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Monday, December 5, 2011

Epiphany

What do you write? Can you pinpoint the genre of your story without babbling incoherently?

I made a new friend recently and we chatted back and forth about indie publishing in general and my 'angel' series in particular. She asked: What genre is it?

It sounded like a simple question, and I was able to answer without hesitation. It was then she backhanded me with a question that sent me straight to Mars and back.

She asked: Why don't your tags on Amazon reflect the genre? 

You could've heard my jaw hit the ground. She was right.

That simple question jack-knifed me into a place I'd always been afraid to look. Since I'd started writing the Second Chances series, I've felt the books were misplaced. I originally labeled them as Paranormal because well, all the other "angel" stories were labeled paranormal (or preternatural). And yet, it didn't feel right--not for my work.

Maybe it was paranormal for the other angel books because there were vampires, or witches, or elf magic. But my world was more complex than that, more...unique.

Was that why reviewers concentrated on the sex and perceived "paranormal" elements? Only one reviewer hit the nail on the head when she wrote that The Devil To Pay had shades of Richard Matheson's "What Dreams May Come". That was it exactly.

I wasn't building on the known paranormal world. These stories aren't even using the 'accepted' concept of Heaven and Hell. I had created my world from the ground up, and my square peg wasn't fitting into any of the round holes.

I felt like my eyes had been opened. It also scared the bejeebers out of me because now I found myself on a whole new playground, and it wasn't where all the popular kids played. I write Metaphysical fiction, the homely, four-eyed wallflower of the genre fields.

It all made sense now. To my shame, I had never read Matheson's work, but I had seen his movies. Time After Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come. (Ironically, I didn't like the movie version of What Dreams May Come, but I like the concept. I'm told the novel is much better.) 

These were the kind of stories I loved. They were stories inside stories. And there were secrets, tiny manifestos that weren't always apparent to the casual observer. 

I came to realize that I weaved those manifestos too, perhaps not as expertly as Matheson, since only a handful of people have picked up on the subtle clues I'm leaving behind in each story. But maybe when I'm finished with this series, it'll be clearer. Matheson has quite a few decades on me. You'll have to give me time to bloom.

What do you write? Can you define it in less than 25 words? I knew immediately, but was still unable to tag it correctly. I'll do better for the third book.

***

Starting Wednesday, I have a very special surprise when I host a DIY (Do It Yourself) Christmas. For the next couple of weeks I will have a guest post every weekday with recipes, crafts and traditions you can do yourself. 

You don't want to miss this. Some of my guests are even offering early Christmas presents.


38 comments:

Darke Conteur said...

I have no idea what I write. Paranormal mystery? Supernatural thriller? Spiritual horror? I don't know, and I don't think I want to know.

If I label it then I feel restricted. I know, weird, but as someone who's been labelled most of her life, I don't care for them.

Angelina Rain said...

At this moment, I write erotic romance, and contemporary romance with suspense elements.

Looking forward to your Christmas posts, although I'm really, really not ready for this holiday this year.

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: Ah, but labels are important in marketing your books. If you don't know what you write, you can't find your target audience.

This is how Amazon, B&N and every agent and publisher base where to put your book. It's how new customers buy your books.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: You'll like this new series. I was bowled over with the posts that were sent.

E.J. Wesley said...

Excellent point there! I'd think it would pay great dividends finding the most comfortable niche for you story and making sure it gets there via tags and whatnot.

Not sure how you go about it if you aren't intimately aware of all the stuff out there, but I'd bet a few dozen hours searching Amazon book lists, etc. would do it. :)

EJ

Maria Zannini said...

EJ: I started by trying to figure out which books most closely related to mine.

It took an entire weekend of research, but I came away with a better understanding on where I fit in. Sadly, it wasn't with the cool and popular kids, but with authors a little more off center.

hmm...kinda like high school. :grin:

L.G.Smith said...

I'd never head the term Metaphysical fiction, but it does paint a different picture than Paranormal. I would think a subtle change like that might make a big difference as far as attracting certain readers.

My writing is often a mixture of genres...romance, fantasy, dystopian. If it ever does get published, I'm not sure what shelf it would sit on. But I'll take any. :)

Mike Keyton said...

My fiction? you tell me if you can, Maria. I have no idea. Neut was theological sci fi, Endgame sociologial sci fi - but the others, seem to demand even more qualifiers. Maybe we should just have bar codes :)

PS I love my word verification here riotive. Sounds just like the mood of many European peoples at the moment

Renee Miller said...

You're right, labeling is important and that fact irritates the shit out of me. I can't label everything I write into the same genre. Some are romance with suspense elements, some are thriller/suspense with romantic elements, one is paranormal...something, another is commercial or literary (according to my rejections it's too much of one or the other)and another is paranormal/erotic/humor.

No. I cannot define my genre without a thought and this is a problem. Sigh.

Krista D. Ball said...

I write speculative fiction. epic fantasy, military sf, lots of explosions :D Each of my projects are a different genre/subgenre class, but generally my work is found on the spec fiction line.

I have one novella where we keep changing the classification because it straddles the edge of two genres. But other than that one, it's generally pretty clear.

Sometimes, I see authors with really oddball tags on Smashwords or Amazon, so I take a moment and vote up/down and add a few more to make them a little clearer.

Rula Sinara said...

I write contemporary romance for sure, but I recall Diana Gabaldon talking at Nationals about how her book didn't fit any particular genre...and look where she is now!

Kerri Cuev said...

Oh boy, that is the million dollar question lol. I have that issues at times, but it's nice when you have lovely readers to help you along.

Cate Masters said...

It's so funny how we think alike. I have a guest post coming up next week on this subject - indefinable fiction. I used Margaret Atwood as an example in my post because I'd just been to a reading/booksigning, and she discussed it. Critics and sometimes readers bristle because she rejects handy categorization, but she's right - it doesn't fit squarely into a SF or other label. And those are the stories I love best.
Personally, my answer would have to be: depends on the story. I write across genres, sometimes mashing and interweaving them. And there are many more genres I'd like to try. If only I had a clone, I'd have time enough.

Maria Zannini said...

LG: Many times ghost stories get stored under metaphysical. And you're right, as long as it's got a shelf to sit on. :)

***
Mike: I think you pinpointed it. When I think of your fiction, I always view it as 'sociological'. It's the one qualifier that seems to cross into every genre you write. It's reminiscent of Lois McMaster Bujold themes.

***
Renee: I just worry about one book at a time. I write SF, dystopian, and even one true paranormal. But the angel books stymied me. I knew they weren't in the right place, but I couldn't put my finger on where they belonged.

***
Kirsta: It's very helpful when readers tag work. Sometimes the author misses it completely, but the reader knows (at least from his perspective).

Krista D. Ball said...

Maria - oh I agree. If I've reviewed a book, I like to take a minute to add/fix/recommend new tags. Sometimes, it's so hard to tag your own work since you remember every.single.aspect of your work and it gets muddled. Whereas, I'm a reader and looking at your book as the entertainment it is. So, as a reader I look at a book and say "that's totally space opera", whereas the author is like "it's romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense." lol

A comment to Renee -- Like Maria, just worry about one work at a time (or, series, if you're doing a series). I have a "style" that represents my overall manner of writing. However, each work I do can be in a different genre/subgenre set. I don't worry about classing Book A as military SF and trying to make that match Series B (epic fantasy) and Series C (paranormal fantasy). Instead, I do each on its own.

Maria Zannini said...

Rula: I would've labeled Gabaldon as historical time travel. She might not agree, but as a reader that's where she would sit on my shelves.

***
Kerri: Indeed! It's good to get into someone else's head to get a more objective opinion.

***
Cate:
I meant to comment on that post you had on Atwood, but got sidetracked (repeatedly). If I remember correctly, Atwood refused to view The Handmaid's Tale as SF. To me it was decidedly SF. It might have had elements in other fields, but I picked up the book specifically for its SF thread. She once defended it as literary. I read a lot of literary (please, no one stone me for this) and that book didn't come across as literary to me.

While some work defies category, it still has to be placed somewhere specific, or how will people find it.

I cross genres all the time, but that just means it has the dubious advantage of being placed on more than one shelf.

Maria Zannini said...

Krista: That's exactly what I was getting at with Atwood. Author expectations are sometimes skewed. We see everything intimately, whereas the reader hones in on specific aspect.

Get enough people to agree and you wind up getting labeled whether you like it or not.

Renee Miller said...

Maria: I wondered as I read this new series of yours how you defined them because in my mind, they were paranormal but not. I've always seen "angels" as paranormal, but I guess that's a reflection of personal beliefs rather than actual research into genres. It's interesting to me that the heaven/hell theme and angels are not classified as paranormal.

Krista: Thanks. Great advice. I guess when someone asks the generalized "So what type of books do you write?" I can say it depends. After all, I think a lot of authors are writing outside of genre lines anymore. It's not like it used to be, where authors were pigeonholed into one genre. Well...not as much like it used to be. :)

Shelley Munro said...

Labeling is a problem for me because I jump around all over the place and probably confuse readers. During 2012 I will be a writer of contemporary erotic romance set in small country towns.

I'm looking forward to your guest posts. :)

Angela Brown said...

Hmmm....metaphysical fiction. I admit I hadn't heard that as a genre description. But I am still learning more and more everyday so I suppose my lack of knowledge of this description comes as no surprise...to me at least.

What do I write? YA urban fantasy for UNCOMMON, YA fantasy for AMONG DRAGONS AND MEN and YA dystopian for NO COUNTRY FOR FAE FOLK (this last title is just a place holder until I can come up with something else). I would like to hope that a reader would see these tagged properly, however, there's always something new to learn.

Tina Moss said...

I constantly struggle to define what I write. I usually say Urban Fantasy for lack of a better term. Sometimes, I say Paranormal Romance. But, the truth is that neither quite fit.

Krista D. Ball said...

Ok, Atwood is a very complicated social thing.

/begin rant

Canadian literature is very literary, pompous and snobby. I say this as a Canadian author! As a nation, we support the arts. As an author, for example, there are numerous government grants I can apply for, I can apply to be compensation for my articles being photocopied and used, I can apply to be compensated for my books being checked out of libraries and the loss of royalties, etc.

Canada is good to its authors.

But, we're all just a little snobby up here. Atwood has developed a career of being a Canadian literature author. That's her bread and butter. Handmaiden's Tale is 100% science fiction. However, there is no possible way she can openly say that (which is why she talks in circles about it whenever cornered). She'd lose her core readership.

Also, she openly admits she isn't well-read in literary and current SF. She is famous for the SF is all about robots and rocket ships quote.

Yet, Atwood is constantly on the top 100 SF authors to read. Why? BECAUSE SHE WRITES SF!! She even had a new book out discussion speculative fiction.

She's a SF author, but there's no way she can admit that. So, we all wink and smile at her :)

(though, to be fair, Atwood has mellowed a lot lately over this top. I suppose making all those SF top 100 lists has helped LOL)

Maria Zannini said...

Renee: Where I ran into trouble is that although I knew what I was writing, I felt I needed to follow the pack of other angel books.

I mean, what did I know? These other authors had to know better than me, right? But then I started reading some of their books and realized we weren't writing the same thing at all. The same elements, yes, but not in the same world. Nor was the romance paramount, something else that set mine apart.

It isolated me, but it also made me realize it could be an advantage. Paranormal romance is flooded with books. Not so with metaphysical. If I could tap into that audience, I could conceivably do well.

It's given me a lot to think about.

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: It could be, but I don't mind in the least when authors diverge. The only time it makes me hesitate is when they write erotic and YA. Not that it can't be done, but I find it harder for me to accept.

***
Angela: See what a homely stepchild 'metaphysical' is? Leave it to me to take the road less traveled.

***
Tina: This is where I was too. It really took a lot of research on my part to find books similar to what I wrote.

***
Krista: Poor Atwood. I'm sure she's crying all the way to the bank.

It reminds me on how some people disparage romance.

Makes me want to shake them and tell them to snap out of their white tower mentality. Romance doesn't have cooties.

Ellie said...

Wow. Maria - I've tried to comment, but I'm having problems with the Google sign in thingee.

Anyway, here's my comment again.

I've always said I write cozy, humorous mysteries. But after I read your post, I stopped & really thought about it. When I hear cozy, I picture an amateur sleuth. But my protaganist is a small town cop. When I hear cop story, I picture a police procedural or a hardboiled story. And that doesn't fit mine at all. Now I'm not sure what to call it - it is a light-hearted cop procedural cozy.

Stories just don't seem to fit into the 'normal' labels anymore!

Ellie

Maria Zannini said...

Ellie: You ain't kidding about the labels.

I'm not a mystery buff, so I can't recommend any specific authors, but you need to start following Dru Ann Love over at Cozy Chicks. If anyone knows about other books with lighthearted cop themes, she would. http://www.cozychicksblog.com/

raelynbarclay said...

I'd never heard of metaphysical fiction as a genre but now that you apply it to the Second Chance series I can see it. Very interesting!

I write romance but I explore different sub-genres, and each story is different. So far I haven't tackled a series but we'll see :)

I'm definitely looking forward to your DIY series, too.

Jenny Schwartz said...

As soon as I read "metaphysical fiction" I nodded. Yup. PNR just didn't fit the world you'd built. Well, it fit, but it didn't do justice to it. Tags are important...but that self-analysis to get the tag...tough work.

Jennifer Oberth said...

Mine is easy - Cozy, mystery, humor. (And like Ellie said, the word 'cozy' itself has different definitions.)

My new novel series will be cozy, mystery, humor, adventure and I used to refer to it as a western (it's in 1875) but it takes place outside Chicago so I call it a mid-western. I can't call it cowboy fiction because my main character is female and the other main character is male but he's an actor...Hmm. Maybe this labeling thing is a bit narrow in its scope.

Labels are important for readers, though. I like mysteries (cozies) and search for them. They're like a necessary evil in a way. It helps define our work but when we get it wrong, it can turn people off if the work doesn't match their picture or it can turn people away if the label doesn't attract them.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i'm lucky enough that i fit pretty squarely in the "fantasy" umbrella. Or the horror umbrella if i'm writing short stories. It's nice and simple

Barbara Ann Wright said...

In casual conversation, I always just say science fiction if I don't know what genres the person asking me likes. If I know they read SF, I'll say fantasy/science fiction. If I know them we'll I'll continue to boil it down for each book.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Those are great points. I'm going to check my tags.

Melissa McClone said...

Great post. Let's see if I can do this: I write heartwarming, sweet contemporary romance with a modern day fairytale feel.

Kaye Manro said...

Thoughtful post, Maria.

At the moment I am tagged as a SFR author. But my medieval time travels set me aback. I had to think about it. Until I did what you did.

It's true my extensive research into medieval history helped me lace the stories with nice historical facts. Still, laser blasters and teleport devices abound along with medieval knights. It wasn't hard to pinpoint these stories as yes, still SFR.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: I am so excited about the DIY Christmas fest. I got so many great posts out of it.

***
Jenny: What was so wild was that deep down I knew Paranormal didn't fit, but I didn't want to leave the safety of the familiar.

***
Jennifer: I wonder if readers aren't becoming more open-minded about labels. I think readers are more willing to experiment than they used to.

***
Sarah: Oh, sure. Rub it in. ;-)

***
Barbara: Ah, but how would you tag it on Amazon? Where would your books get shelved?

***
Susan: It was a real eye-opener.

***
Melissa: Well darn, you just made it look easy. Can I hate you now? LOL.

***
Kaye: Before, when I relied on a regular publisher, they pretty much decided how to label it. It's only when I had to tag my indie work that I realized it was harder than it looked.

Marianne Arkins said...

Mostly, I write romance that doesn't take itself seriously.

:-D

And I hated "What Dreams My Come" (the movie) ... it went so far over my head, it wasn't even in the same galaxy. I'm not stupid, but apparently I'm terrifically shallow! LOL...

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: I did some research and while Matheson wrote the screenplays for many of his stories, he was very dissatisfied with what they did to WDMC. The movie version got all artsy-fartsy with Heaven and Hell, and the children were grown in the story, but Hollywood had to make them little kids and then change their characters when they were in Heaven. It was all very complicated and over the top.

This is why I get nervous when they touch classics. They're always trying to "improve" it.

LD Masterson said...

Sure, I don't exactly what I write. It's mystery/suspense/crime drame with paranormal and romantic elements. Or something like that. I think.