But is it criminal?

This article was first published by the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook blog. http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2012/05/but-is-it-criminal

At the moment, crime is the most popular genre among readers in the UK: of the top ten books borrowed from libraries in 2011, all were crime or thrillers. A 2012 survey by the Crime Writers’ Association showed crime sales rising steadily over the past three years. So if you’re an aspiring author, and you want to be published, writing crime seems like a good idea. But you’re passionate about what you write. You want to tell the story you have inside you, not just what you think will sell – and besides, you don’t know anything about police officers or pathologists. But don’t dismiss it yet. Even if you’ve never had a criminal thought in your life, you might be surprised to find that your book could still fit into the genre.  

When I started writing The Fall, I was in a state of what I like to describe now as ‘happy ignorance’. I was just telling the story I wanted to tell, with no thought to market or genre or what the finished product might look like. When it came to selling the book, and the publisher said they were buying it as a crime novel, I was shocked. I’d never considered it as crime (even though it features a police investigation…and a trial). I’m sure you’re much more clued-up than me, given that you’re reading this website and consulting the Writers and Artists Yearbook, so you’ve probably already given some thought to what genre your book is. So to help you out, I’ve compiled a few pointers to see if your book can fit into crime, and if so, which sub-genre.

Is something a bit sinister going on?

There doesn’t strictly speaking have to be a crime to fit into the crime genre. If your book is dark, mysterious, and filled with dodgy goings-on which put your characters in peril, then generally speaking you’re in. You don’t have to include detectives, lawyers, or even the ubiquitous stomach-churning morgue scene.  

Could it conceivably involve a vicar?

If yes, you might be writing a cozy (or cosy). This is the name given to the softer end of crime, usually light on gore and violence, and often featuring amateur sleuths and humorous elements. You might be surprised to find that crime can be funny, but much of it is. Comic crime novels that aren’t ‘cozy’ can also sometimes be described as ‘capers’.  

What’s the blood-count like?

If there’s lots of blood and guts, you might be writing a serial-killer novel. This is often combined with a police procedural, the detectives taking one narrative strand, and the killer the other (for some reason they often narrate in crazed italics).  You don’t have to stick to one sub-genre or the other.

Are there gangsters, private eyes, and other shady types?

You could be writing hardboiled crime. This is also sometimes called noir, and can be gritty, violent, and sexy. The characters may operate outside the law, and no actual investigation needs to feature.  

Is there a hard-bitten detective?

If the novel covers an investigation through to unmasking the villain, it’s probably a police procedural. These usually run in series, with a popular lead character, who is very often an alcoholic maverick with a disintegrating personal life. If you’re writing this kind of book, you should think about whether there’s a sequel, as you’ll most likely be asked this by potential agents and publishers.

Do your characters spend a lot of time running?

You might be writing an action thriller. These often involve international espionage, life-or-death situations, spies, and yes, lots of running in a race against time. The action thriller is strongly linked to the spy novel, which is less common nowadays.

Is the main character female?

The psychological thriller is very popular at the moment, and these are often (though not exclusively) written by women, with female lead characters. Again they may not involve an investigation or any actual crime, but more often dark secrets, the past coming back, and the characters in terrible danger. In something of a backlash against the loner male cop character, more and more police procedurals are also often featuring female leads.

Is there a court case?

If so, it’s safe to say you’re writing a legal thriller. These are currently less common in the UK than in America.

Is it set in the past?

Historical crime is also having something of a heyday at the moment. The setting can be as recent as the sixties, or as far back as medieval times. Setting your crime story in the past may give it that something special which publishers are looking for.

As you can see, crime is a very broad and varied genre and if you fit into it, this could help you market yourself effectively.  But what if you still don’t fit under any of these labels?  Then use them to show you’re familiar with the genre, but don’t get bogged down with names. The most important rule with crime fiction is to tell a good story. Write the book you want to write. You don’t have to stick to any of the rules. What you do have to do, as with any genre, is write a good book.

The Ten Tweets You Meet in Hell

I love Twitter. It’s like a big giant party full of friends and friends-you-haven’t-met-yet, plus that weird guy who skulks in the corner by the hummus. Working from home, it’s been a lifeline of chat, advice, watercooler gossip, and alleviation from the relentless blink of the cursor.  I’ve no idea if it’s helped me sell books, but I’ve certainly reached more people that I would have done shouting to myself in my living room. And I’ve had fun.

The other day someone sent me this link, which I suppose makes sense if you don’t actually WANT to spend your whole life reading Tweets about The Apprentice (what’s wrong with you?), but I found kind of depressing. http://publicityhound.net/5-things-they-never-tell-twitter-newbies-but-should/

So no, I don’t have a ‘social media strategy’. Wouldn’t that be unfun and awful? Instead I just act like I would at a real party. Greet friends warmly, shyly say hello to a few new people, and occasionally drink too much and say things I regret in the morning. (OK, often). It seems to work fairly well. So why is it some people behave so bizarrely on what is meant to be a ‘social’ site? You wouldn’t walk in to a party and start slotting business cards into people’s pants, or stand in front of them and say, ‘Hello. Today I had soup for lunch. Please listen while I describe it.’ Would you? When someone’s following you on Twitter, you’re asking them to listen to you and give a small piece of their valuable time to your 140-character musings. Why not try to make it interesting? And I don’t understand the obsession with ‘following back’, or only following those who follow you. Again, it’s like being a party and saying, ‘Hello. I am John, and want to tell you about spoons for ten minutes. YOU MUST LISTEN.’ Then stopping, and the other person starting, ‘Hello. I am Mary. I’m going to talk about hamsters until it’s your turn again.’ In a conversation, you don’t have to measure who talks most. Sure, it might seem rude if someone never replies, and turns their back or talks over you, but if they’re doing the Twitter equivalent of gazing over your shoulder, surely you should just walk away with dignity, and talk to the weird man in the corner, and/or weep in the toilet until your eye makeup runs? **

(** male equivalent, I don’t know. You have to pretend you’ve got hayfever? In February?)

Musing on this, I’ve compiled a list of the Top Ten worst Tweets people do. This is not to say I’ve never done some or all of these myself. I absolutely have. It’s easy to slip and Twitter would be deadly dull were we all networky-strategising spambots. In real life, I know I’ve often stopped to listen to myself babbling on and thought, ‘God, I’ve been talking about pens for half an hour! Why has no one stopped me? I’m so boring!’ Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. Like an actual party, nobody will really remember what you were doing. They’ll be too busy thinking about their own RTs.

  1. The banal tweet

‘I’ve had a lovely day with @Random_friend with cake and puppies and sunshine. Now I’m going to eat a lovely dinner! Hurray!’

Er, so what? Damn you and your happy puppy-filled life. Now I feel bad about sitting here alone with my Spaghetti Hoops and box-set of Dawson’s Creek Series 4.

 2. The ‘I’m cool and political’ tweet

‘Watching Jonny Hellzapoppin’ Mad Politician on #bbcqt. Can’t believe no one is addressing the vital issue of the hamster-baiting industry #unacceptable’

Some of don’t know what #bbcqt is and in fact are watching ‘Fat Pregnant and Still Eating Doughuts’ on Despair TV. Now we feel inadequate and will rush out and subscribe to The Economist, never read it, and not be able to get out the door due to the volume of newsprint. It’s all your fault, you and your darn ‘caring about the world’ rubbish.

 3. The promotional-robot tweet

‘BUY MY BOOK. IT’S ON AMAZON. BUY IT. GO ON GO ON GO ON.’

C’mon, dude. At least chat a bit. Don’t walk into the Twitter-party and shove copies of your precious tome into the bowl of Wotsits. It’s rude and soooo boring it makes me unfollow you. Then you unfollow me in pique, and you miss my awesome tweets about cardigans. EVERYONE LOSES.

 4. The apologetic tweet

‘Oh I’m so sorry to mention, but I have a book out! Dear me! I must go and hide in the corner to recover from the social faux-pas of mentioning it! In fact I will away to burn all copies in a shame-pyre! Bye!’

I really don’t mind hearing about your book. I like books and I like writers, that’s probably why I follow you. At the imaginary party, you wouldn’t be rude in saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I have a book out. No biggy. It’s cool. So tell me more about your Pilates classes.’ Honestly, you don’t have to apologise.

 5. The ‘cute stuff my kid says’ tweet

‘Just came down to see Intelligensia, (4 and a half), reading the collected works of Joyce. ‘Mummy,’ she said, ‘I could write better than this man, he doesn’t do proper sentences!’ LOL!’

I mean, it’s cute sometimes, but please, sparingly. Sparingly. Party equivalent = a brief flash of the photo. Equally as bad are people who tweet about their cats and/or dogs. Maybe even pictures of their dog, oooh, I don’t know, wearing a Santa hat?

(Yes, it’s the fifth circle of Twitter hell for me. Doesn’t he look cute though?)

 

 

 

 

6. The ‘I’m dead popular, me’ tweet

‘#ff @randomtweeter @otherrandomtweeter @otherotherrandom tweeter @manonthebus @auntiemary @auntiemarysdog’

And its equally annoying adjunct…

‘RT Thanks @firsttweeter @otherrandomtweeter @otherotherrandom tweeter @manonthebus @auntiemary @auntiemarysdog’

It’s lovely to say hello and mention others and be kind, and Twitter etiquette hasn’t quite settled down yet, so we want to be polite. And we all appreciate RTs and mentions, of course we do. But I don’t think we need to thank each and every person for each and every thing. At that party, you don’t rush round anxiously saying, ‘Dave! Thanks for introducing me to Karen! And…*rushes over* Karen, thanks for introducing me to Bob! And Bob….’ Think of all that time you’d waste when you could be talking about house prices.

 7. The ‘in-joke’ tweet

‘@supercoolhipstertweeter @diffidenttweeter @hasntworkedouthowtousetwitteryettweeter Hey, let’s not forget the penguin earmuffs! BAHAHA!’

In-jokes can be like standing in the corner of the party surrounded by chums and laughing loudly while quaffing champagne. I’m totally guilty of this. Sorry.

 8. The ‘objectionable tweet I think is made OK by use of hashtag’

‘Listen to the hamster, spinning in his wheel, sooo annoying! #ihatehamsters #hamstersshould bekilled #nomrhamsteriexpectyoutodie’

Haven’t you seen those experiments? We can TOTALLY read even if there’s no spaces. And saying ‘Just sayin’ ‘is both annoying and meaningless.

 9. The ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’ tweet

‘Oh, it’s raining! That’s wet. I don’t like being wet.’

Yes. Yes we know. It’s raining here too. Thanks for reminding us.

10. The ‘here’s some stupid blogpost I wrote, please RT’ tweet

‘Here’s some stupid blogpost I wrote, please RT’.

Well. That was a bit ‘meta’, wasn’t it. What’s your favourite Twitter sin? (Twin? No, that doesn’t work at all). Try also following @humblebrag for another sin I didn’t mention, because they do it so well.

I wish I’d know that a year ago….

(This blog first appeared on the Writers’ Workshop site, here – http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/i-wish-i%E2%80%99d-known-that-a-year-ago%E2%80%A6/)

 

It’s been three months since my first novel, The Fall, was released, over a year since I signed my first publishing contract, and a bit longer than that since I got an agent. During this time, my perception of the writing and publishing process has changed utterly. This time two years ago, I hadn’t even been to a writing event or met another writer. I was totally ignorant of how things worked. I’m sure you are a lot more clued up than me, but I’d like to share with you some of the truths I’ve learned since becoming a ‘published writer’.

Being published is not the final frontier – Once you sign the deal, there’s a whole new world of insecurity out there. Lots of other people have books out too. What makes yours special or different? Instead of obsessing over agents, you can start obsessing over Amazon sales figures (welcome to my world).

Getting published isn’t the same as staying published – I’ve met a frightening number of writers who’ve been published and then lost their contracts, even after enormous first advances and tons of publicity. Markets change. Times move on. Reinvention seems to be key here – several ‘writers’ are actually the same person with a different name.

All agents are not created equal – just as you wouldn’t settle down with the first love interest you meet (would you?) it’s not always the case that any agent will do. I don’t think anyone can be expected to turn an agent down, if you’ve been waiting for a long time to get one, but they should be the right one for you, and this depends on all kinds of things, like personality, working style, genre focus, and where they are in their career.

It’s not that hard to get an agent interested – if you have a decent idea and can sum it up succinctly, you’ll see an agent’s ears prick up when you talk to them. What makes them sign you will depend on a range of factors – how many clients they have, if they have many of the same kind as you, if they think they can sell this book at this point, etc. If they say no, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or your book’s no good.

You should follow the guidelines. But you don’t always have to – Officially, you have finish your novel first, then submit to agents through the proper channels and following the guidelines to the letter. And you should. But sometimes things are different. If you’ve met an agent at an event, for example, they may ask to see a work in progress, or to have the whole book. Don’t do this unless they’ve asked though – and make sure you go to events to meet them!

Getting an agent doesn’t mean you’ll get published – For me, this was one of the most shocking truths. I assumed that an agent meant a guaranteed sale, but sometimes it doesn’t. You may need to rethink, write another book, or start over again. But it does mean they have faith in you.

Agents and editors want to find new work – I learned this after I was shortlisted in a competition, and began receiving emails from both wanting to see my book – a complete turnaround from my previous slush-pile attempts. The lesson here is 1: enter competitions; and 2: have a web presence, so they can find you.

Nothing is certain – Don’t get too attached to your characters, story, title, or even your own name, as it’s perfectly possible you’ll be asked to change some or all of them before the book is published.

Talent will out – Yes, a handful of people get a leg-up because of who they know, or because they’re vaguely famous already. But you, the sales assistant in Dorothy Perkins with the amazing novel taking shape on the back of till receipts, you have every bit as much chance as getting published as they do – as long as you’re good.

Nothing happens if you do nothing – it took me three years of serious writing before I could even show my work to anyone else, let alone send it to agents. Now I’m on Amazon for all the world to judge (and they do). My advice is get over your fear as soon as you can and start submitting. Joining a class really helps. It only hurts the first few times…
Publishing types and other writers are among the nicest, most passionate, and most generous people you will ever meet. They love books. You love books (I assume). It’s a marriage made in heaven. And that’s why…

Writing is the best job you can have. It’s not been exactly as I’ve envisaged, and even in this first year I’ve had various unexpected ups and downs, but I was never wrong about that. And not just because you can go to work in your pyjamas.