Christine Hammacott: Getting to grips with Genre – why understanding your genre is so important

Genre was something set in motion by the ancient Greek playwrights who, followed by Shakespeare, categorised their works into three batches – history, tragedy and comedy. Satire, they used to provide some light relief in the midst of their tragedies. Google will tell us there are five main genres, each with its own rules, for example, length and character types. So, each genre has boundaries, but these are fluid. A story may be set in a dystopian future but have a strong romance at its core.

So, the rules of genre may not be hard and fast, but writers do need to be aware of them.

‘Think of the labels on tinned food,’ Christine Hammacott, graphic design consultant and self-published author of psychological suspense, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society on Tuesday night, ‘you wouldn’t be impressed if you opened what you were eagerly expecting to be your favourite beans or soup, and you got dog food.’

A life-long book lover, Christine worked for a long time in the publishing industry. Determined to be the master on her own skills, she set up THE ART OF COMMUNICATION. Her first book, THE TASTE OF ASH has been a recommendation of the UK Crime Book Club.

‘A crime story can be written in a very light way.’ she points out, ‘Or it can be written in a very dark way.’

Many authors, when asked what their book is about, will launch into a twenty-minute, blow-by-blow account of their entire story. This is not what the question was.

The many writers who announce: their book is unique, doesn’t fit into any genre, need to do some more research – read lots, join Facebook and Twitter groups, sift through Amazon and Goodreads, resort to the Writers and Artists Yearbook and analyse exactly what it is that you have written. You could always talk to Christine at The Art of Communication!

The first thing an agent thinks: Is this sellable? And a publisher? Where does this fit with my current writers? If you’re self-publishing, what words will potential readers use to search for your book on somewhere like Amazon?

‘As writers, we don’t want to be pigeonholed, but we do want to sell our books.’ she reminds us.

Everybody talks about plot, so what is in the content of your book? Think of the theme; the theme being the overriding issue. If you’re not sure, then talk about your book and the theme will soon materialise.

Imagine that you have stepped into an elevator with the agent of your dreams, so you have only until the doors open to pitch your book to them. This elevator pitch is the one sentence that on-line sellers will use in their description of the book. You don’t need to give away the surprise or even the plot. Your pitch just needs to be punchy and promote the hooks, including where and when story is set.

Wherever you pitch your book, reader expectations are likely to be high. Potential readers want to know what they’re getting. You need to get to know the ‘nub’ of your book, talk about what it is ‘about’.

If you are self-publishing, consider your cover. A book’s cover will illustrate the genre to potential sellers and readers. The colour, font, imagery and focal point evoke an emotional response does it make the reader smile or gasp, frown or laugh out loud. For your e-book you can trawl through covers on Amazon, Goodreads, your Facebook and Twitter groups. Browse bookshops, but keep in mind, how your chosen cover will cope as a thumbnail.

Report by L Nightingale.

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