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 Bite of Success

First of all; we wish you the best of luck with all your new year endeavours.

My book

Our speaker on Tuesday 14 January is Paul Newsome, founder of the Self Publishing Studio. So I thought I’d share my experience of self-publishing with you.

Publication date is so exciting, regardless of how you got there. Using a self-publishing agency an author could find themselves holding a

beautiful hard copy of their book; one that sports the cover that they have designed. Most agencies also offer a slot on Amazon, an e-book and an ISBN. That author, especially if they are a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society,

could be attending book fairs where they’re the one standing behind the banner, signing and selling copies.

Anne Wan

Perhaps this isn’t what you want from your work. Some authors simply want to hold their book and smile and say, “I’ve written it.” without a big, intimidating publishing house in sight! Or is there? If you self-publish then that big intimidating publishing house is you! You, in your three-bed semi. You in your mid-terrace two-up, two-down, or you in your studio, mansion or back seat of your car. Whatever your abode, you are the publisher.

Or perhaps you want to hand over your life’s work; well however long it took you to write, edit, redraft and edit again, to an agent, ergo a publisher, financiers, salespeople, marketeers and target-setters? You’ve worked hard on your novel, you’ve juggled your life and your treasured characters; found your voice, lost your voice, dragged your family around your research and then (leaving them out) wrestled it into you story. It is your novel and you, quite rightly, believe it is the best novel ever written. The answer’s in the question – “How should you publish your book?”

Catherine Griffin, Sally Howard, Maggie Farran, Karen Stephen

No, you don’t have to be a technological whizz. Keep an eye on your finances; you know your budget and use a self-publishing agency. The agency should offer you proof-reading services, along with some editing and the final answer of what exactly goes between the covers is all down to you. As long as you are keeping your eye on your finances, it shouldn’t matter how many times your manuscript goes back and forth to the editor. If you’re not happy with it; send it back again. You’ll get there eventually!

You do not have to be a photographer with the eye of David Bailey or the creativeness of Linda McCartney. Neither do you have to have the genius of Leonardo de Vinci or the resources of Banksy! When it comes to your cover, your agency will be able to advise you and, using examples of covers that you like, help you put it together. Then you can start the tooing and froing again. You’ll soon be on first-name basis, although I can’t guarantee you’ll make the Christmas Card list.

Type face is the same – pick one you like and leave it up to your agency. It is surprising and reassuring, how many times your agency will be in contact, chasing you for a yay or nay. You could opt for hiding behind the settee or under the duvet, but this is where that down-payment comes in handy. You both know you’ve paid for the agency’s services and you both know the agency will not want to let you down. So unfortunately, the settee or duvet will only obscure you, the agency will still be there when you come out for a comfort break.

So, you can’t add! Not all of us can be good with money. You are a writer and you move in the world of words. What you do know, is how much you are happy to pay for a book. Carry out your own research, find out how much books, the size and type of yours are selling for. Arm yourself with answers ready for the discussion with your agency when they want to know how much to tell Amazon to sell your book for.

It’s all a discussion and you can choose how far you are happy to be ruled by your agency. Be bold; you don’t have to agree. Okay so perhaps you aren’t a bold type. Remember though, they have done it all before to varying degrees of success, so they should know a thing or two about what they are doing, enough also to advise you who might be doing it for the first time.

Lisa Nightingale

And then, it’s all yours. So is the marketing and selling. You will probably find your agency has a handle on that too – if you let them. If not, there are many, many helpful hands out there willing for you to grab on. Not least of those is us, the Hampshire writers society. Check out our blog posts, previous and future. Deciding to self-publish, puts you in the driver’s seat. Our programme of meetings where you can meet and pick the brains of industry professionals is on the website and, of course, people like me with no other qualifications than, I’ve done it before.

REPORT BY L NIGHTINGALE