It has been such an interesting and exciting year, especially here on the blog. We'll have new authors telling us their stories starting next week, but today I'd like to take this chance to thank all the amazing authors who've shared their experiences with us. We've been so fortunate to have aspiring and emerging authors, self-published and traditionally published authors, just starting out authors and New York Times Bestsellers, and everyone in between. Thanks for the stories. And thank you readers for taking an interest in all these wonderful authors! Below you'll find the links to all the authors who've participated in #WhatsYourStory to date. Check them out, add their books to your to-be-read lists and share them with your friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving!
As a former marketer, I understand the need to find a company’s target audience by identifying its niche, its market and by putting it into a category that addresses the needs of that market. So companies in the larger real estate market might be further identified as luxury, or commercial, or residential. You get the idea, right? As a marketer, I learned to embrace this concept.
As a writer, I want to scream when it comes to categorization. When people ask what kind of books I write, I automatically wish it was as simple as saying “I write romance” or “science fiction.” The genre writers have all the luck (at least the ones who are comfortably seated in their genre and happily identify with it). For me, it’s complicated.
My first run-in as a writer with categorization came about six months after finishing my first novel. I entered the manuscript in a contest, if for no other reason than to get it out there and have another set of eyes on it. When the feedback form arrived a few months later, I was annoyed. Not because I didn’t win (winning wasn’t really my intention and the guy who did win was so out-of-this-world talented that I’m glad he beat me), but because the critic called my work “women’s fiction.”
Now, let me first say that I love love love me some women’s fiction. I studied psychology in grad school because I adore delving into people’s emotional journeys. And, I’m a hopeless romantic, so I’m also an avid reader of chick-lit and even some genre romance. Though up until the point when my book was called “women’s fiction,” I can’t say that I ever consciously gave much thought to these distinctions. I love reading characters I can get to know and relate to, whether they’re detectives in police procedurals or heroines in steamy romances. I’m non-discriminating. As long as there’s someone I can root for, I’m happy.
So, why was I so irritated by this categorization, you ask? Mostly, I couldn’t really figure out what “women’s fiction” actually was. At the time, it sounded like books that only women would read and, being a woman who reads all kinds of books, that didn’t resonate with me. Further exploration led me to the definition “layered stories that are driven by the main character’s emotional journey.” OK. Maybe my book did fit this genre. After all, the book is all about my main character’s emotional journey as she navigates romance, takes risks in her professional life and comes to terms with truths about her family. But why is this type of story only for women? That was the thing that continued to bother me. The idea that a tale of emotional journey would be marketed as “women’s” fiction seemed terribly unfair to men who might also enjoy that sort of depth.
The marketer in me knew that I’d have to embrace some of these categories. So I did. I thought about all the types of readers I wanted to reach, and looked for pathways to those readers. When readers described the book as chick-lit, I started participating in chick-lit-oriented events. Same with women's fiction. I marketed my book in general fiction arenas as well, but the field is so broad and the competition so fierce that the idea of categorizing my book to reach a more targeted audience started to make more sense and felt less objectionable.
Until the day when it was suggested that my second book might not meet the criteria for women’s fiction (and that my first book probably didn’t either—too much romance). WTF? I mean, seriously!?! If not women’s fiction, then what? In the past two years, I’ve been told that my book has too much romance for women’s fiction, is too commercial for literary fiction, is too heavy for chick-lit, and is too clean for genre romance. Where in the world do I fit in?
It was at the peak of this crisis that I finally had a long talk with myself and reached this conclusion: I just want readers to read my book and form their own opinions. Really. I love that some people read Wallflower Blooming as a light romance and loved it. I love that some people really identified with Val and could apply some of the lessons she learned to their own lives. I even loved the 1-star review on Amazon that lambasted me for pushing my political agenda in my book. My response: “whoa, really? I thought the book was a little fluffy to elicit such venom.” I love that people felt something when they read it, and, of course, I’m glad that most people liked it. Whether they found comfort in the pages or simply a fun escape from the pace of everyday life, it’s really gratifying to have people read a story that you wrote and to feel something for your characters.
So, what have I learned from this whole categorization debacle? To keep writing and to stay true to myself. Do I believe that chick-lit readers will love my book? Sure. At least some will. And some readers of women’s fiction will love it. And some will think there’s too much romance. Will romance fans dig it? Yep. And some will say there’s not enough sex. And that’s the beauty of books. We bring as much to each book we read as we find in the pages. It’s a truly unique experience for each and every reader.
As a writer, there’s no way to avoid categorization. Just try entering a writing contest or submitting to an agent or shopping for a publisher. Categorization helps narrow down the field and allows our manuscripts to get into the right hands (in theory). It can also be a huge pain in the arse. I imagine that my love-hate relationship with categorization will continue. But what I hope most is that readers will take a chance on my books and form their own opinions. I hope they’ll open the pages and see what speaks to them.
Thanks for reading!
I love “Q.” It includes fun words like queasy and quirky. But my favorite is quixotic, because, quite frankly, I feel this way all the time!
For the record, quixotic refers to something or someone who is “exceedingly idealistic.” Some synonyms: romantic, visionary and extravagant...oh yeah, and also unrealistic, impractical and starry-eyed. If you’ve ever worked on a project with me, you know that I dream big. I spout off extremely ambitious ideas and people look at me like I’m crazy. When I give gifts, I go overboard. And I always expect the best out of people. It’s not just disappointing but shocking at times when someone is unkind. Exceedingly idealistic, that’s me. OK, maybe I’m more realistic than I give myself credit for. But I like to imagine a world full of love and kindness, and I’m not at all convinced it’s not possible.
The word quixotic became popular after the publication of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic work The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. In the novel, Don Quixote is so affected by chivalric romances that he sets off on a series of adventures guided by fantasy rather than reality. Who does that sound like people? Don’t we always complain that watching romantic movies sets false expectations about real relationships? For those of us who love a good romance, does it ever make real life seem a little bit dull? Maybe we all feel a bit quixotic from time to time.
That being said, I just booked excursions for my honeymoon including tours in “Romantic Austria” where I foresee a lot of kissing and cuddling going on. So, I guess real life can be pretty fantastic too. Eat your heart out, Elizabeth Bennett.
Boredom is not something that I feel terribly often. This is mostly due to the fact that I keep my to-do list REALLY long. And if I have some down time, I pick up a book. So, in honor of boredom, and as a recommendation on how to curb it, I thought I’d dedicate some space to another B words – books. Here are some of my favorites.
Mystery / Thrillers / Suspense
These are my primary source of entertainment. I’m currently reading through the D.D. Warren series by Lisa Gardener. I also enjoy Gillian Flynn and Mary Kubica for psychological thrillers. And I love me a good detective novel. The Prey series by John Sanford is wonderful and for a little serial killer action, Tami Hoag’s Liska & Kovac series provide hours of gruesome entertainment.
Can’t go wrong with Isabel Allende for something beautiful and full of emotion. I started with The House of the Spirits and went from there. Allende’s tribute to her daughter Paula is so touching, it’ll bring you to tears. And there’s nothing like the classics. For romance, a little dose of Jane Austen. For drama, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was already on my list of favorites before it made it to Oprah’s list.
I have kids so I read a lot of kinds books. My son is a voracious reader and we just finished the Harry Potter series. It had been years since I read those books and it was even better the second time through. We’ve also read every book Rick Riordan ever wrote. He’s turned my son into a mythology nut and the books are just plain fun. Some of my other favorites from my childhood including Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three series, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series and, of course, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
What are your favorites?
Categorizing my work gives me a headache. When I think about it, I always get this scene from The Princess Bride running through my head:
The Battle of Wits
"You guessed wrong! That's what's so funny!!"
Picking the right category for your book is important if you want people to read it. Why? It comes down to marketing and targeting your audience. For instance, if you wrote a romance, it wouldn’t be a natural fit for horror readers, right? That’s not to say that a horror reader wouldn’t like your book. It just means that, for the purposes of selling the book, you want to put it in front the readers most likely to read it. Write a romance, market it to romance readers. Pretty simple, right?
Wrong! It actually gets really tricky, especially when you’re writing fiction that is aimed primarily at a female audience. General fiction vs. women’s fiction vs. chick-lit. Oh my! Ok, so here’s how this story pans out in my head.
When I started writing Wallflower Blooming, I wasn’t thinking about where it would fit on a bookstore shelf. I was thinking about the characters and what happens to them. I knew a few things. 1) I wanted to have a female protagonist, partly because I think women are awesome and partly because, well, I am one and so it’s a point of view I understand pretty intimately. 2) I wanted to avoid getting all romantic. I never set out to write a romance, not because I don’t love romance, but simply because I’m such a romantic sap that I wanted to challenge myself not to make it all about love. (those who know me will be chuckling here…don’t worry, I understand).
So I wrote the book. About half way through an unexpected thing happened…my characters took over. The book went in a completely different direction than I’d planned and guess what, it got all romantic! But here’s the thing...I like it! I like the way the book turned out. At the end of the day, my characters felt real to me and their struggles, believable. So I was happy.
THEN, on a whim, I entered my manuscript in a contest. I didn’t win (but the feedback was so immensely helpful). What DID happen though was that the judge called my book women’s fiction. Having come from a background working with victims, most of whom were women, I have strong feelings about the way gender is used to differentiate things and I resisted the label. Yes, my book is about a woman, but it’s still just fiction, right? Well, that explanation only works if you never want anyone to pick up your book. I, however, wanted to find an agent. And part of finding an agent entails understanding where your book fits in the overall scheme of book marketing. As an often light-hearted book about a woman character who finds herself romantically involved, I could see why that judge labeled it women’s fiction.
But the situation only got more complicated. One of my beta readers called the book chick-lit! And I sort of scratched my head and thought, “wait a minute, I’ve finally accepted women’s fiction, can’t we just stop there?” So, I had to consider whether my book is actually chick-lit. And this led me to the question: “What the heck is the difference between women’s fiction and chick-lit???”
There are about a zillion articles on this very topic, which made me feel a little less clueless. Here’s one I liked. http://agencygatekeeper.blogspot.com/2010/07/romance-womens-fiction-or-chick-lit.html So, the gist seems to be that chick-lit and women’s fiction both focus primarily on situations involving women. But chick-lit tends to be more light-hearted and appeals to a younger audience. Women’s fiction tackles deeper issues and appeals to a broader range of women.
Well, that didn’t help and I’ll tell you why. Wallflower Blooming tackles women’s issues...some lighthearted and romantic, some deeper. It’s an entertaining read, but still thought provoking. It’s got some romance going on, but it also deals in family struggles and personal growth…and, oh yes, small town politics. It’s been read and enjoyed by women ranging in age from 18-86 (so far). So you tell me. Women’s fiction or chick-lit? Maybe both. I guarantee that it's fiction and there are women in it. So go forth and enjoy!
My son and I read together every night. He’s an avid reader (like his mom) and he does a lot of independent reading as well, but every night we read a chapter or two from whatever book series we’re working on. Right now, we’re making our way through the second book from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Man, I had no idea what I was getting myself into! These books are excellent and they are chalk full of Greek mythology. My son and I are both getting schooled! Highly recommended reading.
Another series we completed recently were The Chronicles of Prydain, written in the 1960’s by Lloyd Alexander. The second book in the series, The Black Cauldron, was made into an animated feature in 1985, but the books are much darker and infinitely better than the movie. These were some of my favorites as a kid and my son loved them.
And last but not least, we read The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. Another one of my favorite childhood reads, I’ve re-read this series as an adult several times. The story is compelling and weaves Arthurian legend into an epic battle between good and evil, with a group of children playing important roles in saving the human race. In 2007, a movie adaptation was made, The Seeker. I was so excited, but alas, as is often the case, the movie did not live up to the wonders of its print predecessor. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the movie was awful and that anyone who’s seen the movie and is skeptical about the books will find very little resemblance between the two.
We’ve read more titles, but these have been some of my favorites so far. I love sharing books I love with my children and its especially fun to revisit some of my childhood picks as an adult. YA authors are amazing storytellers!
I am reading Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists & Other Sex Offenders which is a memoir and cautionary tale told by Anna Salter PhD. This book will give you nightmares, but it is a fascinating study on sex offenders and how they think. Dr. Salter has compiled anecdotal evidence, as well as direct quotes from incarcerated sex offenders, that illustrates how alarmingly methodical and cunning offenders can be and how even the most expert professionals can be fooled time and time again. This book has a particular focus on sex offenders who pray on children and while it probably will make most parents a little bit paranoid, I think its worth a read-through and some frank community dialogues. Law enforcement professionals, prison staff and attorneys / legal staff would also benefit greatly from reading this book.
Note: This book is disturbing. It WILL affect you. I am not going to downplay this because I know that some people will have a hard time coping with the material. That said, I think that the way we, as a community, end sexual violence is to start an open dialogue even when the topics are uncomfortable. And I believe wholeheartedly that you can't read this book without talking about it.
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.