Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Blogger Judy Croome: A Rose By Any Other Name (Or Branding Yourself)

A Rose by Any Other Name
by Judy Croome

Walking into a grocery store to buy some butter, we go straight to the aisle marked ‘Dairy’, choose the brand we prefer and head to the till to pay for it. Imagine how difficult shopping would be if we couldn’t name the item we wanted.

Shop assistant: ‘Can I help you?’

Me: ‘I’m looking for that yellow stuff.’

Shop assistant (looking a bit bewildered): ‘Yellow stuff?’

Me: ‘Yes, you know. It’s sometimes soft and sometimes hard. It can come in a tub or in a block.’

Shop assistant (sweating a bit and looking even more bewildered): ‘Can you be more specific?’

Me (having a bright idea): ‘It comes from cow’s milk.’

Shop assistant (looking relieved, rushes to a shelf and hands me a packet of cheese): ‘Is this what you’re looking for?’

Me (annoyed): ‘No, the other one.’

And so it would go on. With a name for what I want, the conversation would go like this:

Shop assistant: ‘Can I help you?’

Me: ‘I’m looking for butter.’

Shop assistant: ‘Under Dairy, in aisle 2.’

Me: ‘Thank you.’

Names, or labels, are a convenient way of categorising items into easily identifiable groups. It just makes life easier. The publishing industry is no different: to make its life easier it has a veritable smorgasbord of categories, except they’re, well, labelled as genres and sub-genres.

There are two main classes of literature: fiction and non-fiction.

Concentrating on fiction, this is broken down into two main sub-groups: literary fiction versus commercial fiction. Each of those is further categorised into genres and still further into sub-genres.

Literary genres would include poetry, playwriting, novels, with sub-genres such as epic and magical realism, historical and so on. Commercial fiction genres include romances, westerns, mysteries, sci-fi and so on.

Let’s break down the romance genre into some of its sub-genres. You’ll have, amongst others, Baby Love (heroines who are also single mothers; the hero accepts both mother and child); Contemporary (set in the present day, with modern cultural references, which quickly date the romance); Historical (set in a previous time period; can be Regency; Elizabethean; Scottish Mediaeval; American Civil War etc); Erotica (overt sexuality; can be hetero or homo-sexual); Family Sagas (tells the story of more than one generation in the same family); Inspirational (told from a Christian viewpoint, no explicit sex) and many more.

What exactly is genre fiction? It’s any novel that overtly and intentionally signals its generic identity in the clearest possible terms. While even literary fiction has its conventions, genre fiction implicitly (some would say explicitly) defines specific settings, roles, events, and values.

For example, a Louis L’amour western will usually be set west of the Missouri River, take place between about 1800 and 1890 and feature a rugged hero who always endures, facing down awful adversity. A Mary Balogh romance would usually be set in Regency England, have a well-mannered heroine and an aristocratic hero who eventually find true love together and live happily ever after.

Literary fiction emphasizes the prose itself. The tale's subject can be mundane, but the protagonist lives an emotionally intense life and plot is secondary to the character’s growth. Literary fiction can be thought of as having conventions of its own, such as the use of an elevated, poetic, or idiosyncratic prose style; or defying readers' plot expectations; or making use of particular theoretical or philosophical ideas.

In addition, it can be argued that all novels, no matter how ‘literary’, also fall within the bounds of one or more genres. Thus, while Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a romance, it is also considered a classic literary work. Science fiction began with Jules Verne, although Mary Shelley is generally credited with having written the first ‘science fiction’ novel, Frankenstein. Horror stories and mystery stories can both be traced in large measure to Edgar Allan Poe. And yet, despite their clear links to one specific genre, in a bookstore you’d also find all of these authors shelved under the classics section, along with Jane Austen.

The danger of genres – or of categorizing a novel – is that some works just cannot be classified as one particular genre. As the publishing industry relies heavily on “labels” for marketing, this may make it difficult for an author who is not writing to specific generic conventions to find a publisher. There is a trend – some could argue it is in itself an evolving genre – called ‘interstitialliterature’, which acknowledges that some literature falls between the borders of currently established genres, whether literary or commercial.

As an author wanting to be published, then, it is ideal – but not essential – to identify strongly with one particular genre, for example, romance writing. Within that genre, you could concentrate on one of the sub-genres (romance: contemporary). It would, however, be a pity if you limit yourself to one genre only. Whether you are in the early stages of your writing career, or are already a multi-published author, there is no harm in trying out different genres. You may find your unique voice, or re-ignite your passion, if you cross over into another genre and experiment with its conventions and styles.

In terms of marketing your books and your ‘brand’, it’s often recommended that an author uses different pen-names if writing across genre borders. But does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Many authors who write in more than one genre or sub-genre tend to link their web-sites and blogs. How many romance readers don’t know that Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb are the same author writing in different genres? How many of them buy her novels because they like her writing voice, irrespective of the name she writes under?

Ultimately, though, what’s important is that you, as author, know and understand the genre of each individual story you write. This story is a contemporary romance. That story will be a young adult paranormal. Stick to the conventions and values of that genre and then target the agents and publishers who specialise in it: they will recognise its scent and you will soon be A Published Author.

You can read more articles by Judy Croome on her website


Cudden, J.A. 1999. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 4th edition.
Abrams,M.A. 1988. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 5th Edition.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest Blogger Judy Croome: Writers, What Are You Really Saying?

What are you really saying?

When a writer trawls through her pages, carefully removing a word here, or changing another word there, how does she know which word to delete and which new word to use? What makes one word more suited to this sentence, but not to that sentence?

Some writers, looking authorial and serious, may say that it takes years of practice and some innate magical writer’s gift to know how to choose the right word. The simple answer, though, lies in understanding the difference between the denotation and connotation of the words you use.

Look at these two sentences:

  1. The man was imprisoned for two years.
  2. The man was detained for two years.

They say the same thing, don’t they? They provide the reader with the exact same data about a certain man. Yet one gains the subtle impression that there is, after all, a difference.

That difference lies in the use of the words “imprisoned” versus “detained”.

Let’s look up the dictionary meaning of both words.

Imprison: to confine; shut up; restrain.

Detain: to keep in confinement or under restraint.

That means the same thing, doesn’t it? Well, yes. The literal meaning, or denotation, of both words does mean essentially the same thing.

But what about the connotations, or associated ideas, that have attached themselves to each word?

In most reader’s minds, the word “imprisoned” conjures up the image of a person who is guilty of a criminal act, such as robbery or murder. There is a negative association with this word.

The word “detained”, on the other hand, carries with it the suggestion of political oppression, giving the reader a more sympathetic, or positive, association with the man’s activities.

Why would one writer use “imprisoned” and another writer use “detained”? Because they have different agendas. A right-wing journalist writing a political editorial may use the word “imprisoned” to refer to a political activist. This imprints in the reader’s mind that the man is a guilty criminal and a possible danger to society. A liberal journalist would use the word “detained” with its implications of wrongful incarceration for political reasons.

The truth, though, is that no word is completely free of either its denotative or its connotative message.

Take a snake, for example.

To all readers the denotative meaning is “any reptile of the suborder Ophidia (or Serpentes), typically having a scaly cylindrical limbless body, fused eyelids, and a jaw modified for swallowing large prey: includes venomous forms such as cobras and rattlesnakes, large non-venomous constrictors (boas and pythons), and small harmless types such as the grass snake”.i

To many people, however, the connotative meaning of a snake is that it signifies danger, temptation or evil.

A writer who wants to perfect her craft will also be aware that there is another sub-layer to the connotative meanings of words. This is the mythical connotation of words and images that varies according to the historical culture of a reader. The framework of the reader’s world view will add his own interpretation of what he reads. Each reader will have a different veil of perception colouring his personal understanding of any words or images. This veil is woven from the threads of all the cultural, social, family and personality aspects that make up that specific reader’s inner world.

Back to our snake example. A snake may imply evil to a Christian reader; the kundalini, or natural energy of the Self, to a Hindu reader; and to a reader with a medical background, the snake – as the ancient symbol of Asclepius the saviour-healer of Ancient Greece – could represent healing and wisdom.

A word of warning, though, about the importance of denotation versus connotation. In the quest to avoid repetition of a particular word in your writing, avoid unfamiliar words. Be sure you fully understand the different layers of meaning before using your thesaurus to look up ten different ways to say the same thing.

If you are talking about a “homeless person”, you will have several alternatives: vagrant, hobo, bum, free spirit, derelict, wino, king of the road, bag lady, displaced person, refugee, street urchin…the list goes on. But, while all of these denote the same object (a homeless person), each word gives a very different image to your reader because their connotations vary.

Experienced writers thus choose words both for what they actually mean (their denotation) and for what they suggest (their connotation). The careful writer thinks of how she can influence a reader’s emotional response to a character or a scene with the precise choice of word.

So, the next time you find yourself worrying about which word to use, ask yourself: what does this word mean and what does it imply?

Only then can you decide which word is the correct one to use for what you really want to say to your readers.

For more writing tips visit http:www//

i HarperCollins Publishers, Collins English Dictionary - 21st Century Edition, (Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers) 2000.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Why it is so hard to self-publish and earn money on a book?  I've heard so many numbers, I'm not sure what to think.

This is one of the reader questions submitted for this month.  It seems like a simple question, because it seems to some it is hard making money self-publishing a book.  It's not as easy to earn money if you aren't willing to put in the time to make it worth a readers initial interest. Although this goes back a bit farther in time, (2012) the Guardian has made some interesting points about what works, and what doesn't work for writers who intend to self-publish.  I agree with most of these numbers, but the one they don't list is the non-fiction.  I would say that these would be much the same as the fiction book numbers.  

Some other articles have pointed to getting it done professionally, but not with any of the "in house" options offered by some self-publishing companies.  There are a lot of editors, interior graphic designers or cover artists out there who can do a good job, and who report directly to you.  It's your choice.

Almost all of the articles I've read quote that you can expect to sell about 100-150 books of your newly published book.  They include the numbers "sold" to family and friends, and take care to point out that many authors will count free copies as a sold book in their minds.  I've had to work hard to promote my title to people, and usually I can expect about 10-15 books sold over a three hour timeframe.  With this in mind, I can say I have sold outside of my main network, about 100 copies, which for a niche market book is very good.  
It's because I have expanded my platform, and my comfort zone.  I've also learned to rely on one person- me.  I've handed out business cards and done the talking of my book to people I'm slowly beginning to see as my next level of networking.  They are the "kindness of strangers."

It took nearly two years before there was steady author signings at any bookstore, and it took me a lot of time to get there.  I've had to learn a lot about marketing, and how to do this for free.  I believe that is the difference between sales or lack thereof.  It's all fine that I have a Facebook page, or a Twitter account or just about anything, but I'm only writing to people I "know" many of my followers simply follow because they know me or they haven't deleted me because they aren't active anymore.  This makes it all the harder to 'get' people to come and read.

I've had a lot of success, and a lot of challenges, but some other authors have had a lot more success.  The numbers are there, and one of the most important is how this particular author has other books which were self-published.  They decided to go with KDP select and sold a lot more book- but, it was through the lending library, which for many authors doesn't help their sales if it's a brand new book. I found that using both Kindle and Kobo- this has given me a better chance for book sales, which I would not otherwise have received.  I've also spent a lot of time working with my local bookstores to get a placement of my books in the store.  Should you be in Canada, or more specifically the Waterloo area, you can find my book at the local Chapters.  This did take me nearly three years of hard work for this to happen, and I expect much the same for my next self-published book.

The numbers are really an average, and there are people who will sell more books as opposed to others who self-publish because they network, and have a platform and have a lot of luck getting it in their local bookstores.  The averages are based on millions of self-published books, and many of these authors no longer promote a particular book or had no intention of selling their books beyond a small network of family and friends.

To have real book sales, an author has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

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