Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Still Bugged by Genres

Yes, I’m slightly bugged now by the Genre debate. Yes, we understand the need, but … but …

What about Life of Pi? Or Curious Incident of Dog in the Night-Time? The Kite Runner? And novels with social comment like Small Island by Andrea Levy or Brick Lane by Monica Ali? Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Quicksolver? Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks? Just a tiny sample of popular books that perhaps do not slot easily into an existing category, but had they not been taken up by a publisher, the reading public would be the poorer. They all have ‘something to say or show’. Are they just 'general fiction'?

Since my post on the vexed question of Genre, many more classifications – and is classification synonymous with genre? – have popped into my head. So is there room for another I wonder? I would love to hear from publishers or anyone else who is knowledgeable on these matters. A term that captures real issues/ethics/substance within the framework of a captivating story. Thus the reader is both entertained and enriched. Such novels may or may not be ‘literature’ – perhaps the most challenging term of all to define. They may or may not be exploring ethics or politics.

‘Faction’ does not quite do it for me. ‘Social comment fiction’? ‘Reality fiction’? ‘Themed’? Sue Cook on The Write Lines suggested ‘intelligent story-telling’.

Perhaps the elusive genre already exists. If so, please tell me.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A Question of Genre – is it vexed?

I am sure many writers, agents and publishers can quote chapter and verse at me on the thorny issue of genre; it is commercially vital to brand and pigeonhole books so that potential readers know what they are getting. Targeting and demographics are key.

So ‘modern/contemporary fiction’, as per BIC classification for ‘non-genre’ novels, does not perhaps cut the mustard. But what if your novel is neither romance, crime, sci-fi, historical, fantasy, erotic, thriller, nor literary? Not adventure, saga, chick-lit, grit-lit or whatever term is knocking around at the time? Nor is it the more esoteric metafiction or allegory? Perhaps it is a cross-breed, like historical romance. But if it cannot claim to fall under any such labels, does this mean it should never have been written? If so, is this not the tail wagging the dog?

A reader described Gypsies Stop tHere: “…a good read, this story provides an entertaining way of understanding a very important social issue ...” Well, is there a genre that covers this? I don’t know. Socio-rural reality page-turner? Prejudice-challenging fiction? Or perhaps simply ‘other’.

Focusing on the Gypsy theme, an academic writer recently said, “Miriam Wakerly's books Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served (coming out March 2010) are a window to the bigotry that a race of people in the UK still experience. Textbooks illustrating statistics of what racism is like are all well and good but what Wakerly adds is an accessible and readable 'way in' to the situation for the general reader, and the storytelling approach reinforces we are talking about real people here, not statistics. I would recommend that people read these books as a reflection of the reality of contemporary Britain.”

This all sounds terribly grave but there are many other happenings within my pages, I promise you! Relationships and various interconnecting storylines in an English village seem to ‘captivate’ a wide-ranging readership, so they tell me.

I could define my novels as a ‘village-novel-with-edge’ or something like that. It’s not Miss Read or Rebecca Shaw. I cannot think of a word that single-handedly encapsulates it. Can you? If so, please let me know!

If anyone wants to quote from this blog then that’s fine but please credit me! Thanks.

© Miriam Wakerly

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tip-top Top Tips for Self-Publishing

People have different reasons for self-publishing. This can range from having a few digital copies printed at low outlay to give to family and friends; to going the whole hog, pulling out all the marketing stops to justify a larger traditional print run. The latter brings down the unit cost substantially but then you have a liability on your hands. All those books!

I decided to self-publish and once I’d made the decision I felt as if a dead weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was positive because people were saying good things about my book. This helps.

Tip 1
Be clear about your end objective; it will influence decisions and choices you make in the process.
Tip 2
Get as much feedback as possible. It enables you to revise confidently.
Persuade people, whose opinion you value, to comment on your mss before it goes to print. These good people are in effect your proof-reader and editor, and you, the author, are your own agent and publisher. But I would never have gone ahead without heeding critiques from many people before Gypsies Stop tHere went to print. Every author probably thinks their book is wonderful on so many levels; I couldn’t just trust my own biased judgement. I was happy with it but I needed to be sure that others were too. Writing circles are invaluable for getting honest feedback.
Some self-published books let themselves down, so it is said; probably due to forging ahead regardless of others’ opinions.
Tip 3
Examine what skills you can utilise. Are you good enough at word-processing and layout to provide printer-ready mss? to not stand out like a sore thumb? Are you familiar with printing terms and confident enough to be able to sign off that final proof or pdf – the last time you see your work until it is in book form? Can you design your book cover or will you need to pay for this artwork? Could you set up a website as an online shop?
Tip 4
An adjunct of this is to don your business hat because whatever you cannot do yourself you may need to pay for. Keep account of costs and your profit margin. It is so easy to keep paying out for things you think might help your book along and if you are not quite mean with yourself, costs will spiral – upwards!
Tip 5
For the mechanics: ISBN numbers, barcode, marketing methods, information on distributors and wholesalers, registering with Nielsen Book Data, and other essential tasks, then it is a good idea to get a couple of step-by-step books on the subject. There are many available.

With two previous novels I ventured down the disheartening and time-consuming agent-and-publisher trail. If you are an unknown, there is little alternative to submitting letters with required enclosures. I was slowly working my way through the Writers and Artists Year Book! It demanded stamina and incurred cost. Every rejection hurt! Once I had finished writing Gypsies Stop tHere, already feeling almost bereaved - missing my characters and their world, as you do – I decided to grasp the proverbial nettle.

I have had a wonderful time with book signings in shops and at events; giving talks; setting up a website; meeting so many fascinating, open-minded people and, of course, having fun with Twitter! Looking forward to the next one soon.

If anyone wants to quote these tips then that’s fine but please credit me! Thanks.
© Miriam Wakerly