Tag Archives: genre

Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

“What do you write?”

The question is asked often and a confusing one to answer depending on the individual receiving the info. 

The short answer is that I write for kids.  The long answer is that I write for all ages of kids.  I have manuscripts floating around in my brain–and on paper–for cute board books, quiet picture books, whimsical chapter books, mysterious middle grades and dark young adult novels.   

The general feeling in writing circles is that what you first pub in is where you’ll continue pubbing.  This advice is fine for writers of adult fiction who write by genre.  “Love what you first pub, because that’s the genre you’ll stay in for a good long time.  An entire career, maybe.”

By professional standards, it typically takes about ten years to grow a writer.  While some writers blow the covers off this theory, the timeline holds true for the majority of authors.  Like all things, it takes time to build a brand–something that is hard to do if one genre-hops before being truly well-established.

My DH and I go through this every time we shop for bathroom supplies.  He grew up with one kind of toothpaste, I grew up with another.  We’re both loyal to our brands.  Yet I’m sure Crest didn’t come on the scene in one day and become the Chosen One.  Nor did Colgate. 

Even now, these nationally recognized brands vie for market share by adding new elements.  It’s the same brand, just in cinnamon or lemon.  It’s the same refreshing goodness, but this time with baking soda and whitener. 

Which leads me to my dilemma.  I don’t write Original Crest Paste.  I write all their off-shoots.  Combined, I’m a brand.  Just parceled out a bit to smaller pockets of users. 

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think it’s awesome.  I get the freedom to write what strikes my fancy.  I get the freedom to explore all avenues of lit that I grew up loving.  But it can make branding a little more difficult. 

For instance, it will be a good fifteen years before my board book audience is ready to read my dark YA.  The loyalty will not carry over unless they literally go from cutting teeth on my first books to learning to read with my chapter books to hitting puberty with my older reads.  And this can happen.   Truth be told, I want it to.    

Yet, it also poses another question: should my middle grade audience (wherefore art thou, audience?) have access to my vastly different YA material? 

I’ll just go ahead and admit.  As a mom I would be mortified if my fourth-grader brought home a steamy YA.  But it can happen if authors build their brands right and kids want to read everything ever written by Author Awesome. 

I see this happening already as traditionally adult-pubbed authors cross over to the juvenile lit arena.  My Middle Son is enthralled by Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series.  When he reads through all of Patterson’s kid books, he’ll want to read some of his older material–stuff that’s totally inappropriate for a ten-year-old.  Wildly inappropriate. 

So, dear readers and parents of readers, what do you think about this?  How do you feel about authors who span age groups?  Are there certain lines that can be crossed, while other lines should be firmly drawn in the sand?

And writers, do you feel boxed in by the “pick a genre” adage or does it help you focus your creative energy?  Are you a genre/age group hopper?  If so, do you fear that this will limit your natural inclination and over-all success? 

Share your experiences, as curious minds want to know.

 

Cryfi and Other Writerly Musings

While commenting on a blog, I got the verification word: Cry-Fi.

It immediately struck my writer’s brain as a new genre.  Chick-litty Science Fiction.  Flippant, self-centered MCs who shop for the newest cosmic fashion while saving the universe from an impending hostile take-over by an alien race of pond scum.

And then it hit me.  I’ve seen these stories before.  Cry-Fi exists.  Not in so many words, but as writers tend to cross the traditional genre boundaries, these melting-pot stories have emerged full force.

Nobody wants their writing to be put in a box–narrowly defined by a word or two.  We want something bigger, grander.  New and cosmically cool.  Heck, we want our writing to break virgin ground.

Yet, this mentality can greatly damage our chances of ever seeing our writing in the bookstore.   Agents must define our manuscripts so they can pitch them to editors who must visualize their spot on the bookshelf.  This pitch is necessary for marketing and publicity. 

Our future books cannot simply demand a new section in the already established book stores.  Cyber or otherwise. 

Go ahead, try it.  Create a new word and google it.  It’s impossible to find because it does not exist anywhere but your own head.  This is the fate of your out-of-the-box, Cry-Fi novel.  If people don’t know about it, they can’t search for it.

So, as much as it hurts to see your manuscript pinned with a generic label or two, it is a necessary evil.  And it starts with us.  The writers.  We must give agents something tangible to pitch to editors to pitch to marketing to pitch to bookstores to pitch to readers. 

Having trouble defining where your novel fits?  Check out this handy genre list.

Got a new genre you’re pitching?  Share it with us and we’ll see if it catches on!

*Writing a series? Hop on over to From the Write Angle and see if it’s for you.

Sniff Your Shoes: if you dare!

The other day, our house was filled with our normal array of kids.  As is typical for teen boys now-a-days, most of the shoes on our front rug were black with some kind of white stripe on them.  On occasions, DH and I have been known to tie them all together when the kids are watching movies. 

We didn’t get the opportunity, however, before one young man ran up stairs on a mission to somewhere.  He grabbed a handful of shoes and began sniffing them. 

Yeah, like nose to the foot hole, deep breath, sniff.   

 “Doesn’t smell like mine,” he said and dropped the shoe, only to sniff another.

I learned something that day.  Not about recognizing my own foot odor, but about recognizing my style. 

Most writers have a distinct style when they write.  Their words and sentences flow across the page with a familiar flair.  The same sentence structure, the same descriptive patterns, similar dialogue, etc.

This may be a result of writing in the same genre (fantasy, steam punk, crime, etc) book after book.  Yet as I examine my pieces of fiction, I have to believe it is something else.  Something that comes from deep within us and the way we experience our words and our worlds.

My picture books are distinctly mine, as are my chapter books and middle grade novels.  There is something about the way I write that makes my writing my own.

No other author could sniff test them and believe they were theirs.  Nor could I mistake someone else’s style for my own. 

Have you noticed you write with a unique style?  If so, does this help or hinder you when writing outside the same genre?  Is it even possible or desirable to carry your style across your stories, let alone across multiple genres?  Or am I just over thinking this thing?

Take a look at writing and let us know what you find.

What comes first the MC’s age or the Genre?

Lately, I’ve been discussing age with a lot of my writing buddies.  Not theirs or mine.  Heaven knows we don’t want to start a wrinkle comparison or a gray hair contest.  Rather, the question of matching an MC’s age to his/her genre has been a hot topic with a huge question mark at the end.

Writers want to know who is reading what about whom.  It seems like the answer should be obvious, but it’s really convoluted and nuanced when you get right down to it.

One of my writer buddies wrote an entire ADULT novel only to learn that it really was middle grade.  Another penned a fun and spunky picture book–that really needed to be a chapter book. 

Stories like this are not isolated events.  When a beginning novelist sets out to writer their first major manuscript, we know NOTHING about the biz.  We simply write the story we hear in our heads with the characters who are clamoring to get out of our heads.  We pay little attention to how these masterpieces will actually fit on the bookshelf.

Yet, genre is one of the most important aspects of marketing our wares.  Agents want a neat little package they can sell to publishers who can then pimp our fiction to book stores across the country.  All this means is that our manuscripts must ultimately fit on the bookshelf in a place where our audience can find them.

When we try to pawn off our chapter book to adult only agents, the answer will invariably be the splosh of our manuscript hitting the bottom of the wastebasket.

Think middle graders want to read about bunnies having a fight with their mommies?  Think again.  Middle school students rarely read middle grade, let alone picture books.

Nope, these ‘tweens are more concerned about what’s happening in the hallways of your make believe world.  Their thoughts are to the future–jock talk and pep fests,  not warm squishy comforts of  yesterday.

How do you determine the age of your MC and the type of book you will write?  Have you ever written your MC into the wrong manuscript?  If so, how do you remedy the problem: by pumping up your MC’s age or by toning down your story line and language?

Have you ever written a book where the MC’s age cannot be changed without ruining the entire storyline?  Did you trash it or try to salvage something from the wreckage?

Age-muddled minds want to know!

Do you know who you write for?

Kids can teach us a lot about our writing.

In honor of National Poetry Month, my Dear Daughter is in the midst of her poetry unit for English.  She has to create a poetry book consisting of selected poems from different authors with different themes. 

I pointed her in the direction of Lewis Carroll.  She immediately loved the ease of copying The Crocodile’s eight sentences.  She waffled over the Jabberwocky, and in the end, refused to write it down. 

“It’s too long.” 

Instead, she flipped through Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the poems with the shortest lines.  Literally the least amount of words.  Yet she handwrote several monster sized poems with thirty plus lines each.  Those were on friendship.

The patriotic poems were each four sentences long (the shortest number of lines possible for this project).  She used up both  her short poems on these, with another four needing at least eight lines and the remaining having to be ten or more.

The moral of this project is actually pretty simple.  Know thy audience. 

Shel’s whimsy was no longer important enough for her to copy more than a handful of his words.  Patriotism (which I used to think she had in abundance) was relegated the lowliest of positions. 

The monster poems?  Friendship and love. 

Those were the themes that had her scouring poem after poem and book after book in search of the perfect stanza. 

Know thy audience (and their tastes). 

Without me paying attention, she somehow moved past the middle grade novels with bullies and mysteries and wry humor, and is firmly entrenched in relationships.  She is the quintessential YA reader, regardless of my perception that she’s still waaaay to young to fall in that category. 

Writer, know thy audience. 

It is a deadly trap to assume that what we started writing about–and who we started writing for–are still one and the same.  Trends change.  Tastes change.  Certainly, novel writing as a whole has changed. 

Manuscript length, content and stye are not constants in the publishing arena.  Even genres are fluid and reflect the nuances of society.

If we are to survive in this new environment, we must embrace these changes as readily as a mother watching her kids grow. 

We may not like it.  We may wish to slow time down for our own ease and comfort.  But in the end, we simply cannot continue to write statically.  If we try, we may find ourselves relegated to the lowliest category possible.  The place that garners no more than four lines’ worth of a reader’s time.

I used to think of myself as being an astute writer in terms of audience.  In light of DD’s project I may have to revisit the idea.  Because, like it or not, the element that changes the most in the publishing industry is readership. 

Do you feel like you have a handle on your intended audience?  How do you keep up with their changing tastes/maturity/interests and the fluctuating lines that define the genre you write in?  Do you have any stellar tips to share to help the rest of stay ahead of the game?

As always, your input and commentary are as much a part of my blog as my own posts.  I appreciate hearing from each of you and learning from your experiences.

100 Legos

I could, quite possibly, be the world’s worst mom.  I certainly would make one lousy elephant.  Forgetting Book It’s, show and tell and snack are my most consistent flaws.  You’d think I’d have it figured out after the fourth kid.  But no, the 100th day of school (and the requisite 100 small things) eluded me yesterday. 

I wonder if I can begin a new literary genre: bad moms?  If so, I would surely make the endcap…

Anyway, just as I pulled up to the drop off circle, I noted a mom standing beside her car with a box of cereal on the roof.  I have no idea what it was doing there, but it triggered a mild panic attack, followed closely by the realization that I had, again, failed to remember an important event in my kids’ academic careers.

“Youngest,” said I.  “We forgot your 100 things for your 100 days of school.  Let’s go home and get them.”

“That’s okay, Mommy.”  Maybe the new genre should be Bad Moms and the kids who still love them. 

So, home we went.  Me rattling off all the different things we have in the house that equal 100 pieces.  Him vetoing every one of them.  Me growing increasingly distressed that we will have nothing suitable to share with his friends.  Him oblivious to the fact that if a mom could fail kindergarten, I was well on my way.

Enter my epiphany just as we rounded the corner of our street.  I gave it one last shot.  “Legos?”

We rushed inside, dumped the bucket of 2074 legos onto the floor and began counting out pieces and dropping them into a baggie.  Of course he picked the oddest pieces.  Strangely shaped ones, half bodies of Lego men and tree parts.  His teacher was going to think we’re schizo. 

One hundred pieces later, I grabbed the instruction sheet off the counter, noted that Youngest was supposed to present his conglomeration of 100 things as a riddle for his peers to guess.  Enter the brown paper bag (to hide the plastic-bagged Legos) and some quick thinking and he’s smiling when I drop him off.

Crisis averted. 

Writing is kind of like that.  We start with an idea–which can roughly be summed up in 100 words.  We gather together the pieces and put them into a paper bag.  Then, we provide a teaser and pray that our readers will be interested enough to open the bag and see our masterpieces.

The tricky part is sticking all those odd shapes into a cohesive unit.  I’m quite sure the kindergarten teacher expected a bag full of Cheerios.  Or maybe M&M’s or Skittles.  Not, however, a mixed bag of cereal and candy to create a new category of 100 treats like I pieced together for my DD on her 100th day of school.

But that’s the fun in writing.  Finding new ways to create compelling stories.  Bringing together new elements in a category all their own.  Delivering something unexpected and delightful rather than mundane and common place. 

The literary landscape is changing.  Subgenres pop up all the time.  While our economic climate makes it risky to take on a newbie, a unique conglomeration of words, ideas and characters just might be the ticket to breaking in.

If you were to create a new subgenre, what would would you piece together?