Deciding what genre you write should not be this difficult!!!!

Finding the Correct Genre For Your ProseOkay, admit it, we’ve all been there. You get an idea; invest time, tears, aggravation, and determination to write it all down. Then you struggle with letting it go long enough for a friend or relative to read it. You gird yourself emotionally (or at least you try to) while you listen to their feedback, then cry when in private. Despite however many edits it takes to tell your tale, one of the first questions asked by your reader is, “What genre do you write?”

You would think it would be easy to say, (fill in the blank), but not these days. Genres no longer carry the simple tags of Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Drama, and Sci-Fi. There are sub-genres to these popular book categories that muddy the waters when it comes to deciding exactly where your manuscript fits in. Not to mention, new categories seem to pop up every day. Ever heard of Science Fiction/Alternative History? Me neither, but it is out there!

So, how do you find out if your manuscript fits into one, or more, of these sub-genres?

Well let’s start with defining what a fiction genre is. Visit this link, Exploring Different Types of Genre, which is found on the For Dummies website.

To summarize, here are the two main types of literal and commercial fiction:

Commercial fiction: Attracts a broad audience and may also fall into any sub-genre such as mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and more. (Example: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Popular authors in this genre include John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins.)

Literary fiction: Appeals to a smaller, more intellectual audience. Works in this genre can fall into the above listed genres. The difference is the qualities it contains: excellent writing, originality of thought and style. These qualities raise it above the level of ordinary written works. (Examples: Cold Mountain by Frazier. Popular authors in this genre include Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsover, John LeCarre, and Saul Bellow. )

The article goes on to describe the main genres, as well as list the sub-genres and its most popular authors. Visiting this link provides valuable information to help you discover where you fit in, as well as where to best promote your work when it’s published.  The site also provides links to the Writers of America website for each genre for more detailed descriptions and the accepted rules.

For those of you on a time crunch who don’t have time to read the full article, but want to find our more information about your genre, here are the links:

Mystery Writers of America        Romance Writers of America

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America      Western Writers of America

So, where does my writing fit in? While I writer Romance, because I ‘break the rules’, the stories I tell fall into several categories.

The settings are modern day which puts me in Contemporary Romance.

Though I write from the female and male point of view, the stores are mostly about women’s issues and the ability to overcome, which places me in Women’s Fiction.

My characters are not all from one race. The heroines in the first three novels of The Butterfly Memoirs are an African-American, Caucasian-African-American, and Caucasian. The heroes are Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic. This puts me in the Interracial Romance category. Unfortunately, this is a relatively new category that is just now being acknowledged by the publishing industry. (Here’s a great blog post written by a fellow author on this topic: Interracial Romance: The Most Popular Genre No One’s Heard About.)

And last but not least, because I am an African-American author, anything I write, regardless of the topics, writing style, or genre, I am automatically placed in the African-American genre before anything else is considered.

So, where does YOUR story fit? Good luck with figuring it out!

MJ

MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks

WritingOne of the first things I learned about writing was the correct way to write a scene. After years of reading I had become accustom to what is known as ‘head hopping’. For those who may not be aware of what that is, ‘head hopping’ is where two characters point of views are shared in the same scene. This is not to be confused with conversation. I am referring to the scene starting with the heroine’s POV and then in mid scene, it switches to the hero’s POV, and back again or to another character without a change in the scene or start of a new chapter. Sound confusing? Imagine how it feels to a reader!

That style of writing is no longer accepted in manuscripts today, unless of course your one of the old school authors who were allowed to do it years ago. Chances are they haven’t been forced to change. In fact, I know they haven’t. One of my favorite romance authors who have been around for years still does it in every new book. But for the new author, agents and publishers are looking for a more polished style of writing, starting with characters whose POV’s are the only one featured in a chapter. Even if you plan to self-publish, taking these extra steps to polish your writing will make your work stand apart from the rest!

So how do you make this happen? Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay in one viewpoint from the beginning to end or your scene! (I write in 1st Person POV, so I will write these examples in both 1st and 3rd POV when needed.)

Make sure your reader knows who is speaking.

The easiest way to have this done is by having them addressed by name by another character in the scene. Doing this in the first few lines of the chapter will let your reader know who’s speaking:

Example:

(1st Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” my brother asked.

“Things could be better.” I grimaced while holding my stomach.

Or

(3rd Person)

“Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?” John asked.

“Things could be better,” she said while holding her stomach.

As mentioned above, NO HEAD HOPPING!

Doing so destroys the tension your building by staying in one character head. You know the saying, ‘the right hand can’t know what the left is doing?’ When sticking in one POV, it’s the same way. If Phil has a secret that he is trying to hide from Bob, his actions and what he says should say that to the reader, but the reader can’t know that Bob already knows that Phil is guilty.

Example:

Correct:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie. He tried his best to ignore Bob when he asked another question, and continued to stare out the kitchen window.

Incorrect:

Phil’s eyes darted from side to side in an effort to keep from looking Bob in the eye. There was no way he would admit to eating the last slice of grandma’s apple pie.

Bob knew Phil was guilty, because he refused to look at him. It didn’t matter if he answered his question or not. He was going to tell grandma.

Phil knows he’s guilty, but tries his best to hide it. If we are only in his POV, he can’t know what Bob is thinking, only assume, or in this case ignore Bob all together. What he thinks Bob knows or doesn’t know is not important. You only want to share Bob’s thoughts if/when his POV is addressed in another chapter.

Describing your character from their POV.

Every now and then it’s necessary for a character to tell the reader what they look like, what they are wearing, or describe their expressions. You have to be careful their voice does not slip into the voice of another character that may be looking at them. Try some of these tricks:

  • Have your character stand in front of a mirror and talk about what they see, but don’t be technical (and it should be relevant to the scene!)
  • Use feelings and descriptions to guide your reader into visualizing what the character is trying to say about themselves.
  • Quote another character’s thoughts about their appearance.

Example: Here’s how my character, Ebony Campbell, describe herself in the opening chapter of A Heart Not Easily Broken: (1st Person)

I smirked (facial expression) before sipping my margarita. Yasmine’s light-skinned complexion, slender ballet dancer body, long legs, and B-cup breasts suited her personality. There were times I wished my body was more like hers, though. It would make shopping for clothes a lot easier. As it was, I had been blessed with the shapely figure my Nana called ‘bootylicious’. According to her, and her photo albums, I looked just like her when she was my age, with caramel-colored skin, perfectly proportioned hips, a butt that drew major attention, and D-cup breasts, making it hard for a man to look me straight in the eye. (Opinion of others)

And last but not least, select ONE character to focus on in a scene!

In other words, don’t split up your chapter into two different points of view. Extend the scene, or shorten it, with chapter breaks instead of scene breaks. Doing so will keep the reader from missing the POV switch at the break point, because sometimes inserting *** just doesn’t do it. Doing so generally means there is a change in the scene itself, not POV.

I hope this helps! For more tips on writing, check out my page with links to previous articles on writing. Until next time, Happy Writing!

MJ

What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You!

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!So, you’ve written your story and want to share it with the world. But first, you have to query.

What is a query?

A query is a presentation of your manuscript shortened into brief paragraphs in the effort to draw an agent/publisher’s attention to your work. A well-written query letter can lead to a request for more information about your project: a full synopsis, a request for the first couple of chapters, or the entire manuscript. The goal is to receive a request for representation (agent) or publication (publisher). But like writing, in order to tell a good story, it takes research and planning  in order to make the process flow smoothly.

So, what steps should you take?

First of all, research the agent/publisher you want to submit your letter to. No two agents or publishers are alike.

  • Agents:  Visit the personal pages of agents on the company websites. Most will tell you if they are looking new clients.  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors. Some have a wish list with the types of stories or genres they are looking for. Knowing this before you waste time sending them your work saves time on both of your parts. Submitting a query of a Sci-Fi story to an agent interested in only Romance novels is asking for rejection.
  • Publishers:  Whether you’re looking to self-pub through a vanity press, Indie Press, or Traditional Publisher, you MUST read the submission guidelines. No two are alike. For example, one publisher may want your manuscript  typed and submitted in 12 point Times New Roman font, while another may request 11 point Calibri. (Yep, I had that happen!). If I hadn’t read the submission guidelines and assumed they wanted the manuscript written in standard Times New Roman, my manuscript would be ignored for not following their guidelines before they read the first line!

Prepare various files ahead of time to save time. While researching agents/publishers, make note of what type of file they want you to send. (Note: this is the age of digital. Gone are the days of only mailing your manuscript or query letter. Most require emails, not snail mail. ‘Snail mail’ –traditional mailing- can add longer wait time to getting a response to your request).

Here are the various requests I ran across:

  • Query letter– that’s all they want. Keep it short and simple, to the point.  Open with a hook that leaves wanting to know more. Talk briefly about your writing experience (if applicable) and where samples of your work can be found. Leave with a respectful and professional closing. Be sure to include correct contact information for phone, email, mailing. (Note: if including social networking information, know that they WILL research you before contacting you. Having an unprofessional presence online can cause them to lose interest, regardless of how great your story is.)
  • Query and Sample Chapter (s) or Pages In addition to the standard query, some want to sample your writing voice. Here is where having a strong opening to your story comes in. The first three chapters are your make or break it points in your novel. If an agent or acquiring editor can’t get hooked then, then they push your work to the trash pile and send the dreaded ‘rejection form’ letter. Create separate files for the following page counts: 5 pages, 20 pages, 50 pages. (or 1st chapter to 1st-3rd chapters).
  • Query and Synopsis The dreaded synopsis letter can take more work to write than the 350 page novel it’s being written about. The point is to share the highlights of your story, from beginning to, yep, the actual end…not the lead up to the end. They want to know how the story ends to decide if what happens in the middle is worth the time to read. Synopsis request can be as brief as one page, to as lengthy as 4 pages. Prepare a one-page, three-page, and four-page to have on hand. No need to pull hair out after writing a one-page synopsis and run across a request for a four-page and have to start all over again.
  • Query, Synopsis, and Full Manuscript:  Not many will ask for a full manuscript from the get go, but some do.  Be sure to have your manuscript completed BEFORE submitting it. Agents/Publishers want to see a finished product, not one that is incomplete. If they like what they see, they will want to jump on it. If they have to start working with you by giving you a deadline to finish the project, it could be a turn off.  As a rule, most manuscript requests come in the form of the following:*12 point Times New Roman font  *1 inch margins (all around) *double spaced (entire document, without space between paragraphs)

***Be sure to have your manuscript edited and as clean as possible. DO NOT SEND ROUGH DRAFTS! Try to have your work as close to professionally edited as possible. Not doing so and having blatant misspellings and punctuation errors can result in rejection of your work! ***

Once you have these things in place, you are nearly ready to start querying! With so many agents and publishers out there, it’s hard to keep up with what information was sent to which publisher and when. I suggest creating a spreadsheet to make note of the dates and information sent. If you don’t have time to make your own, visit QueryTracker.com. Create a profile, make notes of sent responses and request, as well as look up information about the agents/publishers you’re interested in. There’s also an area that allows you to view comments from others about their experience with those agents/publishers and turnaround time for responses.

The query process is time-consuming and a real test of your will and patience. The pay off; seeing your work in the hands of readers.  This is the time to grow thick skin. Prepare to get rejection letters, either as form responses or the very rare letter with actual feedback.  Take it with a grain of salt and look for the good part. No, I am not saying being told NO, is a good feeling, but sometimes it’s comical. I got one that said, “No, not interested.”…that was it, no hello, no Ms. Kane, nothing.  I laughed my butt off because it appeared that particular person was having a bad day.  I could only imagine what it’s like to trudge through a ton of emails day after day in search of a line that catches your attention. Just because they said no didn’t mean it was about me or my work. Remember my above comment: Wish List. If looking for the next hot book about Vampires is what is on everyone’s list, your next love story that’s about the average Joe won’t get a second look, no matter how well it’s written.

Don’t be afraid to explore your publishing options. If you don’t have the time or patience to look into self-publishing, then look at Indie Publishing companies.  They still request the same type of information as the big publishers, but you have a better opportunity to have your writing voice heard. The beauty of going Indie is being able to tell your story the way you want to without being told what you can or can’t write.

I survived the query gambit,  kept my writing voice, and ignored the negative responses that told me ‘no’. And now I am an Amazon Bestselling Author. 🙂

Here are a few links to articles on writing query letters synopsis. Good luck!!

MJ

eHow.com- Query Letter Sample Search

eHow.com- How to write a Synopsis Search 

Query Tracker.net  

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don’t Trash Them!

I posted this status on Facebook last week:

New authors: Does you manuscript lack the ‘fire’ it needs to stand apart? Don’t give up! Never trash those original ideas! Set them to the side and try again. You’ll be surprised at how new ideas will begin to flow…you may even find yourself reaching for the original ms, pulling bits and pieces from it, and finding a way to make it shine! Old manuscripts are not necessarily bad ideas…just really well thought out musings!

Book 1-A Heart Not Easily Broken – completed: all notes and handwritten ms.

When I started writing three years ago, I thought my first manuscript was perfect. The characters were engaging, the dialogue witty and flowing… the story line engaging. Then I realized I didn’t know what platform I wanted to use, much less what genre I was really in. All I knew is I had a story to tell. I wanted it to be a coming of age story but still be a romance. The characters were 18-21, so the story was more Young Adult. Because of the subject matter of the book, sex scenes were necessary, but I didn’t want it to be labled as YA and didn’t want to remove the love scenes  because they were pertinent to the story.  After listening to advice from my ever helpful critique partners, I decided to step away from the story and try something new.

Book 2- Jaded-editing: Original notes, scenes, new outline, 1st manuscript draft.

The next writing attempt followed  characters who were in their mid- to late twenty’s, well established in their careers, and old enough to have as much sex as I felt comfortable writing about. The story line was completly different, and once again, I thought I had it nailed. Then I realized the characters were not real enough. I hadn’t put in enough effort to make them believable. I didn’t know their back story, didn’t have a history to pull from to make my characters three-dimentional instead of two-dimentional. After sharing the first chapter with close confidants and having them nearly bored to death, I forced myself to listen to their honest feedback. They said, it was missing description in the scenes, and didn’t grab their attention….I put that story aside as well.

Book 3 – Lonely Heart- wip:Notes from original ms and current rough outline.

After taking a writer’s class, I found my writing platform. As a result, I pulled out the original manuscript, (thank god I didn’t trash it like I started to!), focused on the heart of the story, and re-wrote it with older characters….after peeling back those ‘onion’ layers to discover who they were. As a result, I ended up with a much better story by ‘resurrecting’ bits and pieces of the original manuscript.

As I went through the previous manuscripts, I discovered various portions of the original stories can be recycled. I’ve enjoyed fitting the ‘pieces’ from the ‘old’ and and putting them together with the ‘new’. I’ve been able to do this without pulling out the original pages to refresh my memory of the tale being told.

Book 4- Nobody’s Business But My Own- planning:Notes, rough outline.

One thing I must point out: if you put down a manuscript and begin a complete re-write of the story, do it without reviewing your original work. Step away from the story for a few days, or weeks and let the old story line leave your thoughts. This is vital. Why? You don’t want to end up writing the same stuff over again. As an author, the concept or idea should be imbedded on your mind without having to read it word-for-word. Doing so will allow the story to emerge from a fresh prespective. Switch up scenes, events, and add in more conflict, goals, and motivations. Before you know it, the story comes forth, and you discover certain events, dialoge, or even partial scenes connect to your original manuscript. You’re original scenes can become back story to your current work.

Book #5-Untitled- planning: Outlines, notes, scenes. Book 6 is still buried deep in my head!

It’s amazing how your creative mind can work!

One thing you must remember: Don’t get impatient or discouraged! From what I’ve learned from my own writing journey, and all of the other authors I’ve had the opportunity to meet along the way, the average time it takes to write a good story is at least one year. It seems like a lot, but think about the steps it takes to write a story:

  • Create the basic plot. (goals, motivation, conflict)
  • Design the location, backdrop, or world for the story to take place.
  • Create the characters that will inhabit this world. (names, back story, goals, motivations)
  • Research jobs, topic for the story, etc., so the story can be as realistic as possible. 
  • Write a story outline. (rough draft/final draft)
  • Write first draft of manuscript.
  • Read first draft, then write second draft, and third, and fourth, as many as it takes to get it as good as possible.
  • Edit.
  • Read manuscript again.
  • Edit again.
  • Wait for your beta reader/critique partners to read and send back their thoughts.
  • Read/edit again.
  • Eventually get work professionally edited/proofread. 
  • And yep, edit again (I swear this step never seems to end!!!)
  • Eventually, when you look around, time has passed, and yep, a year has gone by! 
Now of course, everyone has their own way of doing things. Some are better, some are not. In the end, it’s all about the amount of work willing to put into your masterpiece. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. One thing I can be sure of, and I’ve gotten this from self-published, indie authors, and New York Times Best Sellers, you never stop learning or growing as a writer. With every book you write, your storytelling improves. I know mine has. Writing and editing my second book has not been near as hard as it was the first time. Why? Because I’ve learned a lot and have implemented the techniques. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard work, but the rewards of seeing the evolution of my work are priceless!

Remember, with hard work, creativity, imagination, perseverance, and patience, a lot of patience…you’ll make that original story become great. Good luck!!

M.J.

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