G is for Genre

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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I never could read science fiction. I was just uninterested in it. And you know, I don’t like to read novels where the hero just goes beyond what I think could exist. And it doesn’t interest me because I’m not learning anything about something I’ll actually have to deal with.
James D. Watson
There’s a saying I’ve been taught since I moved to the American midwest: “some people’s kids.” You look out at someone doing something terrifically stupid or upsetting, and you sigh, and you say, “some people’s kids.” And everyone nods knowingly. And here’s where it gets wonderful: as far as I can tell, other than rehashing the story over the dinner table, the event is forgotten after that. Some people’s kids. What’re you going to do. Anyone want to go get ice cream?
Frankly, it would be great if we could apply this as a standard to the literary industry, where there seems to be some sort of universal license, as displayed in the quote above, to be a massive asshat about what kinds of books are Real Books, and what kinds of books have Value, and what kinds of books are Emotionally Compelling. We talk smack about adults who read YA, about any sort of genre fiction, about literary fiction writers being snobby and self-published authors being sloppy. In the end, we’ve managed to waste a while bunch of time…and make some writers and readers feel terrible about themselves.
For. No. Reason.
Originally, this post was about learning what’s in and out of style in your genre and why, being familiar with tropes, and learning to work with what your audience expects. To paraphrase Larry Brooks of “Story Engineering” (a book I heartily recommend, but maybe look at the reviews so you know what you’re in for before you read it), what is overdone and boring in one genre may be groundbreaking in another. I wanted to teach you to work with what you’ve got.

And then I got sidetracked. Which happens incredibly often. Ah, well.

Instead, this post became about something very dear to my heart: writing the book that’s in your head, that you are passionate about, that shows the characters you love. Damn the torpedoes genre naysayers, full speed ahead. To illustrate, I want you to try an experiment. Think of a book or movie that filled you with emotion, go look it up on a review site, and skip straight to the 1* reviews. You’ll see “boring,” you’ll see, “lacking characterization.” You’ll see reviews by people who were seventy kinds of un-wowed by this book, and some by people who hated it with a burning, fiery passion.

The reason I say to try this experiment is that it’s far easier with someone else’s work. You know how you felt when you read that book (or saw that movie). It’s non-negotiable; it just is. The experiment is still going, though: now I need you to realize that not only were there people who did not feel the same as you, there are people out there who think that the entire genre of this book or film adds nothing to the human experience.

They are clearly wrong. So we can leave that in the dust and move on.

So I’m going to lay out some truths for you, and these are truths I want you to cling to when people talk crap about your chosen genre – because they inevitably will, and somewhere in the raw-feelings wasteland of having published a book, you’ll stumble across this diatribe and soak it all up and get magnificently angry while kind of wondering if everyone else believes it. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

  • Sad-spectrum feelings and serious feelings are not the only important feelings in the human experience. Write a happy story if you want to. It does not lack merit.
  • There is no genre that has a monopoly on all the available reader feelings. Anyone who says that a particular genre can’t elicit serious feelings is wrong, full stop (and not so great at philosophy or logic, either). Your choice of genre says absolutely nothing about your skill as a writer. Your choice of genre does not lack merit.
  • It is almost inevitable that your book will share qualities with other books, and I only say “almost” for the sake of statistical accuracy. Your book will share qualities with other books. You will hit tropes. This does not mean you have nothing new to say. This does not mean you have not said it well. Similarity does not mean your book lacks merit.
  • If your book gets popular enough, there will be people who talk smack about whether or not your book is really whatever genre you’ve billed it as, and whether your fans areĀ real [genre x] fans. Have some tea and ignore it. This does not mean that your book lacks merit. Some people’s kids, right?
  • Oddly, if your book gets popular, there will be a lot of people who find this a reverse-indicator of quality. I suggest reading Don Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” for an informed and unapologetic look at why books get popular, and then shake your head at the idea that people who read books are not good arbiters of what makes a good book. Popularity or lack thereof correlates with merit, but is not an indicator that your book either has merit, or lacks it.

So I will leave you with this wonderful quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and go back to writing. Happy reading, happy writing, and ignore the haters!

Madeleine Quote

On Quality

Every once in a while, quietly, an author wonders why some other book, some book that is not nearly as good as their book, is doing so much better than their book is doing. Why do readers pore over the pages of that book, the author wonders. Why are there so many fans on facebook, why do readers line up thousands-strong for book signings or – envy of envies – movies?

This is normal, this desire to measure ourselves against our peers. Humans do this constantly. It may not always be healthy, but it’s certainly normal. Healthy, well-rounded adults experience these feelings from time to time. And it may really trouble them. All normal, all within the bounds of healthy behavior.

What is not normal or productive is when these musings spill out into the public sphere as fully-formed thoughts, as musings we have turned back on everyone else. Readers only like crap these days. Or: Everyone’s looking for an easy read. Or: No one gets my book. Or: Publishers aren’t willing to take a risk. You want more? I have more. I’ve heard a lot. Heck, I’ve thought some of it.

And you know where this leads? It leads to one of the single most unproductive discussions that any set of artists has ever had about the state of art in the world, namely: why are such awful works getting all the attention?

On the face of it, it makes sense. Author A has only one work, and that work is riddled with typos and poor characterization, and Author A is now a millionaire and you are working at Starbucks even though you have a book that is properly-formatted, (almost entirely) typo-free, with a stunning plot and characterization, just the right amount of quirk. All in all, your work is a masterpiece. You think it makes sense to ask if perhaps you should turn out typo-ridden crap so that you can at least have a shot at proving that money can’t buy happiness.

Here’s where I must ask you, and ask you honestly, three questions:

  1. Where, exactly, does this bitter wondering get you?
  2. Can you think of any better, surer way to get success as an author than to keep producing really good books?
  3. Why do we entertain the notion that readers don’t have a grasp on what makes a good book?

On point the first, I will say only this: spending time wondering why a “bad” book is doing better than yours is about as productive as spending your workout time not working out, but instead wondering how Jim seems to subsist on french fries and still maintain his svelte figure. That is to say, it is not as productive at all. Go write a good book. Or write a book of typo-riddled crap. Pick one, be honest with yourself about your goals, and shoot for the moon.

On the second point, throw everything you want at me about clever marketing and million-dollar advertising budgets, I have yet to see a single more effective and successful path to success than continuing to show up with good books for people to read. Provide me statistics that contradict this and I will (a) believe you; and (b) be really goddamned impressed.

Lastly, there is this thought, which is (again) very natural to have within the confines of one’s skull, which is that no one “gets” your work. Someone called your book “a good read” and you wanted it to tear them open emotionally. This has happened to me. And I love you all, and I feel your pain, but please listen to me when I say this: your readers are not wrong. Think, think, of the books you have loved and raved about to your family and friends, only to have them say, “eh.” Think of all the books they have told you will turn your world inside out, only for you to think, “eh.” Think of it! You will get readers who have read your genre inside and out, you will get readers who have never cracked open a book of its type before. Every single one of them will see the book a little bit differently, and they. Are. Not. Wrong.* Your book was not finished the moment you wrote it – it is finished when someone reads it and thinks about it, and I am sorry to say that at least some people will hate it. This is unavoidable. It is also natural and even healthy to feel crushed when someone reads your work and doesn’t like it (although I recommend finding some way not to be crushed, because that gets exhausting). What is wrong is to take this (very natural) thought and, instead of dismissing it, actually say out loud that your readers don’t know what they’re talking about.

What I’m getting around to is this: make your books the best they can be. No book can please everyone, but every book has the potential to be its best self. It’s really useless to sit around wondering why other authors have so many more sales than you do, when you could be editing your manuscript or writing a new one. Solicit feedback. Take feedback. Edit ruthlessly and often. Listen to your readers and write better books in the future. Write because the stories are all bottled up inside you and you can’t stand another minute with them not on paper. Write because you love to write, and edit because you want your readers to have just as moving an experience as you did, and the truth is that the words don’t always come out right the first time.

Also, it’s no fun being cynical all the time. I was a teenager once, I’ve tried that.

Go write.

-M

* Please note that there is a way for readers to be wrong, which is to review the wrong book, a la, “this book is about the life and death of the Mongolian water beetle” when it is in fact a cozy murder mystery. This sort of wrong is extremely rare. Also, please note that, “this book is crap” does not constitute slander. An example of slander is, “this author punts baby hamsters in her spare time and is an illegal arms dealer.”

 

The Reading List (and News!)

Fullcover_for_internetA poll! Right off! If you had your choice of the following to be revealed first for Novum, which would you pick?

  • Cover
  • Character Artwork
  • Music

Leave a comment, and next Monday, the group vote wins!

Moving onwards, your friend neighborhood author has dived into a pile of books with wild abandon. First Earth’s Last Citadel, then Consider Phlebas, The Headmaster’s Wife, and Seating Arrangements. On my kindle now are The Privilege of the Sword, The Martian and How Not to Write a Novel!

I’ve got a varied and wondrous pile of things to work through in the near future, including:

…and that’s only a sliver! I’m also playing through Halo and Titanfall, as well as FFVI and FF Tactics, and have been told to watch Sherlock, Orphan Black, and Modern Family. (One of these things is not like the others, but I love me some comedy!)

As for the news …

Yours truly is working on the story and dialogue for a videogame! My goodness, yes! For now, the details remain deliciously mysterious, but there will be a blaze of concept art, story fragments, and gameplay demos coming along in the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

-M

What Lies Ahead

shadows reach second teaser

Hello, Gentle Readers!

The weather continues to yo-yo between a crisp autumn and a few last, raucous bursts of summer. I have been so focused on Shadow’s Reach and the SciFi piece that I have wished for a few more cold, fall-ish days so that I could snuggle up beside the fire – but I suppose I should savor the warmth while it’s here! Winter is coming, and all that.

  • As you can see above, the Shadow’s Reach cover is coming right along! I hope to be able to show it off soon, and not only because I am impatient by nature – the proofs are wonderful.
  • I have been dabbling in the worlds of Unbound and Kickstarter. That is all about that for now. (Although I encourage you to check out the projects that are currently listed. There are some pretty incredible ones out there! On Kickstarter, Acadia, in particular, looks quite excellent…although more than fully-funded already.)
  • I have started reading Wool, at long last. I’m captivated; I wish the story would linger a little sometimes, but I really am enjoying it. I can’t stand Bernard, though.
  • Speaking of Wool, any authors in the audience may be interested by the recent pieces about Hugh Howey and Michael Wallace.
  • The SciFi project is coming along, and I am so excited to share this new world with you! Stay tuned for updates!

-M

 

Update-like Items

moira writes

Dear Readers,

The internet is a pretty cool place to be this week, with all sorts of delightful things going on!

  • Zezhou is hard at work on the cover for Shadow’s Reach, and I am looking forward to doing a cover reveal! Mailing list subscribers will get the first peek, so if you haven’t signed up yet, I encourage you to do so! You can enter your email over on the sidebar!
  • The giveaway books will be winging their way off shortly – congratulations again to everyone who won, and I’d like to say yet another thank you for making Shadowborn #1!
  • The Light & Shadow short stories are in beta, some in the first round, some in the second. Thank you to Gayle, Erin, Claire, Lannie, and Carol for volunteering to be beta readers! (If would like to be considered for beta reading in the future, feel free to contact me!)
  • If you’re looking for book recommendations for your fall reading, I recommend checking out any of the options listed my my Where to Discover Books blog post. If you’re looking for personalized recommendations, and you have a bent towards YA, I heartily recommend Papercuts Blog. Rachel has an interview, a review, or a giveaway going on every day – I don’t know how she does it!
  • There’s an intriguing project going on over at this blog. Audiomachine, a trailer music group, has partnered with the author to provide a serialized story. The first post is here, and that’s not even all of the coolness! There’s also a flash fiction contest going on. Want to try your hand at a 150-word short story? Give it a go!
  • My writing projects right now include the short stories, the Mahalia sequel and prequel, a SciFi novella, an epic SciFi trilogy, and laying the groundwork for a cowriting piece about Joan of Arc! I am deeply, deeply excited about all of them, and am planning to consume large amounts of coffee to get them out to you in a reasonable amount of time.

How is your week going, readers?

-M

 

Where to Discover Books?

image

It’s fall, glorious fall!

The span from the start of fall up through New Years is likely my favorite time of year. The air is crisp, macintosh and honeycrisp apples are in season, I can make things with squash and pumpkin… In fall, everything in the world seems gold and red, and then the world turns into a beautiful white stillness, glittering lights and snow, velvet-blue skies, and there’s holiday music and cookies… Best of all, fall and winter are wonderful times to read and write, with a fire crackling in the grate and a mug of tea steaming gently.

But how do you find that next amazing book? Sometimes, you just look at your reading list and go, “…meh.” I know. I’ve been there! So, your friendly neighborhood author has collected a set of places where you can find your new favorite books!

  • The Book Genome Project – a new project, still getting up and running, but developing a unique algorithm to match you with your favorite books. Feed a book in, get suggestions out!
  • GoodReads – I’m sure that almost everyone here is familiar with GR, but in case you aren’t, the idea is this: find books, rate books, put books on digital “shelves” so you don’t have to remember the name of The One Book Jim Recommended later, get book recommendations, converse with other readers, enter giveaways … There’s a lot to discover, and GR has recently been acquired by Amazon, so there may be new features coming your way.
  • Book Digits – also new, also getting up and running. This is a rating site, similar to GoodReads, but with different rating metrics: themes (nature, fate, magic, etc.), and things such as measuring books on a scale from literary to commercial, movie potential, etc!
  • BookBub – sign up, indicate your favorite genres, and voila! Daily picks. Pretty cool, eh?
  • The Fussy Librarian – like BookBub, but with some added metrics for levels of violence and sex. The site is still collecting books (submission guidelines mandate that books must have a certain number of ratings, with an average above 4), and daily emails should start in the first week of October – but you can sign up now!
  • If you prefer to browse physical books, here are two for my US readers: the Indie Bookstore Finder and Library Finder!
  • Any favorites you want to add? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!

Happy reading, my dears!

-M

P.S. I love the quote up at the start of the post, but I can’t find who made the image? If anyone knows who did, let me know so I can link back to them :)