An Australian author living in Norway

Tag: publishing industry

Playing both sides

I read a great post on Rachelle Gardner’s blog by Aimee L. Salter about indie authors versus the traditionally published. Actually it is essentially about writers versus other writers, but it got me thinking.

Recently, two big things happened for me in the publishing industry: the first, as you may know, was that I signed with an agent who has just sent my first book out to publishers for consideration. The second is that I started up an indie publishing imprint, called Tenebris Books, under Holland House Books.

Aimee’s post reminded me of something I’ve thought about a few times since these events occurred – I’m playing both sides of the fence. Although I agree with Aimee in that I don’t think there should be such a divide between indie published-authors and traditionally published authors, I wonder whether those who see the divide as an Us vs Them situation would think my decision to start this imprint is somewhat hypocritical. After all, the authors I hope to publish would be on the opposite side of the writing fence to me, as I currently seek a legacy publisher for my own work.

However, I don’t think any author who seeks or has a traditional publishing contract has any right to put themselves above an indie published author. The choice to go independent is no longer a sign of a writer who has given up and is now slumming it. There are many legitimate reasons why someone might go independent, not least because they hope to make a career and a living out of writing, and independent royalties are often much higher than traditional ones. It might also be for for more individual attention from their editor, or for more say in content, cover art, marketing strategy or any number of decisions often taken out of the writer’s hands by a legacy publisher. And it’s a mistake to assume that independent publishers take on any old manuscript thrown their way; I know of books which have been rejected by independent publishers only to go on to success with agents and traditional publishers.

For my own part, what I am looking for with my imprint is something that may not find a home with a mainstream publishing house, and I may have the opportunity to give a home to books that might not find a place anywhere else. That doesn’t mean I’m planning to fill my catalogue with rejects, it means I’m seeking something that is not so much outside the box, but more that it has little bits of paper in many different boxes. I researched long and hard to see if I could find a name for what I’m looking for, and the closest thing I found was Weird Fiction, which hasn’t existed as an acknowledged literary genre since early last century. And why do I want this? Because I want to read it, and know others who do, too. All those people who watch and love films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Coraline, The Others, The Orphanage and love classic folk and fairy tales, they read books too, they just might not know where to find them. I want to help.

On the other side of the literary fence, which is simply a different shade of green, I’m hoping to land a publishing contract that will send my book(s) on a journey around the world. I’m starting out in the US, but Amaranth is actually not set in any specific country; the entire Eidolon Cycle is set in the fictitious city of Lennox, which could be anywhere that has big cities, a coastline, and where it snows in winter. I wanted to write something that any reader could feel close to, like it might be happening right where they live, or somewhere they once visited. Like Springfield on The Simpsons, only on an international scale. Part of why I wanted a traditional publisher is the international reach; they can get my book into hands that might not have found it without them. I won’t pretend there isn’t a little bit of validation involved, if I’m honest, but really the best and most important validation comes when people are reading and enjoying what you’ve written, no matter who got the book from writer to shelf.

Genre matters

As long as there has been literature, there has been a desire and need to group it into categories. There is no officially agreed set of literary genres, and the more I become involved in the publishing industry, the more I realise that these days genre is as much about target audience and marketing strategy as it is about stylistic categorisation or plot type.

It seems that many publishing houses and literary agents are increasingly focused on categorising books by what they believe a given demographic will buy and read, rather than the contents of the books themselves. This makes it incredibly difficult for writers whose work crosses age, gender or racial boundaries and has potential appeal to a wider audience. You’d think wider appeal would mean a more saleable book, right? Not according to the experts.

Let’s take the genre currently known as Young Adult, for example. (Note: to me this has always been a ridiculous name for the age-group spanning the years between 12 and 18: since when is a twelve-year-old ANY kind of adult? But that’s a rant for another day.) The basic requirement for a Young Adult novel is that its protagonist is between the ages of 12 and 18 years (though 13 to 17 seems to be the best bet), and deals with the sorts of issues kids in this age range are interested in and go through themselves (or, if we’re going to be totally cynical, what older people think kids in this age range are interested in). While I believe there’s a very appropriate safety-net involved in this categorisation, (you can at least be fairly confident they’re not going to contain a lot of gratuitous sex, swearing or violence), to suggest that all people this age like the same kind of books is ludicrous. Do all people between 30 and 50 like the same books? So then a sub-genre system is employed; we have YA Contemporary, YA Fantasy, YA Sci Fi… and so on.

So what’s wrong with that? you ask. Nothing. Except that it pigeonholes both the books and the people who might read them. If you categorise books by life-stage, you’re saying that once you’ve completed a life-stage, you no longer have any interest in it, even for nostalgia’s sake. Or if you haven’t reached a certain life-stage, you can’t be interested in it yet.

Have you ever felt embarrassed because you enjoyed a Young Adult title, even though you’re in your twenties, thirties or older? I know plenty of people who were embarrassed to admit they’d read and loved The Hunger Games trilogy simply because it was classified YA. And yet, had the protagonist been just a couple of years older, it would have been marketed as Adult Dystopian, and those people would have been able to proudly proclaim how much they enjoyed it.

Then there is the lost genre, dubbed ‘New Adult’ by St. Martin’s Press in 2011. A ‘New Adult’ is someone in the approximate age range of 18-25, dealing with the pressures of becoming responsible for his or her own life for the first time. It’s a period in anyone’s life fraught with change, stress, excitement, adventure… all the ingredients for a great story. And yet, this genre is a black-hole according to a vast number of agents and publishers. Why? Because apparently 18-25 year olds don’t read.

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