Tuesday 29 May 2012

A Rose by any other genre

Have just had one of those enjoyably daft experiences that only come to the aged and astigmatic. Headline in today's Guardian: Dentists accused of failing to tell patients about NHS treatments. Managed to misread as 'Feminsts accused....    Sic transit.

It has been drawn to my attention that when I finally press the upload button on my book and send it to the great 'Zon' in the internet firmament, I shall have to select two categories under which it will appear. This is going to be problematic: one of the main reasons cited by my agent for not approaching mainstream publishers with it in the first place, was that it spanned too many genres, and the poor bewildered things wouldn't know how or where to position it.

We are constantly being exhorted by publishers to move away from the formulaic and repetitious. To eschew the 'I have an MA in Creative Writing' style. Indeed, we are encouraged to plough new furrows and come up with innovative and unusual plots (although I gather that there are actually only 7 basic ones, so good luck with that!)  It is all a lie. What publishers want, what they really, really, want, is the same old same old. Something that they can stick between a lookalike cover and place on the shelf labelled 'chicklit', or 'crime'. In other words, the publishing tail wags the writing dog.

I understand completely that readers of a certain genre like to know they are getting what they like and want to be able to identify it clearly. But. Are we not in danger of narrowing the reading path to such an extent that fewer and fewer people are prepared to venture beyond their known and familiar genre? I vividly recall visiting my local library (aah libraries: remember them?) as a very small child and discovering, inside a plain brown library cover, Orlando the Marmalade Cat. The serendipity of it still delights.

So, how to chose two categories for Diamond Girl? Well, it's certainly Historical, because it is set in 1860. It's definitely Crime, because there are two detectives and a murder. But it's also Mystery because strange stuff happens that is definitely mysterious - even to me, and I wrote it. And it's Gothic, as it contains evil forces, a werewolf, and a sense of darkness. It could just possibly be Romance: one of the female characters falls in love with a very unsuitable young man.

My agent also tells me that it is  'great fun'. Sadly, there doesn't appear to be a category for this.


  1. You are absolutely right. Publishers need plenty of 'safe bets' commercially so that they can get away with the occasional risk. Conversely, writers take a huge risk from the first word they write: what if, 40k-140k words later, their work won't find a home?

  2. I agree. Sadly tho', they are rarely taking any occasional risks any more. And you and I have both had the frustrating experience of being told by some mainstream publisher that they 'love' our work ... but could we write something different. My agent recently sent me a spec from a publisher for a new YA series they wanted to bring out that was totally prescriptive in both characters and plot. Needless to say, I turned it down. There are some things I just won't do - writing to order is one of them. What's the point? Where's the fun?


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