A PLAGUE UPON ALL YOUR GENRES! Standing up in that large gathering of women, when the nice lady from BSB had been assuring aspiring writers that their editors were happy to provide feedback and advice with their rejections, and hearing myself saying, sorry, but you didn’t give me any… was hard. “Oh. What’s your name?” (Gulp) “Suzanne Egerton.” “Erm… oh yes, I remember. I’m afraid it… just wasn’t romance.” Dear friends, never underestimate the importance of research. I knew that romance figured large in their titles of course, but the thought that a big, nurturing company was actively seeking writers had focused my eyes on the pages of the website that spoke most eloquently to my ambitions. I never tumbled that they were a genre publisher. Duh! Many rewritten words ago, when my book was still called “My Proper Place” (ugh, but there was a good, lyric-based reason for it – though not everyone is into the Velvet Underground, granted), I spent over a year painstakingly crafting submissions to the exact requirements of agents and publishers various, logging every one and later inserting the rejection date against each. I’ve just looked in that small red notebook; twenty-four polite rejections or time-outs in all. Of these, only one very sweet Irish agent took the trouble to give me the invaluable information that, though she really did like the sample, she just wouldn’t know where or to whom to market it. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t write to a formula; it should come from the heart. But it sure helps if your story happens to fit comfortably into one of the popular genres. I was in the position of having edured a long, elephantine gestation, only to find that my baby would have to struggle through much hostile terrain before finding an environment capable of sustaining life. I always wanted “Out Late with Friends and Regrets” to be a crossover book, not a novel aimed exclusively at lesbians. But Contemporary Women’s Fiction is a vast, amorphous genre, and is heavily populated by that upmarket sub-genre, the Literary Book. Nothing against literary; I have enjoyed many literary books. But then scan the remaining available boxes, and tick them off on your fingers: Romance. Crime (God, I wish I could write crime!). Thriller. Historical. Family Saga. YA. Children’s. Sci-Fi (let’s include Specfic and Steampunk, shall we?) Fantasy. Erotica. Memoir. Biography. Autobiography. Political. Hey! Humour! Yes well, mine’s got plenty of humour, but also sorrow, difficult stuff about relationships and family, lust, food, friendship, getting drunk…you know, real stuff. And yes, the main character does discover that she’s gay, after being in an abusive heterosexual marriage from far too young an age. (No, she isn’t stupid; read up the psychology – these charismatic controlling men are typically attracted to bright girls and women, and unpick their personalities over the years until every last thread of the woman’s confidence and independence is shredded. And then there’s the complication of children…) This scenario seemed to me to offer a wealth of potential for dramatic tension: when Fiona finds herself alone and long separated from friends and family, she has the struggle of relearning social skills as well as coming to terms with her previously unsuspected sexuality. She never had the chance to learn the rules of the dating game first time around, so imagine how scary her first night out with another woman feels! Oh yes, and I’ve made her a convent-educated Catholic as well, just for good measure. Authors can be so cruel… So there they are, a hundred and eleven thousand words shuffling around in a phalanx, muttering under their combined breath and wondering which way is home – which genre will have them? My wonderful mentor, Helen Sedgwick of Wildland Editors, who read the ms and told me bluntly which parts weren’t working and had to go (twelve thousand words slain at a stroke! Never fear, they’ve been cryogenically preserved and I just may recycle them sometime in the future – writing is so planet-friendly) suggested “Coming-of-Age”. I can see how it might be a fit, but since my girl is thirty-seven when the story begins, it could be slightly misleading to those seeking teenage kicks. And the “Journey” category has been well shagged into a tattered cliché by all those X-Factor contestants. You may have seen my bio, in which case you’ll have noted that I’m a fitness instructor when I’m not writing. When you go to instructor college, the tutors teach you (amongst a heap of other stuff) to devise your own choreography and exercises. However, much of the fitness market today is occupied by multinational franchise companies, who supply music and choreo to those instructors willing to deliver classes identical to every other instructor of that class in the world. Sorry, that isn’t for me. It stifles creativity, doesn’t allow for client (or instructor!) error, and robs a class of its USP. We upstream-swimmers are known as freestyle instructors, and I guess my natural writing genre, if any, could be termed freestyle too. Despite the sexuality-unfolding storyline of “Out Late etc.” there are some important straight characters, and gay men too, amongst the lesbian and bisexual women; I have been very chuffed by the compliments I’ve received from mixed audiences of all sexes and sexualities when I’ve given readings from the book. It’s significant, I think, that when my submission finally found that special person who fell in love with the sample chapters, and who sat up most of the night to read the rest, it was a young, straight, family man; a man who decided to be a publisher because he cares more about the writing and the story than about the commerciality of the genre. I guess my book is essentially about the freedom to be yourself. Here’s to freedom.
A PLAGUE UPON ALL YOUR GENRES!
June 16, 2013 · 10:23 am
One response to “ A PLAGUE UPON ALL YOUR GENRES!”
I think the rigid genre thing is another last gasp from the old school method of publishing. There are way too many books being published now that fit into the ‘good storytelling’ category and nowhere else.
The fact that it’s so easy now to dig as little into a book that catches our attention (Amazon’s ‘look inside’, online book reviews, etc) means that genre definitions as gatekeepers is/are also becoming redundant.
Sure, there will always be people who are loyal unto death to their genre, but multi-genre storys wouldn’t exist if people weren’t buying them.
A new genre is born – ‘Good Storytelling’!
Congratulations on finding the publisher of your dreams!