Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Creating Genres

Yesterday I talked about the importance of researching the market and writing to specifications if your primary goal is to become an author. Today I want to talk about writing when fame and fortune is not your first aim--when you have a story burning a hole in your heart and the heartburn is only eased when you spew the story into a Word file. Yes, you do want to publish, but your story drives the genre issue, rather than the genre dictating the story parameters.

If you’re writing because you have a particular story you want to promote, you may have a harder time finding a publisher. Often those kinds of stories don’t fit within the very narrow genre guidelines that publishers are asking for. And if your book is unique enough that it doesn’t fit into any existing niche, many publishers will turn it down, simply for that reason. Again, they don’t want to take unnecessary risks.

There are exceptions—notable ones. Some of those exceptions become best-sellers, and often that’s how new genres are created. The Left Behind series is an example. These books created a market for a specific sub-genre of post-apocalyptic stories and became best sellers beyond all expectations. The creators of these books found a publisher only because they were already best-selling authors in other genres (they had platforms), and the Christian publishing house that turned down the first book in this series is still being good-naturedly teased by the publishing house that decided to go with it and made lots of money.

The Shack is another example of writing outside the box that found, or created, its own niche. This story didn’t fit into any genre and was so different no publisher would have touched it with a ten-foot red pencil. William Young was not writing for a market when he created this book. He wrote it for his children. But when others who read the manuscript connected with the content, he decided to self-publish. He did some marketing on the side and the book took off in the ratings. You can bet there are publishing houses that wish they had gotten their hands on it in the first place.

In an interview on the Christian talk show, 100 Huntley Street, Young was asked if he thought he had created a new genre with the writing of The Shack. I’m not sure he did. Interestingly enough, The DaVinci Code probably introduced the genre that The Shack fits into. Both are novels that use plot and dialogue to convey a theological or doctrinal message. Tosca Lee’s books fit into that category as well. In Demon: A Memoir Tosca uses dialogue almost exclusively (and plot only as background) to communicate a fictional but biblically-based perspective on how evil came into the world and how it will leave.

I am encouraged by this development because I think the story that’s been burning a hole in my heart might fit in this new genre. A few years ago, a novel that allowed its characters to discuss theology would have died on the vine. Now there’s hope. There may be something else fatally wrong with my manuscript, but I’m encouraged to know that at least the story idea has a chance in today’s market.

But enough ruminating about publishing. My next posts will focus on the mechanics of writing. Not grammar. I know how you hate that topic. Instead, I’d like to share some of the tricks I’ve learned about using Microsoft Word to create a best-seller. (Sigh.) I mean a manuscript. Microsoft Word can be either a friend or a foe. I’d like to help you discover some of its friendly capabilities and also tell you how to defeat at least one of its little deadly and devious attempts to frustrate you on your journey toward publication. Please come back next time for: “Microsoft Word: Friend and Foe.”

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