Sunday, 25 November 2012

The boxing of books

Red carpet shot!
So Tuesday was the Women of the Future awards ceremony. What a crazy night! The ceremony took place at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, where three cups of tea cost £17. (Did they use the milk of Isis?) Attendees included Vince Cable, Kelly Holmes and James Caan, with presenter Tania Bryer acting as compère. I've never been at such a big event – it was a bit overwhelming! There were so many talented ladies there, including professional adventurer Sarah Outen, who sailed by herself across the Indian Ocean, and Leanne Pero, founder of The Movement Factory. It was a real honour to be recognised among people who had achieved so much; I still can't believe it's all happening. You can see the names of the winners here.

After a busy few weeks of editing, Alexandra and David have advised me to take the next two weeks off – not only to get some sleep, but so I can come back to do a final check on The Bone Season over with fresh eyes. (You know you're working too hard when your publisher literally tells you to stop writing.) The final MS looks fantastic – I'm so pleased with it! It's come such a long way since David first offered me representation. Alexa and I have worked very well as a team to bring out the best in the story, and in my writing. I'm officially ready for it to go to press in January. The proofs were originally going to be ready before Christmas, but to make sure I don't have to rush my final read-through, Bloomsbury have decided to go with early 2013 instead. 


I'm reminded every day why I chose Bloomsbury to be my publishers. They really care about their authors, not just about getting novels out to meet deadlines. It's a huge relief to have a few extra weeks to read through The Bone Season carefully and make sure there are no little inconsistencies left over from old drafts. It's been a slow process, and I know it's frustrating for you guys not to have a lot of information about the book after all this time, but I promise, next year will reveal much more. I'm getting my own website set up with a soundtrack for the novel, as well as clues and other little bits and bobs. I've worked my socks off this year to make The Bone Season the absolute best it can be when you start reading it. 


HOT TOPIC


Genre

I keep seeing articles with titles like 'the rise of New Adult fiction'. This is just one example of what I'm going to call a vogue genre. First it was chick-lit, then paranormal romance, then urban fantasy, vampire fiction, dystopian fiction, YA – the list goes on and on. Vogue genres are the ones that have a little marketing zing around them. 'Twilight was successful? Let's pick up loads more vampire novels.' That kind of thing. Now the new buzzword is New Adult.

From what I understand, NA deals with similar themes and situations to YA – sometimes called 'mature YA' – but the protagonist tends to be older, from 18 to about 25. The books deal with the 'coming-of-age' that comes between being a teenager and an adult. The violence is heavier, the sex scenes steamier. Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled by the surge in interest in older protagonists. The Bone Season's narrator, Paige, is 19. Many of the characters are even older, ranging from 15 to about 60. I'm delighted that readers are hungry for grown-up characters and settings – but I'm starting to get a little jaded when it comes to genre. I don't think novels should be shunted into these rigid categories. Look at Harry Potter. It was marketed as children's fiction, but people of all ages loved it: adults, young adults, kids, grandparents. Twilight was YA, but again, people of all ages enjoyed it – you see 'Twilight mums' with tattoos of Edward Cullen on their backs. They found something they loved in YA.


It's important to remember that the novel itself is a hybrid of several forms. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that the idea of the 'novel' really set in, pulled together from the strings of 'romances', 'histories' and 'adventures' (the text widely accepted first English novel, Robinson Crusoe, was originally entitled The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe). The form is still young, but it's entrenched in our minds – just like genre. 

I've been asked several times what genre The Bone Season falls into. Truth is, I didn't write it with a genre in mind. I didn't stick to a pattern. I knew I wanted to play around with dystopia after reading The Handmaid's Tale, but I didn't force myself to stick to a rigid structure. That was what made Aurora bad. With The Bone Season, I just wrote it. The result is a mix of several genres. It's urban fantasy because it's set in cities. It's dystopian (not post-apocalyptic, which involves humankind recovering from an end-of-days scenario) because it involves a government that hunts a particular group of people. It's paranormal because many of the characters are supernatural creatures, the Rephaim. There are elements of steampunk and cyberpunk because of its Victorian-influenced, futuristic setting; there's also a bit of thriller, mystery and suspense. As for age range, all I'd say is that it's not for kids! Luckily, Bloomsbury have taken a 'genreless' approach to the book. The cover doesn't give anything away in terms of genre. It could be pretty much anything. It's a risky venture, but I hope it's one that will pay off. 


When DGA was selling The Bone Season in France, they had a bit of a dilemma. Several French editors had read and enjoyed it, but they were struggling to work out where to put it in the French market. French readers, they said, like to be sure about their categories. They like to read books from clean-cut genres. The fact that I'd "mixed too many genres together" led to several publishers turning the book down, despite saying how much they loved the writing. Fortunately I received a very enthusiastic offer from Éditions J'ai Lu, which publishes A Game of Thrones in French. But if they'd been put off by the cross-section of genres, I might not have been able to publish in France at all. This was what really made me aware of genre as a barrier, even a restriction, in the literary world.   


Some publishers get nervous when they can't put a book in one box. I can understand why, as most bookshops are divided by genre and audience ('adult fantasy', 'YA romance' and so on). There does, obviously, need to be some kind of organisation, or you wouldn't know where to start looking for a book you might enjoy. Many of the foreign publishers I've sold The Bone Season to have put it under a YA imprint, even though it isn't YA. I hope YA readers will enjoy it, but it was written with a slightly older audience in mind. Those publishers have assigned a genre to the book that is technically incorrect, given that a 'young adult' is someone of between 12 and 18 – maybe because they saw it as YA, maybe because they had to put it somewhere. Whatever the reason, it risks putting off the slightly older readers for whom the book was written. I don't expect to influence the way in which others perceive my work (Death of the Author theory) but it interests me that the expectation of genre holds so much sway over it. I'm especially interested to see where bookshops will shelve it.  


I can see the necessity of genre for writers, readers and publishers, but that doesn't stop me being wary of it. Not only does it mean that novels that don't conform to genre are ignored (or at least treated with caution), but it also encourages writers to produce cookie-cutter novels based on successful genres, instead of taking risks and writing 'hybrid' or 'genreless' fiction. If not for that all-important mindset of experimentation, the novel itself might never have been born. In a genre-based book market, I don't know what the solution might be. There's a singer called Santigold who claims to produce genreless music. This is abnormal in the music industry, just as it is in the publishing industry. But surely if we get too entrenched in genre, no new genres will come into existence? Genre is born from tradition, but also from experimentation. I only hope that, as we move into an era in which publishers take fewer risks, genre is always treated as a classification system – not as a blueprint for the kind of literature that gets published. 

What do you guys think about genre? Do you like to choose your books based on it, or do you look for gripping synopses, no matter what the category?


S

28 comments:

  1. This is a brilliant post. I think that some books are easier to categorise than others, but that's not at all a bad thing for those that aren't. While I am normally drawn towards everything YA, I do sometimes tend to include new adult books in that. To me, most so far have felt like mature/upper YA than a separate category - I guess it's also down to how people organise books. Though really, the genre of the book, or whether someone has called it 'young adult', 'new adult' and 'adult', has never stopped me from picking up a book if I think I'll enjoy it. :)

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    1. Thanks for commenting – glad genres don't you off trying books! I haven't actually read any NA myself, just seen it crop up a lot in articles. It does sound rather like 'mature YA', from what I can see. The themes etc. seem similar.

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  2. I think genre is a little complicated thing nowadays. I'm with you in what you said about genre: books shouldn't be forced into one box because one box doesn't tell everything about them. It's sad when people decide not to read a book only because someone said it counts a genre that they don't usually read. I also like books that mix several genres - that's one reason why I'm so excited about The bone season!

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    1. Very true. Glad you're excited! Still seems like such a long time until publication, but it's nearly 2013 ...

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    2. It seems long time now, but believe me: when it's 2013 months start go by before you even think about it!

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    3. The photo is great by the way!

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  3. Hi there, Miss Shannon

    I first heard about you late this summer, in a video talking about (as I'm sure you've heard many times) "The next J.K. Rowling." With me being only 19, I thought it was pretty cool to see somebody around my age publishing a book. Aside from the title and short synopsis, that was the last I really pried until discovering your blog very recently.

    After reading all of your blogs, I can't help but feel very inspired (and admittedly, a bit jealous). But I really like your blogs, not just for updates on the impending release of The Bone Season, but also for blogs like today. You talk about genre, and its place in the literary world, and at the end, you always leave your readers thinking, giving them a more expanded view of the world of writing. You're able to give us updates on The Bone Season, but at the same time you can take us through the publishing world, showing us what it takes to make a novel really ready for the marketplace. I find it all very exciting!

    I am a writer myself, currently a sophmore in college, working on my own seven-book series. Reading blogs like this, or watching author interviews inspires me so much to become a published author, to reach their level. You've got a tremendous start so far, and I can't wait to see where you go from here. I know that I'll continue to read your blogs, and write myself, in hopes of someday matching you.

    At the risk of this going off into a ramble, I think I'll cut it here, and tell you goodbye, and good luck. I'll see you at the top!

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    1. Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for commenting! I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog and finding it useful. If there's anything you're curious about in the publishing world, do ask, and I'll do a post on it.

      Best of luck with your series. So pleased to have inspired you. Keep at it!

      Samantha

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  4. who can sign up on that ARC sign up list?

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    1. I'm not sure yet, I'll let you know ASAP.

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  5. You look so glamorous in your red carpet shot! Love it! I also love the fact that you've discovered the world's most expensive tea. Perhaps it was made with the milk of Isis :P. May there be many more similar events in your future.

    As a reader I'm not fussed by genre. It's the story I buy. It is interesting that other cultures have placed an NA book like The Bone Season in YA. I think it's because a lot of mainstream readers still haven't heard of New Adult.

    My favorite books are the ones that break the genre mould. It's unfortunately they're so rare. Genre marketing has a lot to answer for ;-)

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    1. I think NA has come primarily from self-publishing circles, so it'll be interesting to see if it gets more popular in traditional publishing and bookshops... and yes, I agree, it really does...

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  6. Hi Samantha, Few questions here. What will be your pen name? Will it be your real name? Will title of all seven books be called "The Bone Season"?

    p.s. looking like a celebrity in the above photo

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    1. My pen name is just Samantha Shannon, which is my birth name. My legal name is Samantha Shannon-Jones. I added 'Jones' when my mum got remarried.

      The series title will be The Bone Season, yes, but they'll each have individual titles.

      And thank you!

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  7. Hi what are the names of the 6 dependents of Jaxon Hall?

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    1. Can't give them away quite yet, but one of them is Paige Mahoney, the narrator.

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    2. ooh ok. but are they clairvoyants like paige or they different gifts/skills? or you couldn't answer this one either? LOL Urgh! im dying of curiosity. I wanna read your book NOW. :D

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    3. Haha it's okay, I'm glad you're curious! They're all clairvoyants, but not the same clairvoyant types as Paige. Paige is a 'dreamwalker', which will be explained in the book - the others are different kinds.

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    4. This sounds so great! You've created such an interesting world. Wish time would go by faster!

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  8. nice, I found this blog very useful for me, Great informative information.

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  9. When I was younger mum would always find the children's books that had won the awards that year, so that really helped. These days, though I prefer Spec Fic overall, I often feel overloaded if I stick to the one genre and have to dive into a genre I haven't read recently to clear my head.
    I also like to read more than one book at a time, but find I can get them muddled if they're too similar, so I often have say, a historical fiction, a science fiction, and a crime book on the go.

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  10. Great photo of you Samantha! Looks like a really great event.

    I really identify with your comments on genre. I don't want to be cornered into adhering to a predetermined set of 'genre' rules, and instead just write the best story I can, even if it might cross over into a couple of other genres along the way.

    The only problem I can see ahead is that when it comes to seeking an agent, I will need to label my novel under a genre and compare it to 'similar' published books. While my WiP is set in late Victorian England, the setting isn't exactly Fleet St. Rather, it is set predominantly in rural Essex. So does that mean it isn't urban fantasy? Or if I label it simply as YA or NA, would that be misleading? I'm not sure how many other writers face this problem, but whenever I've read posts around the blogosphere that list 'every genre', I see dozens of reader comments of "I really needed to know what my novel was, so thanks for defining the different types."

    Do you think genre gets in the way of good story telling, or when embraced, actually enhance it?

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    1. I think it might be a bit restrictive to label it YA, as you're aiming at the upper end of that market. On the other hand, I'm not totally convinced that traditional publishers are familiar with NA yet, so that may not be a good idea either. Perhaps you could just state the age range you have in mind, e.g. 'The novel is primarily aimed at young people between the ages of 18 and 25'? Crossover novels, appealing to more than one age category, are attractive to agents and publishers.

      If your novel is set in rural Essex, I think 'urban fantasy' sends the wrong signal – it suggests, as you say, Victorian London. 'Gaslamp fantasy' seems like a good alternative: it covers the Victorian era without anticipating an urban setting. Alternatively, you could drop the specifics and just say it's a fantasy set in Victorian Essex. Better to be honest about the content of the MS than to try and squeeze it into the limits of a genre box. The agent will discover the setting anyway when they read your sample pages.

      I don't think it's always necessary to compare your book to similar, published novels unless it's something really unique. I imagine most agents want to tear out their hair when they read yet another query comparing the attached MS to 'Twilight' or 50SoG.

      I'll answer your question about genre in today's blog post.

      S x

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  11. Thank you for taking the time to respond and to answer my question in your next post.

    There are so many urban fantasies with settings in Victorian London, so a rural setting always sat well with me when I first started out. I appreciate what you said about being honest, rather than trying to make it fit something.

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  12. DEFIANTLY agree. WHen I think of the book currently in my head, I have a hard time categorizing it.

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    1. Stick to it! You shouldn't force yourself to categorise it.

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  13. Interesting thoughts about genre (don't ask me how or why I find myself reading this over a year after this particular post was published). I read some of everything, if the story seems compelling or it's recommended to me by someone whose opinion I trust, I'll read it. I tend to enjoy books featuring strong female characters, as well as fantasy, dystopian novels, and a lot of what falls into the "Y.A." or "N.A." category today. I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of age-specific genres such as "Y.A." or "N.A." because labeling them as such seems to imply that older readers should be reading "adult" books, which is false. I think it in part contributes to people immediately dismissing books categorized as "Y.A." or "fantasy", etc,etc, as not worth their reading.
    In my industry, the entertainment industry, those in charge of casting or marketing want to fit actors into "types", for understandable and practical reasons, but many excellent performers don't fit into "type" and struggle as a result of this. This seems to be a similar challenge to the genre issue faced by writers.

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