Friday, 21 August 2009

A question of genre

Earlier this week, I had a long chat on the phone with my (possible) agent. She was very nice, very encouraging, very approachable. Exactly the sort of person I was looking for. But it seems I have a problem. Hitherto, my books have been genre-free. They don't really belong in a particular pigeonhole, and I wasn't thinking genre when I wrote them. They were the novels I wanted to write. Period. But the agent sees a problem, because the WIP is a murder story, and I am not a crime writer. Well, not yet, anyway. And so there is a problem with labelling and marketing the novel when (or if) it comes to publication. I had no idea that this mattered so much, but apparently it does. Crossing genres is, aparently, a risky thing to do. She mentioned a very well-known novelist who did just this, with disastrous results.

So what do I do? Do I persevere with my crime, or do I go back to the type of novel I've written before (more relationship-orientated), although the murder is really crying out to be written? Our conversation has dented my confidence, not least because my editor feels much the same. Advice, please.


  1. This entanglement with brand and genre seems a common theme, Frances: Matt, Len, Aliya, David and I have all been embroiled to a certain extent.

    Unless we're writing to make a living, which most of us aren't, then we're doing it for less tangible rewards. That means writing what we want to write, surely?

    Would you be happy, if your novel was marketed as crime, to carry on writing in that genre? If not, you probably need to tell your prospective agent that and see how she responds. Your options then would seem to be: write that novel anyway and let the future take care of itself (possibly without an agent), or set the project aside and work on something else which might be more your 'brand'.

    Len in particular has shown that crime is a very broad church - there's plenty of scope for you there. It need not be a restrictive choice if you do change tack. You'll have your own gut feeling as to whether it's the right path for you.

  2. Thanks for that, Tim. Len and Aliya have managed it very cleverly by writing quirky, unusual crime, as opposed to Brian's crime novels, which are in the more conventional crime format (I hope I'm not offending anyone by saying this!). Thus Brian is a crime writer, whereas Len and Aliya might be harder to lable. I think mine would fall somewhere between the two. What I don't really understand is why it matters so much. A good read is a good read. Does it have fall into a particular category?

    While I agree that the most important thing is to write what we enjoy writing, it seems practical to keep an eye on the market as well, especially as the publishing world is suffering badly from the recession (the agent particularly stressed this point).

    To answer your question - no. I'm not sure I would want to write another crime novel. It's the particular plot which attracts me rather than the genre.

  3. Do you think you would be capable of dropping something you're involved in and writing something that didn't interest you so much? I found out the hard way that I couldn't do it - the finished product was second-rate, and boring. So I have to write what grabs me, no matter what genre. You might find it's just not possible to do what you're told by well-meaning people - it's never been one of my abilities!

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  5. 'You might find it's just not possible to do what you're told by well-meaning people - it's never been one of my abilities!'

    I agree--hard for me, too.

    I suppose what it comes down to is, Would you be happy to be effectively starting again? Maybe even with a slightly different name, if it came to it? Then you could return to being Frances Garrood when inspiration struck in the same kind of genre as your original two works.

  6. Aliya - I agree with you. The more someone tells you what you ought to be writing, the less appealing it becomes. And I really have tried.

    Eliza - a change of name is certainly a thought, especially as I already have two.

  7. I'm with Eliza. This is why God in her wisdom invented pen names.

    And some people have done this quite sucessfully. The mainstream/literary writer Evan Hunter had a long and distinguished career. In fact, he had two of them--the other as bestselling crime writer Ed McBain.

    Using the same name in a variety of modes does run the risk of disappointing many of your readers on both sides of the genre fence.

    Now all you need is a proper crime-fic name. Lawrence Block once suggested a writer could use Hillary Everbright for stories about loveable bunny rabbits and Studd Bludgeon for hard-boild crime novels. As far as I know, both names are still available...

  8. I agree with Eliza and David - the two identity thing must be the way to go? And if crime has popped into your imagination once, it may well do again, surely?
    Sorry you're having such a confusing time...