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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Writing – genre fiction - study the market

[The following is aimed at beginner novel writers and those who fancy switching genre.]

If you’re aiming on going the traditional publishing route, then, whether you like it or not, your writing is aimed at a market – not the genre readership, but the publisher or acquisitions editor. Obviously, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, your market is the reader. Even so, if you go that route, you still need to do market research, for you must aim to give the readers what they want – yes, with your particular slant, of course.

There are several companies who publish genre fiction, but not as many as there used to be. There are fewer publishing houses thanks to mergers, amalgamations and takeovers. The traditional genre fiction market has shrunk. So, you don’t have that much choice.

Well, that’s not strictly true. Publishing is in a transition stage. New independent publishers are cropping up regularly – some are e-book only, others publish e-book and print on demand (POD) books. The chances of a new author finding a publisher are better than ever, providing the author does his or her homework.

In the old days, if you failed at the first hurdle (publisher), there were quite a few others available to send your rejected ms on to. Now, you have to hone that ms almost to the requirements of a particular publisher. If it fails there, you may have to consider rewriting for another publisher before sending out the book again. Whatever you do, if it fails, don’t ditch it; try all avenues and if it fails, sit on it until a later date, when either the market might be more receptive or you’re able to review the book with fresh critical eyes. Another alternative is to self-publish, but you still need to address the editing (which is normally done by the publisher).

A good writer can get published in almost any field. They’ve studied their craft of storytelling and know the requirements implicit in each particular form.

Less accomplished writers might contemplate trying, say, a western, as it seems ‘easier than a contemporary detective novel.’ That approach is unlikely to work. To write a western, you need to have a strong affection for the genre. You don’t have to be a fan, but you should respect its roots. If you don’t, then it will show in the prose and storyline – and it will get rejected pronto. And that applies to sci-fi, fantasy, crime and romance too. Those Mills & Boon books are not as easy to write as it might seem, either

First priority, then, is to identify a publisher who is currently publishing your chosen genre. Select a handful of books in that genre from that publisher – ideally, not reprints of older works, but new fiction. The selection can be from your local library or from an online book outlet, such as Amazon or the book depository (the latter mails books post-free anywhere in the world). And, to provide variety and broaden your scope, select a number of authors rather than one.
 
Once you have those three or four books in front of you, approach the reading in a businesslike manner. Analyse each book as you read it. Make many notes. This is not to slavishly copy but to get a feel for the structure, vocabulary, pace, number of characters in the book.

For example, what is the author’s approach to the readers? Do the books from this publisher possess an ethos? There are Christian publishers around, for instance, which is a good market if it suits you. Is the message open and obvious or subtle?

Even though it’s fiction, what kind of topics and facts are used in the book? And to what depth are they treated?

Are there any subjects that appear to be taboo?

What kind of title does the publisher/author favour? A word, a phrase, a sentence? A question, a statement, an exclamation? A play on words or simply serious? How many words are usually in the title? Chapter titles can be helpful clues, too.

The following questions to pose don’t have to be applied to the whole book, that would be tedious, but study several pages to get a feel for the style, presentation and variety in the prose. For example: How many lines of dialogue per page? What age and status are the characters? How many paragraphs to each chapter? What is the usual number of words in the paragraphs? Are the sentences all a similar length or do they vary? What marks of punctuation are used? What kind of vocabulary is used? Simple, or moderately educated or really literary?
 
Study the first paragraph. How does it appeal to the reader? Is there any special emphasis on topicality, conflict or emotion? Remember, it is the first five words that attract the casual reader’s eye; so these should be especially striking. Try to avoid opening with ‘A’, ‘The’, ‘It’ or ‘There’.

In the final paragraph, how is the book wound up? Is it satisfactory? Mickey Spillane said, ‘The beginning sells this book, the ending sells the next book.’

Some book blurbs use quotations from the novel as teasers. Study these snippets – they’re like sound bites, there to suck in the browsing reader. Does your work contain similar phrases or sentences that could be gainfully used to ‘sell’ your story? (I know, you haven’t written the book yet – but consider identifying appropriate sound bites as your writing approaches the end of the book).

How many chapters does each book contain? Picked at random, four books I’m now looking at have, respectively, 15, 10, 16 and 20 chapters. Many beginning writers worry about the number of chapters, but there’s no need. A chapter break can be made almost anywhere – to signify the passing of time, to leave the reader wanting more after a cliff-hanger situation, to foreshadow worse to come. In fact, deciding on chapter breaks can wait until the self-edit stage.

Genre fiction is invariably about action – but not exclusively so. One of these four novels has a fight (fist or gun) in seven of the fifteen chapters. Another has seven fights in twenty-one chapters.

So, study the pacing and the relevant vocabulary…
 
- extracted and adapted from Write a Western in 30 Days.
 
E-book from Amazon com bought from here

E-book from Amazon co uk bought from here

or paperback post-free world-wide from here

 

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