If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our October Author Interviews--10/4 Wendy Tyson, 10/11 Marilyn Levinson, 10/18 Earl Javorski, 10/25 Linda Lovely. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


October Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/7 Mark Bacon, 10/14 Elaine Orr, 10/21 WWK's Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/28 Kait Carson, and E. B. Davis 10/31 to fill out our fifth Tuesday.


WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla! Look for Carla's blog this month to find out the winner.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Importance of Genre By Christina Hoag


One of those writing clichés tells aspiring authors to “write the book you want to read.” That may be true, but make sure your book fits into an accepted genre or no one else will read it.
When I was writing my noir thriller Skin of Tattoos, I never gave a thought as to what genre it fell into. After all, a good story is a good story, right? Not quite. As I later painfully discovered, genre is critical. It is how publishers market your book. If your book doesn’t fit neatly into a category, they don’t how to sell it and guess what, they won’t buy it.

Luckily, genre didn’t seem to matter in getting a literary agent. After much querying I landed a good agent, after first signing with a bad one. But then the agent had to figure out how to pitch the book. Was it noir, which involves telling an inside crime story from the point of view of the criminal? Well, yes. My novel is set in the gang underworld of Los Angeles and is told in first-person by a gang member protagonist.

Or was it a thriller, which involves escalating tension between two characters as they battle over high stakes? That also loosely applied to my book as Mags, the narrator, is in a power and revenge struggle with his rival homeboy Rico for leadership of the gang.

Then there was my style. Amid the gang slang, Spanish phrases and occasional profanity, I wrote a lot of lyrical prose that was atypical for a thriller. Plus Mags’s character has an arc. In the end, the agent described it as a “literary thriller.” Although I hadn’t thought of myself as a thriller writer before, I thought that was an accurate enough description and out the book went.  

The rejections rolled in. There was high praise for the writing, story elements, originality, and so on, but the most pervasive comment was “who would be the audience for this book?” In other words, “literary thriller” wasn’t cutting it, especially coming from an unknown author. My agent consoled me, saying these were rejections based on “business decisions,” which was much better than having the book rejected for story reasons. Still, I saw that my book was too different, too original. I lamented that to my agent, who responded “publishers do want original stuff, but at the same time they want the same stuff. The same, but different.” Not very helpful.

Eventually, she ran out of places to submit and I got my manuscript back, but I wasn’t going to give up on it. I knew it was a good book. Top publishing editors had said so. I just needed to find someone to take a chance on it. I revised it yet again, cutting out about 13,000 words, including stuff that both agents had me add and that I now saw went nowhere. In fact, the additions didn’t make much sense and simply made the manuscript too long.

I sent the tightened version out to small publishers that accepted unagented submissions. The same thing happened. It was praised, but it didn’t fit their lists. I started to despair then a publisher, Martin Brown Publishing, offered me a contract on it.

Skin of Tattoos finally was released in August and has been well received. Several readers told me the book is “unlike anything I’ve read before.” I take that as a compliment, unfortunately the mainstream publishing industry doesn’t.

I had another genre problem with my second novel, a YA called Girl on the Brink. I was calling it a “contemporary romance,” but it’s not a romance because it’s about teen dating violence. Romance novels must have a happy-ever-after ending, which mine does not. But then the genre gods blessed me. I discovered my book did have a built in category: “contemporary social issues.” Since it contains a lot of suspense and escalating tension between the protagonist and the guy she fell for, I also describe it as a “romantic thriller,” which sounds like a less heavy read.

As for my third book, I’m making it a thriller after another discovery: I have to have an author brand because I’m expected to keep writing the same genre to build readership. So although I never set out to write thrillers, that’s now become my brand by default. Moral of the story: Know your genre.

Christina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” with a “well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a gangland thriller. Her YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities. Christina makes her home in Los Angeles and lives on the web at www.christinahoag.com.

9 comments:

Shari Randall said...

When I heard the description of your book, this former children's librarian thought, "Teens would love that!" I've seen the category "Urban lit" - but like you, I dislike all these genre boxes. I'm glad you found a home for your book. There are times when marketing seems to drive everything until a book comes along and flips the switch. Remember Twilight? After that book came out we had an explosion of vampire books.

Carla Damron said...

It can be frustrating. "We need to find the box to put you in," means your original work needs to be a little un-original for publishers. And what readers LOVE is uniqueness. So glad your work found a good home.

KM Rockwood said...

Yes, the "has to fit in a box" is frustrating. I call my series "crime novels" (more of a British category than American) but I know it suffers from not fitting snugly into cozy, or psychological suspense, or traditional mystery. Definitely not thriller. However, since I write for my own satisfaction as much as anything, I will continue in this vein.

Warren Bull said...

I echo what others have said I do not like my work to be pigeon-holed. I call mine historical mystery fiction although it contains more than just that.

Gloria Alden said...

I go along with what others say, too. I do know my genre and I'm happy writing in it. My are small-town cozies, and because I got tired of trying to sell the first one, I decided to self-publish and have been very happy with that decision because I don't have to answer to anyone or meet any deadlines. My three critique partners help my writing, also. I'm working on my ninth book in the series now, and I have fans trying to hurry me up.

Christina said...

Thanks for comments! I agree writers shouldn't have to feel constrained by formulaic genres, but I suppose that's how people find books. The truth is that many books really contain elements of multiple genres.

Christina said...

And many thanks to E.B. Davis and the Writers Who Kill for hosting me the blog today!

best essay writing service said...

Well done Christina Hoag. Your writing skills are so good. I also wants to be a writer. I have read your blog many times and learnt many things related to the writing.

Boat Accessories said...

Christina is no doubt a very brave journalist. I appreciate the efforts she did to work on his job even after facing so much of threats. I am sure this book will also be a good one and motivation for new journalists.