Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Knowing Our Genre, Audience, and Market

images I love doing small things to recognize holidays---even St. Patrick’s Day.

But I went too far when my daughter was in kindergarten.

Remembering the tradition that involved the leprechaun playing harmless pranks on children, I put different things in unusual places in our house while the kids slept. So my daughter’s toys went into the bathroom, her backpack was moved into my son’s room, several chairs were moved upside down, and my high heels were placed prominently in my daughter’s room.

It backfired.

My 5 year old daughter came into my room, shaking and crying, in the middle of the night. The leprechaun had been in her room! She felt positively threatened, invaded, and scared. She thought my (very large) high heels belonged to the leprechaun. It boggled my mind that she’d envisioned a malevolent, cross-dressing, giant leprechaun in her room.

My son? Snorted when he saw the leprechaun mischief and rolled his eyes a little at his mom’s nonsense.

Where I went wrong with my St. Patrick’s Day fun was that I didn’t take my audience into account. This was the SAME daughter who’d wanted strong assurance the year before that the Easter bunny limited his activities to the downstairs. She wanted no large rabbits skipping around her room. Having a mischievous leprechaun invade her space was terrifying. I could have done this trick with my son, but not my daughter.

I hate the rules that seem to crop up from editors, agents, and other writers—we all are creative people who need to do our own thing…and want to do our own thing.

But I think it’s incredibly important for us to know our audience…especially if we’re writing genre fiction.

If we don’t there are definitely risks involved. The biggest are that we won’t get our book published at all and that we’ll alienate readers who might skip buying our next book, if we do get the book published.

Let’s say I write a cozy mystery that involves graphic depiction of a child’s murder. Then I ship it off to my editor, Emily, at Penguin’s Berkley Prime Crime.

First of all, she’d think I’d lost my mind. She’d tell me to take it all out. It’s not a cozy mystery at all—it could possibly work for a police procedural or a thriller, but not a cozy. And I’d have missed my deadline and messed up their production schedule because I’d have to do a major rewrite. And I’ve labeled myself “difficult to work with” because I’ve cost my publisher a lot of wasted time.

Let’s say that somehow Emily has lost her mind, too and the book gets published (leaving out the whole editorial board at Penguin…they’d have to be crazy, too.) But let’s say it does happen and it hits the shelf.

Berkley Prime Crime is associated with cozy mysteries. The book would be shelved with cozies. It would have my name on it (my Riley name) and I’m associated with cozies. And my readers, who I’m starting to build a relationship with, buy my books—expecting a book without graphic depictions of violence.

The readers? They’re furious. They’ve been tricked into buying a book that isn’t what they want or were promised. It was specifically sold as a cozy and it’s not a cozy and they’re mad. They take our their disappointment and their anger at wasting money out on me with negative reviews at Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing, and DorothyL. It might not be career-ending, but boy, it doesn’t help.

I saw it happen to another cozy writer on the DorothyL list—the readers were absolutely livid with the writer’s departure from cozy standards.

So what have I accomplished? I haven’t done anything to enhance my industry reputation or readership.

It’s important to write what you want to write--but be careful where you send it. If it’s edgy, it needs to be sent to editors and publishers who publish the type of content you’ve written. Don’t think you’ve written a rule-breaking exception to the genre you’re targeting if the publisher doesn’t print stories like yours. If you’ve written horror, don’t send it to a thriller editor. If you’ve written erotica, don’t send it to Harlequin Presents and think that they’re just going to ignore the fact their guidelines weren’t followed.

Finding the right publisher for your manuscript:

Know your genre. What are you writing? Is it horror, fantasy, sci fi, thriller, lit fiction?

Read the genre. Enough to be familiar with it.

Go to the bookstore and spend some time there. Get a bunch of recently published books in your genre. It’s usually fairly easy to tell the gist of the story by flipping through.

Check online. Look at the publisher’s guidelines. See what kinds of things they’re looking for. Now they even have lists of what they’re not looking for.

If you're already a published writer, making a big genre change, consider a pen name. You can always cross-promote under your real name--mentioning each time that the new book is a departure from your others.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! :)