Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Defining the Genres

I spotted a link to a writing competition yesterday and decided to enter (Undiscovered at Novelicious). They were asking for the first three thousand words of a chicklit novel, so I thought I could email them the start of my current work-in-progress and maybe win some professional editing advice.
But I was dismayed to discover that my planned new novel wasn't eligible on dozens of different counts.

The first story I wrote was roundly rejected because I'd picked the wrong genre. So, before beginning the second, I tried to find out what agents were looking for. Young Adult still seemed to be booming (the Twilight effect maybe?); Historical was popular (the Downton Abbey effect?); and Mysteries or ghost stories appeared to be selling well (Dan-Rad in the Woman in Black?). So I hedged my bets by embarking upon a mystery story about a gang of teenagers who go camping at a haunted castle and begin to unravel the secrets of the past.
(Scooby Doo is on TV a lot in our house - can you tell?)

And by picking as many genres as I could cram into one story, I seem to have narrowed my options (and possibly my target readers as well).

I thought - rather dopily - that chicklit could encompass young protagonists, mysteries and ghosts. Not so, said the people over at Novelicious. Anything with a narrator or main characters in the 18-20 age group is 'Young Adult' and therefore ineligible for their competition. Someone else asked them if she could submit a story set in the 1950s. Nope, they said, contemporary stories only.
Since my story involves a sort of dual time-frame plot - half of which is set in the 1830s (with a chapter from 1916 thrown in for good measure) it's exempt for this reason too.

After that, I browsed around a bit - trying to find exact definitions of genres in fiction - and read somewhere that encompassing more than two genres is a huge mistake.
Before submitting work to an agent, you're supposed to know exactly which shelf in Waterstones would be best for your book. And because I wanted my story to be all things to all people, I seem to have ended up with a very small shelf indeed.

Ah, well. I went for a very nice lunch with my old writing group today (although I think we gossiped about people we knew more than we talked about literary matters.)
One of us, K, has written one and a half books (Historical) and has secured an agent. Although, devastatingly, the agent has failed to sell either book to a publisher. K, now has a new job, new flat and new boyfriend and seems to be too busy living to write much at the moment. Which is a shame because she's naturally - effortlessly - talented and admits that she misses writing. I'm convinced she'll be famous one day. (Perhaps when she gets a better agent!)
Another of us, H, has had interest from an agent who asked to read her entire manuscript (Young Adult) exclusively. Again more devastation was to follow when the agent (a small concern with no in-house editorial department) decided that the manuscript needed to be worked on by a freelance editor. So H is now deep in the throes of editing and re-editing with no guarantee of a contract. As yet.
Then there's A, whose manuscript (Murder Mystery) was rejected as many times as my own. She has now begun to teach her own creative writing classes and is busily helping other would-be writers to progress. Impressively dynamic - but not something I'd be brave enough to attempt!
Lastly there's J, whose unfinished manuscript has almost exactly the same word-count as it did when he first joined our group over a year ago. He talks more enthusiastically than any of us about the submissions process versus self-publishing, but I'm not convinced (whisper it!) that he's ever going to finish his masterpiece.
It's very demoralising to spend a year working on a novel which is utterly unpublishable and I appear to be the only one of the group who has flung herself straight back into the process. Yay - I win the prize for most delusional member of the gang!
If my Mysterious-Historical-Young-Adult manuscript is rejected, I'll pack it in and go and get a proper job, I promise!

My haunted castle by the sea.
 (Hangman's Hill is in the distance - which I think is a brilliantly spooky name!)

My wordcount is somewhere around 53,000. Progress has slowed right down since I began to tackle the historical chapters of the story. I can no longer write down whatever comes into my head. Instead I have to break it up and insert lots of forsooths, I daresays and pray tell me, sirs. (Mayhap it'll turn out to be a comedy after all that!)

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