The genre maketh the book

The reason I used the archaic third-person singular form of “make” in the title is because I was thinking about Shakespeare. And we all know that as soon as you start thinking about Shakespeare, you start talking like Shakespeare. (Unfortunately this doesn’t carry over into actually writing like Shakespeare).

I was thinking about book genres and have been for a few weeks because of the thorny problem of assigning one to Silent Symmetry. Wait a second – do people use “Shakespearean” as a genre or just an adjective? If “Shakespearean romance” is a genre what did the Bard himself call it – “Me romance”?

the-shakespeare-high-street-lincoln_l

He knew his genres alright…

Okay, I’m being silly. But genres really matter, whether it be (or not be) (Arrrgh, get out of my head, Shakespeare!) for movies, books or plays. They matter because people like to be darn sure what kind of movie they’re paying to see before they venture out to the cineplex. Romance readers want a happy ending. Crime readers want an investigation that leads to the crime being solved. Sci-fi readers want aliens or futuristic worlds or both. Genre authors deliver exactly what their fans want, and that’s great. So how do I make sure that someone who sees Silent Symmetry on Amazon knows what to expect?

By definition, Silent Symmetry is a Young Adult novel. But that’s an age category, not a genre, so it doesn’t help much. My story is set mainly in Manhattan in the present day, so that makes it “urban”, but it isn’t science fiction. Oh wait! There are beings who may be from another world. But maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re more like paranormal creatures (though they most definitely are not vampires). Are they shape-shifters? Perhaps. But they’ve been around for a long time, so maybe they’re more akin to wizards or elves, making it a fantasy…

Gah! Okay, so what about the plot? It’s a mystery. Yes, that we can agree on (by “we” I mean me and the voices in my head who are helping me write this post). The main character, Kari, gets involved in a mystery that she tries to solve and on the way she, oh no – she falls in love! Does that make it a romance? It seems to be a sci-fi paranormal fantasy mystery romance. Have I written a mutant? No… it’s not a romance after all because that definitely requires a happy ending and this is only book one of a trilogy. But I need to make sure that female readers know there’s some heart-wrenching, pulse-quickening, lovey-dovey stuff in there. I know! I’ll call it a love story!

And that was where my brain imploded and I came up with the original genre of “a mystery-fantasy love story”. I was happy with it. I felt like it would appeal to my main target of female readers and wouldn’t disappoint anyone. But as I trawled through book blogs requesting reviews, a thought kept nagging at me – is “fantasy” really the right term? Doesn’t it sound like there will be elves and dragons and twinkly bits? This nagging thought eventually turned into a screaming demon that I decided to slay. “Away with fantasy!” I yelled, as I plunged a genre-specific dagger into the demon’s black heart.

Then I read my first Amazon review, which included this:

“(scenes in) the book … brought to mind of Narnia, others the Matrix, others still the X-Files. In the end this is thoroughly its own book and is full of surprises. This is a fantasy of splendid proportions…”

Fantastic. It is a mutant. Even worse, the reviewer called it a fantasy! That was when I decided to chuck in writing and become a crossing guard.

But luckily, before I could fill out the police criminal background check application form, I saw a definition of “paranormal” that got my attention. I had assumed the term referred to ghosts and poltergeists, but what someone said online (I’ve lost the link) was that if you remove the weird creatures from your book and what you’re left with is a present-day story, then you have paranormal fiction on your hands. And when I wrote this, I realized that I’d found my genre:

Silent Symmetry: a paranormal mystery love story.

But Book 2 will mess that up completely…

Photo credit: Lincolnian (Brian) / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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A review to view!

Just a short post to announce that Silent Symmetry has its first review on Amazon. A guy (who I don’t know) called Paul gave it five stars today. Don’t worry, I won’t be posting every time I get a review, but this one is worth mentioning. Here’s what Paul had to say: http://www.amazon.com/review/R1VFQLL2DCL130/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00B0534UC&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text

I know it’s a bad idea to take reviews to heart. But I’ve taken this one to heart.

 

Calling Caitlin, Courtney, Chelsea and Chantale

I’m beginning to sort out something that resembles a marketing plan for Silent Symmetry. Like any marketing plan, you have to pick and choose the media according to your budget (in my case, essentially $0) and try to figure out the right timing for each activity. One thing has become very clear to me: reviews matter. Not even getting 5-star reviews (though they are, of course, lovely), but at least 10 solid reviews by real people who are not close relatives. It doesn’t matter how much I blow my own horn, when a stranger visits Silent Symmetry’s Amazon page the chances of them buying a copy are much higher when they see that other readers liked it enough to go to their keyboard and share their opinions.

Currently there are no reviews. I had a free giveaway for one day this week, so I know that almost 300 people are actually reading the book, and hopefully that will translate into a couple of reviews. But it almost seems like a Catch-22 situation: you need reviews to sell books, but you can’t get reviewed if no one buys the book in the first place. Or can you?

Praying

These people may be ebook authors. And they may be praying for reviews.

Fortunately, there’s a bunch of people out there in Internetland who enjoy reading and reviewing books for free. They either do it out of the goodness of their hearts, because they sell ads on their websites, because they receive a constant stream of free books to read, or all three. And many of them have names like Caitlin, Courtney, Chelsea and Chantale.

How do I know this? Because a wonderful guy called Simon Royle publishes the The Indie Book Review website, where he houses a list of 250+ reviewers. Each one of them is in theory open to review requests, although some refuse specific genres and others are currently so backlogged with requests that they can’t be approached. My job is therefore to send an email to every single one asking politely if they would consider reviewing Silent Symmetry. And it’s taking ages! Even with a form letter already prepared, each different reviewer has their own specific policy about how they like to be asked and what they need to receive. I don’t blame them, either. They must be absolutely swamped with requests, so it’s in their best interests to weed out authors who don’t deserve a review because they are impolite, too insistent or their book isn’t in an appropriate genre.

I have to admit, I’d much rather be writing the Silent Symmetry sequel, Starley’s Rust. But it’s no good self-epublishing a book that no one reads, so marketing efforts like this simply go with the territory of being a professional author. Most indie ebooks like mine take a good year to establish any kind of consistent readership (if they ever do) so patience is the name of the game.

There are other marketing activities that I’m finding out about and will certainly be trying once Silent Symmetry has received some reviews, including a blog book tour and promoting the book to fan sites that are relevant to the categories and genres of Young Adult Fiction, fantasy, mystery and science fiction. And that brings me to the subject of my next post (unless I get sidetracked): what genre is Silent Symmetry anyway?

Photo credit: babasteve / Foter.com / CC BY

Number 311,860 with a bullet!

My Young Adult novel Silent Symmetry was ranked over 1,000,000th in the Amazon Kindle store just a few days ago, and now it’s ranked 311,860. I’ll take climbing over 700,000 places in a week as a sign of success. If I can replicate this jump next week, I’ll be almost half a million places above the second-ranked Kindle book. Maybe that’s not how mathematics works, but it’s a nice thought.

If Silent Symmetry was a vehicle, it would look exactly like this.

Thanks to everyone who has bought a copy so far. And when you’ve finished reading it please, please, please spend 5 minutes writing an honest review on Amazon if you can. Silent Symmetry is also listed on Goodreads and since yesterday on Shelfari, so by all means cut-and-paste your review onto those sites too.

Enjoy the weekend!

John

Photo credit: Tinkerbots / Foter.com / CC BY-NC