. Ultimately, it’s just a recipe for heavy drinking and ugly crying.

Just because we choose a genre in the beginning doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and blend or even veer at an angle toward a kissing-cousin genre (I.e. suspense can become a thriller).

In the end, writers can do whatever works for them and sells a lot of books. Yet—after fifteen years in this business professionally—I’ve found that, more often than not, writers who eschew genre rarely finish the book.

Or, if they do, revisions are like a trip to the fifth circle of hell which is why it takes FOREVER for them to ‘finish.’ Often, they can’t get traditionally published and so they self-pub and the books don’t sell (and there are reasons for that).

Look at authors making bank, traditionally and nontraditionally published. They KNOW their genre and audience and they WRITE FOR THEM…even the literary folks (*nod to Fredrik Backman*).

Anyway, long response but there ya go. My two cents…okay twenty bucks. Best of luck to everyone.

I’d say knowing at least a basic genre before you start writing is important. Maybe you know you want to write a romance, but figure out as you’re going along it’ll be an erotic romance. Okay, fine. But you can’t just start spewing words without knowing your characters, the plot, what genre, etc. You can’t sit down and just start typing without knowing some form of topic of what you’re writing. It’ll just turn into a mess that way.

over to you

So let’s look at this from a slightly different angle.

If you are writing in a particular genre do you ‘conform’ to the preconceived format of that genre? If romance – fall in love, difficulties arise, opposing feeling, loss of love, surprise event, and falling back into deep everlasting love? OR Sci-fi – the hero has to fight an enemy, the struggle is real and looks overwhelming, battles and fights, a glimpse of hope and the final defeat?

Do you want to conform to formula writing? Would you rather break the mold? Is it a myth that genres have formulas?

With a specific genre there is a better chance your book will be put into the genre bookshelf as opposed to a general fiction slot as Kristen mentioned.

Is this good marketing?

Does it restrict your creativity?

 

Author Interview – Carla Howatt

November 9, 2018
mandyevebarnett


Author-Interview-Button

Carla.jpeg

  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing both energizes and exhaust me, depending at what stage I am in the writing process. Coming up with cool plot lines and ideas, as well as character development is fun and energizing but about half way through the book, I bog down and get tired. A bit of writing ADHD?

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Chocolate. Laundry. Anything I can use to procrastinate!

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Absolutely! Still haven’t ruled it out in fact.

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I didn’t have any writer friends until I decided to go on a writers retreat. It was there I learned I could call myself a writer even if I didn’t have a bestseller.

Bearing

  1. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Both. Some will be connected, some absolutely not.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Time away; retreats, get-aways, whatever I need to do to focus.

  1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I remember coming home from grade one, waving my reader. I was so excited, and so amazed at the world that was opened up to me through the words. I have never forgotten that feeling of awe and amazement.

  1. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I’m not sure it is under-appreciated but I loved The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I was hooked beginning with the first paragraph; such lyrical words and such a beautiful picture she painted.

  1. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Gosh, I really don’t know. Maybe the A&W Root Bear?

  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Two.

  1. What does literary success look like to you?

People like what they read and my writings make a difference in this world.

  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I don’t do much research, as the type of books I have written don’t really require it. I may research the odd thing as I go along, just to make sure I have a name right or something. Most of my writing is based in some way on real life.

  1. How many hours a day/week do you write?

Very sporadic and not disciplined. It can be from 20 hours to zero, sometimes one week after the other.

  1. How do you select the names of your characters?

I try them on with their character to see if there is a fit or not. Pure gut instinct.

  1. What was your hardest scene to write?

Sex scenes

  1. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

My first book just happened. I call it my accidental book. It is a collection of FB posts from the time I announced my son had taken his life until about a year later. The second was a children’s book. Coming up I have a novel that walks the line between romance and smut (lol!). I also have a collection of stories that all involved the same women going through different things in their lives.

There is no real balancing as I go with what I am in the mood for and tend to work on that one until I am finished.

  1. How long have you been writing?

Since I learned to read. I don’t really remember not writing.

  1. What inspires you?  

If I can find a place of solitude and peace with little distractions, lots of sleep and nature, I find that is when my creativity flourishes.

  1. How do you find or make time to write?

Honestly, I don’t find enough time. I fit it in for the most part.

  1. What projects are you working on at the present?

Finishing a novel is my primary focus right now.

  1. What do your plans for future projects include?

I have a few non-fiction ideas that I would like to work on when I have the time to do the necessary research and interviews. There just are not enough hours in the day!

  1. Share a link to your author website.

Right now the only website I have is for my first book Bearing Witness – www.Carlahowatt.com

Bio:

Carla Howatt lives in Alberta, Canada where she helped raise four children, two husbands and a pug. She is a recovering politician and business owner. A communicator at heart, Carla is also a proud introvert, port inhaler, and dark chocolate hunter.

Author Interview – Julie Thomas

November 2, 2018
mandyevebarnett


Author-Interview-Button

 

Julie Thomas

1. Does writing exhaust you?

Yes with my newest book, it did exhaust me because of all the research and due to the fact I have a vision problem.

2. How many writing groups do you attend? How does it help your writing? 

I am currently with several writing groups. The Inspiring Writers, Authors in the News, and Christian Ebook Writers. Each group is very helpful to me and have helped out a lot by giving me good advice and it has saved me a lot money.

3. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

My last book, Tales from a Closet has to stand alone because it is fiction and the content is different from my latest book, which is The Legacy of Christ. In turn this book will be linked to a following one.

4. How long have you been writing?

I began in high school but then continued in college although I questioned my ability as I lacked experience. However, after attending a creative writing class, my tutor encouraged me to submit several poems to a contest. I won an award, was named poet of the year and invited to California to read them.

5. What does literary success look like to you?

For me it isn’t just about money but getting myself out there and my message in helping the Westminster Church of Detroit. And hopefully donating to the church.

Tales from a Closet

6. Which is harder to write fiction or non-fiction?

Since I am a fiction writer, I find this easier as non-fiction books can be challenging. That is why it took me eight months to research and write The Legacy of Christ. I feel I was commissioned to write the book.

7. What do your plans for future projects include?

I do plan to write another book but will have to research a lot for it and also to save in order to get it published.

8. What was your hardest scene to write?

For me it was the telling of Christ’s life.

Legacy of Christ

9. How many hours a day/week do you write?

It depends on the story and what information I need but mostly I can write for hours. If I’m working on an ebook it can take up a whole day at a time. 

10. How do you select the names of your characters?

When it comes to naming character I go with past experiences, such as ex boy friends.

11. What inspires you?  

Life is what inspires me. I love to see the words come to life on paper.
life is what inspires me I love to see the words come to life on papper .

12. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

I feel like it would be a kitten, or baby bird because they grow to be great bird flying high. I think my work can soar too.

http://julie232.simplesite.com/

 

Writing Prompt Wednesday

September 5, 2018
mandyevebarnett


prompt

I am sharing the word prompt we enjoyed at my writer’s meeting last night.

Use these words in a short story or poem: tower, rotten, bribe, diamond.

Here is my 15 minute response.

“Rotten Tommy, he’s stolen my potatoes again! I’ll get him back, you see if I don’t.”

Lucy nodded, turning her mouth downward to show Rodney, she was sympathic. In reality she knew Rodney had probably lost all the sacks of potatoes in a game of poker and was covering up.

“We’ll have to grow more. We have time this season, Rod.”

“There you go being all positive again, Lucy.”

She turned away at Rodney’s unkind words. She would go as hungry as him without money for food. The door slammed behind her.

“Good riddance!” She mumbled under her breath. Outside the window she saw the imposing towers of the castle. She daydreamed of one day being carried off by the Prince and showered with diamonds away from Rodney and the hovel they called home. He was supposed to look after her, his younger sister but she always seemed to be the one to solve the problems.

“Psst!”

Lucy turned quickly at the sound. Freddy was crouched under the window.

“What are you doing there?”

“I have some potatoes for you.”

“And where did they come from, Freddy?”

“Best not know but for a quick kiss, I will let you have the whole sack.”

“Oh will you? Maybe I’ll tell Rodney your plan and he can beat it out of you.”

“Oh, come on, Lucy, one little kiss for a sack of potatoes isn’t much of a bribe is it?”

“Did you steal them from Rodney or Tommy?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. Come here then and put the sack under this bench then you shall have your one kiss and no more.”

Freddy smiled, threw the sack over his shoulder and hurried in the door. Lucy poised her cheek outward for his kiss and as quickly pulled away.

“I could get you more food for more than a kiss, Lucy.”

“I think that’s enough, Freddy, now off with you.”

Freddy’s shoulders slumped but he left knowing Lucy might be beautiful but also very strong willed.

“Another day, Lucy.”

“Take care, Freddy, if Tommy finds out he’ll be less than pleased to lose a whole sack of potatoes.”

Once Freddy left Lucy pushed the sack further back under the bench with her feet to make sure it was well hidden. Now they would be able to eat for a week or two.

sack

Why don’t you have a go at this prompt. Share your response in the comments.

 

Genres of Literature – Urban Fiction

May 28, 2018
mandyevebarnett


urban

Urban fiction is also known as street lit or street friction and is set in city landscapes. However, it is defined by the narrative’s content of soci-economic realities and culture of its characters as well as the urban setting. This genre is usually dark in tone with explicit violence, sex and profanity and is commonly drawn from the author’s own experiences. Largely written by African American authors, this genre covers the separation of their particular community and culture and the life experiences of its characters in inner-cities.

Earlier urban literature depicted low-income survivalist realities of city living, these included Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), Stephen Crane’s Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893) and Langston Hughes’ The Ballard of the Landlord (1940). These narratives did not just relay African American or Latino experiences but stories of diverse cultural and ethnic experiences.

In 1999 Sister Souljah’s narrative The Coldest Winter became a bestseller and with Teri Wood’s True to the Game there became a standard for entrepreneurial publishing and distribution of contemporary urban fiction.

Urban fiction has experienced a renaissance from 2000 boasting thousands of titles, which include the new Latino fiction novels. There is also a literary wave of hip-hop fiction and street lit, which take a more literary approach using metaphor, signifying and other literary devices. These books are also used for socially redeeming or classroom capacities, while maintaining love and positive outlooks.

In recent years, some urban fiction authors have joined with hip hop artists such as 50 Cent to further promote the genre by penning the musicians’ real-life stories.

Have you written urban fiction?

Have you read urban fiction?

 

Blog at WordPress.com.