Posts Tagged literary novel

Is my book paranormal or literary? And which age group is it for? How to categorise your novel

4245561092_00ff8217b6_zI’ve had this question from Alexandra:

I’m not sure which category my story would fit into. I had originally intended it to be for 9-13-year-olds (my protagonist is 13), but realised I was dumbing down my language in an attempt to suit the reading level. So I decided to write without thinking about age groups or categories. But now I’m close to the end, I still don’t know how to categorise it. Is it young adult with no sex or violence? Literary? Teen? Paranormal?

Let’s break this down.

Age of protagonist

Readers in any non-adult genre are fussy about the age of their protagonist. They usually like them to be at the top end of the range or a little older. But a 13-year-old main character doesn’t mean you’re writing a book for 13-year-olds. You might easily have a child point of view in a book for adults (Henry James’s What Maisie Knew; Michael Frayn’s Spies).

Language

Certainly the language for child readers has to be appropriate for their age. If you’re feeling hamstrung and frustrated by this, it might be a sign that you won’t be able to keep it up for the whole book. But good writers for children won’t feel they’re dumbing down. They’ll find ways to get variety and style into their sentences so that it sounds natural.

Not just language and age

But age ranges aren’t just about language or the age of the protagonist. The real difference is the emotional development and interests of the audience. So pre-teens are interested in different things from teenagers and YA, and books for adults are different again.

Stories for pre-teens will be more adventure based, whereas stories for teens will be about the trials of that very turbulent time of life. You could even take one story event and make entirely different books out of it, depending on the age you write it for.

Take Geraldine McCaughrean’s White Darkness, which is about an expedition to the Antarctic with a mad, exciting uncle. If it was written for pre-teens, the biggest issues would be the survival situation. But the most compelling trials are emotional – disillusionment with a family member, learning who you are, dealing with relationships. Really, it’s a story of growing up, not of polar exploration. That’s what makes it a teen book.

So to work out your age range, identify the most significant trials the characters go through.

Literary or paranormfaint mmal?

And so to the second half of the question. Oh my, you’ve come to the right place! My debut novel, My Memories of a Future Life, has paranormal ingredients – regression to other lives – but it isn’t paranormal. This is because the paranormal elements are not my main focus. My curiosities in the story are despair, hope, how we live, how we heal and scare each other. I’m using ideas of reincarnation to create unusual pressures in the lives of my characters, but reincarnation is not my subject. My subject is the people and how these experiences are the making of them. Indeed, the paranormal element might even be psychological.

This approach would probably annoy a fan of paranormal fiction. They want to lose themselves in a story that uses the paranormal events as the main fascination. That doesn’t mean they don’t want well-drawn characters with compelling arcs, or good writing, or innovative twists. But they want to see their liking for paranormal ingredients to be given due respect.

Here’s another example. I’ve just been editing a novel set in a historical conflict, but it’s literary, not historical. Why? The emphasis is more on the themes and the people than on the historical period; the period is merely a set of circumstances that give the characters their challenges. Why is The Time Machine science fiction, but The Time Traveller’s Wife is not?

Or both?

Could a novel be both literary and genre? In a sense, we are all on a line, and some authors fold the line over to touch. Like Ray Bradbury. He writes science fiction, but his stories are metaphors that also unwrap the human condition. Just when you thought it was clear.

Which are you?

So if you’re still puzzled, how do you tell which category and age group you belong in? By reading good examples of the genre.

It’s all a question of how the material is treated.

To sort out the literary/genre question, read books in the genre. Then read some literary or contemporary fiction that uses elements of that genre. If you’re wavering between children’s, teen or adult, read books for different age groups. Which treatments and approach pushed your buttons, gave you the most satisfaction? The odds are, that’s what you’ll strive to write.

Thanks for the pic LouisaThomson

faintnyn2More about characters, including child characters and teen characters, in Writing Characters to Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel 2.

Have you had trouble working out where to categorise your novels? Any advice to add? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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Serialising my novel… what to do when the show is over

More indie authors than ever are interested in serialising their fiction on Kindle and it’s one of the topics I’m most frequently emailed about. (And with Amazon’s announcement of Kindle Serials, I guess the trend is going to continue! More on that below…)

At the time I serialised  my novel I wrote about it on Jane Friedman’s blog and Tuesday Serial. But these questions from Michael Stutz, who serialised his literary novel Circuits of the Wind: A Legend of the Net Age, highlight points I haven’t covered before – what to do once you’ve released the final episode.

Michael: Like you, I’m a longtime legacy author who is now experimenting with indie, publishing a 700 -page literary novel in episodes. A lot of what you wrote in your guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog is things that I’m either going through now or discovered the hard way.

Have you found your complete version sells more than the individual episodes?

Yes, definitely. Get your complete edition out as soon as you can. For many reasons –

  • it’s easier to link to just that one, so that’s the link you want to spread around
  • it’s more convenient on the Kindle – four episodes clog up the screen and look confusing (which I was blissfully unaware of when I hatched my serialisation plan)
  • you want to start gathering reviews and it’s best if they go on the full version

Although serialisation was exciting as a launch pad, I’m not sure that readers appreciated being interrupted mid-stream. Some told me they wouldn’t buy until the final episode was up. Others told me they’d knocked stars off their reviews for the inconvenience of waiting (this seems irrelevant when a review will be read in several months’ time, but it just goes to show you don’t want to annoy a reader). I released my complete edition as quickly as I could to grab the interested readers before they decided I was making life too difficult for them.

Michael: Should I retire the individual episodes?

I wondered about this. But I decided to keep them because:

  • People are still finding them. I don’t know how, as I long ago stopped giving out those links, but they must be simmering on distant posts far away. Episode 1 sells the most copies – which possibly demonstrates how much the links were shared because serialising was a story in itself. But I also get surprise sales for the other episodes, so some people might be completing the novel extremely slowly!
  • The episodes give me more visibility in the Amazon store – 5 entries for the Kindle book instead of just 1 makes it look more substantial (or annoying, see left… no idea what that camera is doing in a search for My Memories of a Future Life…)
  • Episodes are a good way to use KDP Select lending. When KDP Select launched, I wasn’t keen on enrolling the whole novel or my writing book for lending or free promotion. But offering just the first episode is a terrific calling card – both in the lending library and sometimes also free. So because episode 1 is on KDP Select, I have to keep the other parts available for sale.

Michael: What about the Amazon customer reviews – did you have to start with zero again for the complete version, and wait for new reviews?
Amazon understood that the complete book had the same content as the episodes, but regards them as different publications and won’t transfer the reviews. That seems entirely fair to me – but it does mean that you launch the full book with a worryingly naked star rating. The sooner you do it, the sooner those early adopters will review where it helps you most. (And I found they didn’t mind being nudged in the right direction…)

So while it’s frustrating to have reviews that don’t count on the book’s most visible page, browsers still see that when the book was serialised it had good feedback – which all helps to demonstrate a buzz about the series.

STOP PRESS – just as I put this post to bed, Amazon announced the Kindle Serials Programme. If you are chosen for it, it looks as though this takes a lot of the faff out of it. A community gathers around the book, allowing discussion with other readers – and I guess this might collate reviews together too. You don’t have to organise separate launches (as I did, which was time-consuming) and it seems much easier for readers to keep track of the episodes on the Kindle because they’re updated automatically. This means there probably wouldn’t be any need to release a separate complete Kindle version as readers who found it afterwards would get all the episodes in one go. (Perhaps we early serialisers paved the way for them….) You do have to pitch your idea though – which means you can’t just opt in like KDP Select – and we don’t know what their gatekeeping criteria are.

If you’re thinking about serialising, whether it’s the old way or this brand new one, make sure your novel is in good shape for it. Chopping it into parts is a rigorous workout for your novel’s structure – especially if you didn’t originally write it with serialising in mind. This post might help:

Can You Split Your Novel Into Four Equal Parts?

Thanks for the main pic Ralph and Jenny

This weekend is my novel’s first anniversary (give or take an episode or two). So my blogging schedule is being turned upside down (which is why you’ve got a post today) to make room for something a little unusual and creative. I hope you’ll like it. There will also be a competition with a special prize (top secret at the moment). To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to my blog (somewhere in the sidebar) or sign up to my newsletter (somewhere in the sidebar and also here). See you at the party

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