Monday, February 18, 2008

Targeting Your Reading Audience - Defining Your Genre

Now that I have 5 books out there - counting the 2 that will soon be released by Cerridwen Press and NCP - I found it's very important to give accurate pointers and clues as to any given novel's genre. It seemed so easy and obvious when I wrote each book what it was that I was writing...until it came to that horrendous task of coming up with a 50-word pitch that would appear on a book's jacket. It's a mystery...well, yes but it also has romantic subplot, and it's a thriller-type of suspense, rather than just mere romantic suspense and yes, of course it has hot sexy parts but those are all part of the story which, at least for me, is why I write to begin do you get all that across?

Several years ago, when I had Helen McGrath Agency as literary agents, my agent Doris Johnson, told me that it was very difficult to sell cross-genre novels, regardless of their quality and "fresh" approach. I didn't understand what she was saying. I do now. It's very hard to correctly represent such a novel through the requisitve 50-word sales pitch that would woo the reader and - more important - that would not mis-represent the novel's slant and story. In "Burning Spiral" that's to come out soon from Cerridwen Press, my heroine is a detective who, together with her partner, is trying to solve a string of bizarre murders. The nature of the murders and clues borne by the victims pushes the novel into fantasy category. But there is a strong romantic subplot as well as professoinal power-plays and intrigues that she must deal with in her work environment. Many "how-to" sources advise to forget subplots when 'pitching' a novel and just deal with the main theme. But in this case, if main theme is taken, it would become a simple police mystery and that's nowhere close to what the story's about. I asked a writer-friend to write her version of the 'pitch' and she came up with something that sounded more like mainstream. That's when I realized that all one can do is give a brief blurb about the conflict the main character's facing and its consequences if not resolved.

My NCP novel, "Sweet Poisoned Wine" is a romantic suspense with sex scenes that do not happen behind closed doors, and yet NCP put it into a sweet romance category on their site. Other distributors gave it a 'sensual' rating. It made it that much more difficult to try and write a good commercial pitch for it - for my press releases. I'm curious to see what "The Flaming Tiger" will earn as rating because the sex in that romantic thriller is definitely several notches hotter (and darker) than the rest of my novels. Still, when I think of the novel, it's the suspense/thriller storyline that drives everything that happens in the heroine's life and sex - dark and desired - is a natural outcome.

"Cold Scheme," which came out with is perhaps my best-written and best in terms of suspense story to date that's out - so I was rather pleased when one reviewer called it a dangerous and disturbing story, precisely because that's what it's meant to be. So, whatever pitch I wrote for that one, is true to its roots.

I found a good source for my inspiration for my book, "The Cracked Shadow" once it came on the becaue there you have the feature of the site 'pulling' for you other books just like yours - if you love reading this, you will enjoy reading this - and basically those other books defined the genre and category for me. Once I saw the slant of the pitches for those other books, it became much easier to write my own promoting pitch for "Shadow." Mind you, I find that a lot of those other pitches actually mis-represent the novel and often so badly that having bought it, I file it away half-read because it's nothing like its jacket-blurb promises. But the key words here are 'BOUGHT IT' which is all those jacket-blurbs want to achieve.

So, it continues to be a dilemma with each promoting pitch I have to write - do I follow suite of those other commercial jacket-blurbs and hype the book's story and plotline, using sex as the ultimate selling tool, or do I stay close to the novel's "roots" and sweat over writing a 50-word pitch that gives a feel for the conflict and its consequences? I spend months walking with a story in my head precisely because for me, interest of writing lies in telling a story, rather than inserting requisite hot-sex scenes in for the sake of pitching it along those lines. And when I settle on an excerpt it's invariably one of the 'pivotal' conflict points in the story, rather than a segment that features a sex scene. Those, at least for me, are seldom 'pivotal'. They're more the type of culminating or platform scenes that change the direction of the story from then on, or more richly 'texture' the relationship that has been building up to that point. But they're NOT the story or its conflict resolution.

One of my Night Owl Romance reviewers for "Burning Spiral" mentioned that she was pleasantly surprised by the wide-sweeping growth of the characters throughout the novel. It was something I never consiously thought about; rather it was all such a tightly-woven part of the story that to me it seemed transparent precisely because without such character growth, there would be little point to the story.

I asked my writer-friends the ultimate question: Do you fill your pitch with all the commercially triggering words that feature these days in genre promotion, or do you try to pitch it along the lines of the story and its conflict? For a while it looked like I wouldn't get an answer - all the ruckus of discussion the topic raised - but one of them, obviously as exhausted by all the email noise as I was, said, "Give 'em a story and conflict...but make sure that somewhere in the middle of your 50-word pitch you include the word 'sex' -- three times. That ought to do it." And while I do see a commercial merit in 'overselling' my novels along those lines, I live in dread that one of these days I will get a letter from a reader who bought one of my books...and it won't be a nice fan letter either.

1 comment:

B.A. Goodjohn said...

I hated writing my jacket copy. Permanent Press didn't give me any guidelines so I tried to pick a passage that I felt was representative and then added a character sketch of the main character and her friends. It was a lot more than 50 words. Man, I don't think I could have done that.

Oh, Edita, I memed you, too. Sorry.