About Me

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A writer by predilection, an aunt by blessing and a friend by choice, Shelley has spent many years journaling before sitting down to draft her first novel. She has a B.A. in English discourse and is currently working on her third romantic-suspense, the title of which will be announced soon pending publication. Shelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America as well as her RWA state chapter of the Maryland Romance Writers.
"I love story-telling. It's a way to live an experience through the eyes of a character." - Shelley N. Greene

Monday, July 25, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes - Where does my manuscript fit in?

Happy Sunday to all and welcome back! 

            It’s been a month since the RWA conference and all the knowledge I picked up in New York has stuck with me so far.  Looking back, the workshops were incredible as were the spotlight series. 

The spotlights were hour long question and answer session with the publishing houses which acted as a meet-and-greet with the different publishers.  I really got to check out the ones I was interested in and the sessions also opened my eyes to a really important issue for a first-time author: sub-genre.

“Romance” is my genre—the all-encompassing, main category of the fiction I write, and so the lucky reader who will one day pluck my book of its shelf knows that they will be reading a love story, but what kind of love story?  Good question, right?

Similar to any organizational classification system from plant species to grocery aisles, the subject category of your book is essential.  Just as a consumer wants to know what aisle they can find canned soups, your future reader will be shopping the different categories of fiction to find a good read with a theme that they like.  It may banal as hell to say but it’s still true, you can’t judge a book by its cover (or its synopsis), and the worst thing you ever want to do is trick a reader into paying for a story that doesn't live up to their expectations.  That’s bad business and most people can admittedly say that they’ve had that happen to them.  Think back to a time that’s happened to you at the bookstore or library. 

"Clean up on aisle Single Title Contemporary..."

 You have a good dose of empathy going?  Good.  Keep that with you.

Publishers know this—they’re out to sell books not tick people off. And in the vein of keeping their customers happy, they have all created product lines (designations that indicate the subject matter of a book) to help guide readers in selecting a story.

And this is important because you want the reader to pick your story.  In a nutshell, your book needs a place to "live" and while determining your story’s sub-genre may seem easy, it’s really not.

In today’s marketplace there’s a myriad of sub-categories to any fiction genre and in romance that list is growing every day. There are stories set in medieval times, in the Victorian era, out in the frontier wild west.  There are modern stories, mythical stories and stories with sleuth-like action added to them.  Up until just a few years ago there was no description for love stories that involved humans and non-human creatures, and to remedy that problem the category of Paranormal Romance was created.  And like Paranormal Romance, there are new themes emerging all the time, which means that categories will be forever growing and changing in order to accommodate it all.

And so I wanted to take a minute to talk about this and what it means for your manuscript.

            Like every other step in the publishing process, you want to do your research beforehand.  Appropriate categorization of your book will ensure proper exposure and will result in better sales, which is what you want. 

            While every publisher has their own scale of sub-categories, I suggest analyzing theses lists while your story is still a manuscript.  At this step your work is ready to be presented however it's not decided yet which publishing house will have the honor of publishing you. You want to be sure that you find a good category match before you sign anything that commits your manuscript in a contract. 

            The process reminds me of  a memory I have from my childhood. When I was little, my family and I resided in Japan for several years.  We returned to the states with many cool souvenirs from our stay including a flat, pinball-looking appliance called a Pachinko machine.  In Japan the machine was a game comparable to a slot machine that would dispense a cash reward to the player with the highest score.

It was challenging game because the balls used were small and heavy, made of lead.  The goal was to launch them as hard as you could by slamming the lever on the right-hand side with force until the little ball would ping and bounce off pegs stationed throughout the flat plane of the machine.  I remember watching my sister play, she was good at it, as she managed to get the ball to ricochet off several of the pegged markers, the machine’s bells ringing as she racked up the points and in the end the tiny ball would have to land in the slot at the bottom of the machine.

            Thinking back, it made a good analogy for this blog.  Finding your book’s category is not a throw-it-at-the-wall- and-see-if-it-sticks kind of process.  To wit: don’t mail your manuscript to every editor at a publishing house with the expectation that they select your category for you. 

            As a writer you want to present yourself and your work in a professional manner and be considerate of what could be your future editor's time and energy.  So if you’re interested in a particular publisher, go to their website and look up their submission guidelines for their different categories. Make sure that your manuscript is meeting the word count and the description of that sub-category’s requirements and become familiar with the "flavor" of that line.

            Take the time to see if your work fits what the publisher is looking for, and if doesn’t, don’t let that detour you from writing your story.  If what you’re writing seems pretty traditional, chances are that you’ll have a place for it with the book lines of more than one publisher.  You'll simply need to pull up each of their websites and check them out.

            If you’re working on something really different and never been seen before in the current writers market, don’t despair.  You may very well be the next trailblazing author of a new sub-genre, but with that crown comes a bit more legwork.  You may need to look even more closely at the guidelines offered, and if then your manuscript still feels homeless, you may need to send out a few e-mails to get clarification.  Also ask your agent (if you have one) where they think your story would fit best.

To help with this journey, I’ve typed up the following list of the current sub-categories (plus many that I heard listed at the conference).  Now, even with this I still say, “Do your homework!” and that will be the fail-proof way that you get your manuscript to the right place.

Here are a few of the sub-genres:

          Title - Description                                                                                                                     

           Regency Historical Romance - Romance set in the early 19th century

           Historical Romance - Romance set before the early 19th century (i.e. Viking, Medieval, Tudor,  
           Elizabethan and Georgian)

           Inspirational Romance - Romance with spiritual or religious influence (Exp: Christian beliefs)

           Young Adult Romance - Written for, published for, or marketed to young adults (roughly ages 14 to 21)

           Contemporary Romance -  Set in modern day (or after World War II)

           Romantic Suspense - Romance involving an intrigue or mystery for the protagonists to solve.  Note: There are more distinctions to this category (many classify it as the following):

            50% Love Story/50% Suspense = Intrigue

            75% Love Story/25% Suspense = Romantic Suspense

            Novel With Strong Romantic Elements - A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

            Romance Novella - A short-story romance

            Erotic Romance - Romance with intense intimate scenes. (Rated R or NC-17)

          Generation Romance - Written/published for or marketed to young adult's in their 20's

            Sci-Fi Romance - Futuristic romance

           Erotic Horror - Spooky, dual theme romance/horror.

            Fetish Romance - Romance written, published for or marketed to readers that are  fetish-based

            So you can see that there is a lot of selection out there and ways to be sure you find that you right “home” for your work.  Because like the Pachinko machine you want position your manuscript to hit the right pegs.  That way your book will win and win big.  ;0)

-          -  SNG

1 comment:

  1. That's a great way to put it! I love the comparison between the game and the books. It's hard to figure out where some books fall in the spectrum. :-)