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.

Beyond the Creativity Bit

Paul Newsome

“What do The Martian by Andy Weir, 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Eragon by Christopher Paolini have in common?” Paul Newsome, writer and founder of The Self Publishing Studio asked the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night.

The answer is that they were all self published.

Paul’s story begins the same way as that of many writers. He’d written a book and he had a dream of becoming a published author. Naturally excited, he embarked on the next step — find an agent. He set about writing the perfect enquiry letter along with the perfect synopsis. Those were sent off and Paul waited for the replies. He waited…and he waited. Every now and then he received a rejection email, two or three lines long saying nothing more than thanks, but no thanks. Often, he heard nothing at all.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook! The almanack recommended by the agents themselves, the enchanted book of publishing spells. Now he was really excited – “What could possibly go wrong?”

Indeed, the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook is crammed full of contact details, advice and useful articles.

Paul looked into using ‘Other Publishers’. “Confusion!” he recollects, “If you get an agent, they do it all for you. But some ‘Other Publishers’ do nothing.”

By now, Paul knew enough about” the publishing industry to smell a rat with the publisher who wrote to him, loving his work, promising bountiful opportunities and in the small print asking for a mammoth fee.

There are some genuinely helpful independent publishers. The list of things that they couldn’t do however, was too large.

Using the DIY approach, Paul published his book, Hamish. Followed by Hamish and the Vegetarian Crow. “Definitely,” he says, “publishing is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration.”

Amazon is a minefield. There are many opt-outs within its obstructive contracts, an author just needs to find them.

Paul’s gap in the market gaped – the writer’s dream on one side and the reality on the other.

He set up the Self Publishing Studio offering the author all the publishing processes without the stress over the perfect enquiry letter. Paul knows his authors have passion, they must have, to have got this far.

“Think about your goals,” he tells us, “keep it simple, keep realistic and have clarity.”

It is up to the writer to cherry pick their requirements. The Self Publishing Studio will work to the author’s budget.

An editor can be found, one who will read your story and comment on flow, plausibility. They expect the author to return their comments, and they understand that they will have to explain themselves.

Assistance with marketing will be given too, advising the writer to find something different e.g. Andy Weir published The Martian chapter by chapter on a blog until he had such a large following who were all telling him to publish professionally.

“Not all writers want to be the next JK Rowling, it is perfectly fine to want nothing more than to see your manuscript, turned into book form, adorning your coffee table.”

 

Report by L Nightingale

‘A Journey to Self-Publishing’ Emma-Nicole Lewis, supernatural historical fiction author of three self-published novels, business strategist and Hampshire Writers’ Society member.

EMMA-NICOLE LEWIS appeared last month on the HWS blog featuring in the trailer for a mini-documentary about, Eyam the town where her latest novel, A SHADOW BEYOND, is set. The documentary, for which she sought permission from the museum and church used, took her only a week or so to make and has brought interest in her from as far away as Russia.

“Making yourself visible is now what it is all about.” she told the meeting last night, “Amazon has done wonders, but for the writer, it has saturated their market.”

Writing has been a passion of Emma’s since a young age and following the success of her first novel, THE WISHING HOUSE, she made the decision to swap her career in business strategy for full time novelist.

“Define your reader,” she says. It is something that can be done within your other research. As an unknown, new to the market, you won’t be selling books on your name alone. Think about how your story might fit with your reader. Consider the sort of book clubs that they might belong to, what are their interests, their hobbies, where do they go for leisure time and what are the websites that they might visit. By pin-pointing your readers, you’ll find it easier to market your book. Emma’s stories are historical; many of her readers will be interested in history, so she made good contacts with the museum and coffee shops in the town where A Shadow Beyond is set, leaving advertising leaflets there for readers to pick up.

Have your marketing plan in place before publication day. “Getting those pre-orders in to Amazon will raise your stakes in their best-seller lists.” she tells us. This in turn encourages them to spend their advertising space on you. “So, line up your reviewers and bloggers before you go live.”

Establish a PR hook. Find a story within your story. When Emma told the story of how her first novel was written whilst she was on maternity leave (she still doesn’t know how she did it), the local press bit quickly. Interest seems to be on the person who wrote the story almost as much as the story itself, so Emma’s social media pages are peppered with pictures of her and her family on her latest research expedition. It brings out either the Aaah! or the humorous side of your readers.

“Love your readers.” she urges, “It might sound soppy but, if you love them, they’ll love you back.” Reply to contacts and comments when appropriate (DO NOT RESPOND TO REVIEWS; ITS NOT THE DONE THING) your readers will talk positively about you, share your work and comments. A sort of virtual marketing team.

Finally, what is it that you want to see from your favourite writer? An avid reader, Emma often gets to the end of which ever book she is reading, wondering about what that author will do next. She often looks into it. If that author is not doing what she wanted – she does it herself!