March Write Brain

The March Write Brain for PPW was on Tuesday. Topic: "Fish or Fowl: Where does my book fit in?" Speaker: Beth Anne Steckiel, owner of Beth Anne's Book Corner.

Beth Anne gave a short talk but reserved most of the time for questions. For some reason, I didn't end up taking very good notes, but here are some things I picked up (not necessarily things she said, also observations):

  • "There is no such thing as general fiction."
  • Ingram's is a book distributor; Beth Anne orders her books there. She brought in some Advance catalogues....mmm.
  • Beth Anne's bookstore is particular about genre: SF is separated from F, Paranormal is separated from both, Romance is next to Paranormal, etc. SF customers don't buy fantasy. Paranormal is a blanket category for urban fantasy, dark fantasy, etc., to separate it from "high" fantasy. A lot of paranormal series writers came from the category romance trenches, so the crossover market is strong.
  • People who won't read a historical novel will read a paranormal novel set in historical times.
  • The difference between romance and paranormal fiction (if paranormal and romantic elements are found in both) is that romance has a happy ending.
  • The difference between mystery and suspense is that a mystery focuses on who done it, while suspense focuses on the character's adventures, regardless of the mystery.
  • Spiritual = Christian only.
  • Write the book and then categorize it.
  • The Horror market is smaller than it used to be. Fantasy--via Dark Fantasy--is sucking up the books.
  • Don't get caught only writing one type of book.
  • Changing genres doesn't always lose you readership (Nora Roberts). But you can't just decide your book is in a different genre; for example, Sharyn McCrumb's "mainstream" books still get shelved under Mysteries.
  • Lots of authors don't get a say in what's on the cover.
  • Comic-book-style covers are a bad way to sell novels (personally, I feel cheated--where's the art?!?). The covers have generally been perpetrated by publishers who don't want to pay for a "real" cover and are often using royalty-free images.
  • Caldecott-medal-winning children's books are not necessarily the best-written children's books, as the award is for illustration only.
  • The best booksellers take time to educate their readers. The last thing you want is for a potential reader to get turned off by a bad book.
  • Genres really don't have any hard and fast rules anymore.
  • A lot of books are going trade-paperback sized (hardback sized with soft covers) instead of mass-market paperbacks (regular paperback size). Why? Because the books sell for more, even if you sell fewer books. Also, trade paperbacks tend to stay stocked on the shelves longer. The NYT bestseller list now lists trade paperbacks separately from mass market paperbacks.
  • Crossing genres often involves use of a pseudonym and/or a new publisher. The pseudonym may or may not be linked back to the author's name, depending on whether it will boost or lower sales. --For example, a now-mainstream author's sales may be dragged down if his or her pseudonymous category romance books are published under the author's name, as category romances often aren't written to the same standards. However, if the bookseller educates the reader, it can work out.
  • Submitting a book to a contest means picking a genre (based on the genres included in the contest).
  • Telepathy is paranormal; psychological focus goes under suspense.
  • VC Andrews only wrote the first five of "her" books; a variety of authors have written the rest.
  • The difference between horror and suspense lies in their subjects (not their mode of telling). Horror involves plot elements that do things they're not supposed to do.
  • Anne Rice now writes Inspirational books. (Question, why does the picture of Christ on the cover look like a woman with a false beard?) Color me T.S. Eliot. A long way from Beauty's Punishment, which she doesn't even admit to anymore.
  • If X novel is set in the same period as a Western, that doesn't make it a Western. Beth Anne says, "That's one category that will never change." Adult Westerns are enough to make her, a veteran romance-novel reader and seller, blush. She noted Western writers are the best historians.
  • Nonfiction is a smaller market than fiction. Nonfiction that's written like fiction (creative fiction?) sells better. Too many nonfiction books go into too much detail to really entertain readers.
  • True Crime isn't as big as it was even five years ago.
  • It takes a lot of money to sue over plagiarism, even if your book is already published.
  • If you have too many conflicts in a book, turn it into a series.
  • Cliffhangers are a no-no. Once you leave a reader hanging, even if the reader likes the book, they're more likely to Wait Until The Series Is Done before buying any more books.
  • Don't cheat the reader.
  • Publishing has two faces (or outfits). One is dressed normally; the other has to wear business-professional dress in order to be taken seriously.
  • Writing conferences are like any other business conference. The real benefit is at the bar, afterwards.