Mystery Mondays: Christina Hoag on Know Your Genre

This week on Mystery Mondays we have Christina Hoag, author of SKIN OF TATTOOS, and GIRL ON THE BRINK. I met Christina through this blog, so it’s pleasure to have her on as a guest. She’ll share her experience about genres and why and author needs to know where their novel fits.

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.

As I was writing my noir thriller Skin of Tattoos, I never gave a thought as to what kind of a book it would be, as in 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, there was a lot of lyrical prose that wasn’t the usual style 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 in 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.

WHO IS CHRISTINA HOAG

ChristinaHoagAuthorHeadshotChristina 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 Santa Monica and lives on the web at http://www.christinahoag.com.

SKIN OF TATTOOS

Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun poSkinofTattoosCoverssession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice of everything – and everyone – he loves.

GIRL ON THE BRINK

GirlOnTheBrinkCoverHe was perfect. At first. The summer before senior year, Chloe starts an internship as a reporter at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe becomes smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. But as their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him. If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect. But her efforts backfire, and Kieran turns violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly to make up. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until Kieran’s mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge.

Mystery Mondays: Janice Spina on Genres

IMG_1714Another fabulous Mystery Monday guest is here to talk to us about genres.  Janice Spina is the author of Hunting Mariah.

Hunting Mariah: An insane killer, obsessed with blood and death, seeks revenge with those he perceives wronged him. He is now on the loose. His next victim may be Mariah. Mariah has lost her memory. Will she remember what has transpired in her past? Can Mariah escape this deadly killer’s grasp? Will she finally be safe? Will the killer be apprehended?

Now don’t you just want to read this book? I certainly do!

So here we go to Janice’s writing advice…

Writing in Different Genres by Janice Spina

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How important is it for authors to be able to write across genres? 

First of all, not everyone cares to write in multi-genres. There are some who choose to write in one genre and for select readers. There is nothing wrong with writing in one or multi-genres. Who am I to tell anyone what is the right thing to do. 

If you look at J K Rowling, for instance, she has excelled in writing for YA, PT, MG groups (young adult, preteen, middle-grade). She has also written for 18+. I am one of her biggest fans for the first group but I did not enjoy the 18+ mysteries as much as the Harry Potter series. That does not mean that her books didn’t sell well! On the contrary, once she became established as a successful author anything she wrote (even under a pen name) sold off the shelves. If only I could do that! Sigh!

I chose to write in different and multi-genres to keep myself fresh. I started out with children’s books, ages 0-8, then branched out to MG and PT, ages 9-12, then 18+. I have received a Silver Medal from MOM’S Choice Awards for one children’s book, Lamby the Lonely Lamb, and recently my first book of Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Series, The Case of the Missing Cell Phone, won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in the Preteen Category. These awards make an author feel that maybe she is doing something right. I am definitely enjoying what I do.

 Trying out different genres gives an author an idea what feels comfortable to him/her.

You may never know what you excel in if you do not try something different. I have found that trying out different genres opens my eyes and mind to more creative thinking. Also, I discovered that MG, PT and YA are my favorites. When I write for this age group I feel like a kid again.

Since I write off the cuff I never know what my characters are going to say until they tell me and where they are going until they take me there. I find this thoroughly enjoyable. I am reading along as if I am a new reader. It can be disconcerting at times though because I don’t always want to say what the characters want to say or go where they want to go. I then need to take charge and control this story before it gets out of control. It does take more editing this way but it helps me to be more creative and real.

It really doesn’t matter what genre you write in as long as you love what you do and do it to the best of your ability. There are many people out there in cyber land that will lend you a hand if you need it. I, for one, promote fellow authors on my blog. Go to http://jemsbooks.wordpress.com for more info. 

For now, writers, authors and prospective authors keep on writing and creating beautiful books from your hearts. You readers out there, we need you. For without you we wouldn’t have a reason to write!

 Please keep on reading and reviewing and remember: READING GIVES YOU WINGS TO FLY!

Thank you, Kristina Stanley, for having me on your marvelous blog! I had a wonderful time!

All my books (Jemsbooks) can be found on –

Http://Amazon.com/author/janicespina7

Create Space

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Janice-Spina?

store=allproducts&keyword=Janice+Spina

 Blessings to All!

Janice Spina

Http://jemsbooks.com

Janice’s Biography:

Janice SpinaJanice Spina is an award-winning author with ten published books and more on the way. She loves writing in different genres, children’s (PS-grade 3), middle-grade/preteen (grades 4-7), and 18+. She is also an avid reader/reviewer, blogger, copy editor and writer of poetry. Her husband illustrates all her children’s books and creates beautiful covers for all books.

She has been writing since the age of nine in the form of poems and greeting cards. She plans to continue as long as she is able to create stories for all ages. Her logo is Jemsbooks for all ages, and her motto is Reading Gives You Wings to Fly!

Janice’s children’s book, Lamby the Lonely Lamb, received a Silver Medal from Mom’s Choice Awards and her MG book, Davey & Derek Junior Detectives, Book 1, The Case of the Missing Cell Phone, received the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in the category of Preteen books.

Janice lives in New Hampshire with her husband, John, and enjoys traveling, going to the movies, reading, hula hooping, walking, crocheting, blogging, and spending time with the grandchildren who are her inspiration to write.

She loves to hear from her readers and looks forward to new reviews of her books. She is a staunch supporter of fellow authors and features them on her blog. Get in touch with Janice by email jjspina@myfairpoint.net or through her blog and website.

Mystery Mondays: Patricia Fry on Shifting Genres

Pawsitively Sinister-cover-webAn expert on self-publishing. An author. Patricia Fry joins us this week on Mystery Mondays to talk about shifting genres.

Patricia Fry on Shifting Genres

I started writing articles for magazines over forty years ago and, in fact, established a career as a freelance writer. I also wrote a few books along the way—all nonfiction and all related to my interests, experiences, or expertise. I was inspired to establish my own publishing company in 1983 in order to produce some of my books—making me a pioneer in the self-publishing arena.

When people started approaching me for help with their writing projects, I resisted, until I realized how much I had to offer them. I discovered that, while I was quietly operating my business, I was also gaining an education and I agreed to develop a workshop. While the workshop didn’t go viral—in fact, we were still using typewriters in those days—it did inspire a book, then another, and another. By the time I bought my first computer and established a website, my focus was helping authors navigate the publishing and book promotion maze through my articles, books, website, blog, and speaking engagements throughout the US.

Every few years, I reviewed my career path. I’d ask myself, “Am I still having fun? Is this enriching my life? What aspects do I enjoy most about what I’m doing?” I’d adjust my business accordingly—I’d solicit more editing projects, for example, apply for more speaking engagements, or provide more time for writing.

Fast-forward to June of 2012. I had finished the third book in my series for authors published by Allworth Press and was working on a fourth. I had nearly forty books to my credit by then and I was feeling a little burned out—not on writing, but on the type of writing I’d been doing for all of those years. It was my birthday month. After quite a bit of thought, I decided to give myself a unique birthday gift—the time and space in which to try writing fiction.

Now that was an exciting concept. Of course, I did some research and discovered that novels were selling like crazy through the Kindle Direct Publishing program—even new, unknown authors were making money on their first attempts at a novel. But what type of novel would I write?Catnapped-finalcover

I knew early on that I wanted to write what I enjoyed reading—light mysteries (which I later learned are called Cozy Mysteries). My, my, how the world of genres has exploded with dozens and dozens of sub-genres popping up every time an author writes something outside an established box.

After additional research into some of the books I’d read, as well as what else was out there within the light (cozy) mystery realm, and based on my own interests, I made another decision. My stories would feature a cat. I have a cat who carries things around in her mouth—brings me my slipper socks, drops her toy bunny, hedgehog, lion, bear, etc. at my feet every morning while I work. I’ve always been fascinated by stories of true kleptomaniac cats. So I decided that, while my stories would be human-based, they would include a kleptomaniac cat whose treasures would sometimes be clues to the current mystery. Thus, the Klepto Cat Mystery series was created.

The main cat character is Rags—a part ragdoll cat who looks nothing like a ragdoll. I patterned him after my mother’s cat, Smokey. Why didn’t I use my own little klepto cat? Oh, she has various roles in the stories—but she wasn’t quite right for the lead. Rags is a large cat with a lot of confidence and an overdose of determination. Neither Rags nor his feline friends have speaking parts. They’re all ordinary cats—some of them having some extraordinary habits and, certainly, some unique and interesting experiences.

The first in the series is Catnapped—based loosely on a true story that happened in my daughter’s neighborhood. This is followed by fifteen additional stories, each taking Rags and his feline and human friends on some harrowing, surprising, precarious, and always mysterious adventures.

When I took inventory of my career a few months ago, and asked myself, “Am I still having fun?” I responded with a huge, “YES.” I don’t want to say I’ve finally found my niche. I don’t think that’s accurate. I believe that I’ve always been right where I should be at this time. Currently, my purpose is rolling out fun, cozy mysteries one right after the other, racking up excellent reviews, and collecting the many rewards for my efforts. Further, I believe that if I’d launched out in this direction earlier in my career, I would not be experiencing the success and recognition I’m enjoying.

Why? I believe my timing is purrfect—the market is right for these books. And, because of my prior work and experiences, I know how to promote them. Even an excellent book will not be noticed if it has no exposure. So my perfect life now consists of approximately one-third writing and one-third promotion with a little leftover for the other joys in life.

Patricia Fry and LilyOn that note, let me invite you to subscribe to my Catscapades blog where I talk about everything cat and share occasionally what’s going on in the Klepto Cat Mystery factory. http://www.matilijapress.com/catscapades. Learn more about me, my career path and my books here: http://www.matilijapress.com. Visit the Klepto Cat Mystery Amazon pages here: http://amzn.to/1kAI8I2 Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. All sixteen books are formatted for Kindle. The first thirteen are also in print.

 

Thanks for reading…

On another topic…Just a little reminder DESCENT and BLAZE are on sale this week for $0.99 US.