Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Critiquing: Does Genre Matter?

So, I'm currently 6000 words away from completing my first draft, and this week began the process of swapping chapters with some wonderful CPs. I've already received some great feedback on my WIP, best described as a psychological thriller, which I'm very thankful for. However, all these writers have something in common. I'm going to list them here along with their genres (hope they don't mind!) and see if you can spot it. By the way, thanks to the girls at Falling For Fiction and to Rach Harrie, without whose brilliant CP matching posts this wouldn't have been possible!

So, the line up:

T.Z. Wallace: Dystopian
* Kyra Lennon: She described her genre in an email as chick lit, but I think it deserves a better title!
Siscia Miles: Sci-fi/Fantasy
Chris Eboch: Published children's author, now writing romantic suspense for adults
Jenny Herrera: Literary fiction

So, what's the link? That's right, a distinct lack of psychological thriller writers. Truth be told, I didn't see any writers within my genre on the critique posts. I guess Chris Eboch would be the closest (my book does feature a very twisted romance). But is this a bad thing? Not necessarily!

Stories are stories. Writers are writers. We all have advice to offer and looking to another genre for inspiration can be refreshing. Although both my novels have been thrillers (at least that's the nearest box I could put them in), it's not even my genre of choice. Of course I appreciate and enjoy a great, taut thriller. But I don't seek them out voraciously. I would rather take each story on its own merits, and I read books based on what I think of the premise, rather than selecting by genre. I certainly hope my book is an exciting page-turner, but just as important to me is character development.

I believe this ties into a wider debate on the nature of publishing as it stands. Most major publishing houses specialise in certain genres and they expect submissions to adhere to certain conventions within those genres. This also extends to things such as word count. But with the rise of self-publishing and smaller presses, these criteria are being worn away, which has given rise to lots of interesting creations that don't go by the rule book. I'd rather read a book that was unique, kept me guessing and crucially, had a great story than something formulaic, predictable and box-ticking. And I fear a lot of thrillers fall into the latter category these days especially with some of the bigger names. (Feel free to prove me wrong.)

Now I'm not saying I'm going to stick my book straight on Amazon as soon as I'm finished with it. That's certainly an option, but I'd love to be traditionally published. I know editors are always receptive to the next big thing, but I don't know if they will now take more risks in order to prevent rejected authors from finding success in self-publishing, or batten down the hatches and stick with what they know, catering to consumers unwilling to take a punt on the deluge of unknown authors.

What do you think? How important is genre in your choice of reading? Am I being hopelessly naive, and barking up the wrong tree in my choice of CPs? I'd love to hear your opinion.

Oh, and happy 4th of July to all of my American friends!


DL Hammons said...

I also believe that its not so much what a CP writes, but what do they read for enjoyment (which can and often is be different). I believe it would be a mistake to have someone who exclusively reads and writes YA, critique my adult Mystery/Suspense novel (and me rely heavily on that input).

Kyra Lennon said...

I agree with DL Hammons. Sort of. I don't think it matters what your CP reads or writes. If they are a reader and/or a writer, they will know a good story and a good writer regardless of genre. I think a good CP match also depends on personality. If you click with the person you work with, and understand each other, ultimately you will get a better critique. :D

P.S I like the term "chick lit" ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A variety of critique partners is good. They will all bring something different to the table. My critique partners didn't write just science fiction and one even wrote historical romances.
I have certain genres I like to read, but as you stated, a good book is a good book no matter what the genre.

Suze said...

'I know editors are always receptive to the next big thing, but I don't know if they will now take more risks in order to prevent rejected authors from finding success in self-publishing, or batten down the hatches and stick with what they know, catering to consumers unwilling to take a punt on the deluge of unknown authors.'

Hard to have a meaningful grip on these swirling variables. Very hard.

Nick, you have a very polished way of expressing yourself and I think you need to follow down the path of traditional publishing so long as there is something in you which compels you down that path.

As for the variety of crit partners, that's also tough. Finding a suitable match in that regard is fraught with challenge. I think, though, that good partners are made, not born -- so give yourself space to grow with the person, not the genre, which can change over the course of your partners' careers. It will, with certainty, evolve -- and so will you.

Great post.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I think there's a difference between critiquing for someone and just reading their ms as a reader.

I read across genres but I would be uncomfortable "critiquing" a thriller ms, not knowing all the variables that should technically be there. As a reader, though, I could tell you what worked for me in the thriller (liked/disliked main character, story moved too slow, etc.) in a more general sense.

There's value in both - it just depends on what the author needs at the time. :)

Shell Flower said...

While I feel the most important thing in a crit partner is their willingness to actually critique and that they click with you as a person, I also think you need to have at least a couple crit partners that know your genre. Beta readers, though, is a whole other story. The more variety, the better with those.

Lisa Regan said...

*clears throat* I am a thriller writer (okay so I call it suspense, whatever, you know what I mean) and available for critiquing . . . anyway, I think you're doing the right thing. When I had CPs I only ever had one CP who wrote in the same genre as me and yet all the feedback I got was invaluable. Some things about a good book will cross genres and good writers and readers will get that! Good luck!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Having a wide range in the genres in your CPs is good, because they'll pick up things you might have missed. They truly bring a fresh eye to your work. And I believe reading widely, inside AND outside your chosen genre is also good for the same reasons.

Botanist said...

I think a variety of perspectives is useful. You never know, a CP who knows a different genre might suggest something new that elevates a good story into that "next big thing"!

The thing to watch out for is when a CP brings a perspective that conflicts with what you are trying to do. That's true whether they normally read/write your genre or not.

The only true test is: does a CP add something useful to the betterment of your own story.

Anonymous said...

I like the CP to have some interest in the genres I write, but overall it doesn't matter what they prefer to write / read:)

Crack You Whip said...

I think the best critiques are the ones familiar with your own genre, though any input is valuable.

C.B. Wentworth said...

I've given and received critiques that cross all genre borders. I think its valuable to have an outsider read your work. Even if they don't "like" the genre, they will see things you can't. On the same note, its important to link up with critiques that understand the differences in genre and don't critique only from their genre point of view. :-)

Anonymous said...

I do think a variety of CPs is great (says she who has a hard time finding even one) - someone who might not be familiar with your genre could focus more on technical aspects of your writing with less danger of getting caught up in the fun of the story, for example.

L.C. said...

^ all the above. I find it most helpful when the critiquers have different critiquing styles (nit-picky, big-issue, etc), which gives me more angles of feedback. Then I know for sure that if one thing keeps cropping up, that's something I have to look into.

Morgan said...

What an original topic. I haven't seen this come up anywhere before. I know for me, I'll definitely crit the strongest in my own genre.

As far as a content crit goes, I'm not as helpful in a mystery as I would be a fantasy. I think because in our own genre, we're knowledgeable in that field... it's what we study, what we immerse ourselves in.

As far as a writing crit goes, that'll be the same all across the board. I could crit anything and give advice as far as the actual writing.

Fun topic!

Nick Wilford said...

DL - That's a good point, luckily I think there are probably few people who stick to one genre.

Kyra - Well said! It's important to get on.

Alex - Yes, hopefully they'll all bring different perspectives.

Suze - I know, lol. I'd better get my crystal ball! Yes, it's true that many writers write more than one genre, and it's all about the partnership built. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Madeline - I hear what you're saying. The trouble is, I'm not sure I know what all the technical aspects of a thriller are! Hmmm...

Shell - Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately writers in my genre (especially in the blogosphere) seem to be thin on the ground - the search continues I suppose!

Lisa - What was I saying! I'd love to have you look over my MS, Lisa. I thought you'd be too busy!

Lynda - Amen! I do think I could use reading more widely.

Botanist - Thanks. Hopefully I'll be able to discern what feedback will work for my story.

TF - Yeah, I think they do need to like the genre even if they don't write it.

Crack You Whip - Thanks. I'd like to get thriller writers to read my WIP. Just worried it might not hold up, lol!

C.B. - I agree with what you say. I think some books are good at merging genre but I wouldn't like to end up with something that was a mess!

Louise - That's a good point. I can understand getting too caught up in the story and not noticing errors!

L.C. - Thanks - I think that goes to show that as many eyes as possible is good!

Morgan - Nice to know I'm original! :) You make great points about the content versus writing - and again that shows why a variety of CPs is the way to go!

Thanks for your comments, everyone! It's nice to know that I'm not completely weird. :D

Leigh Covington said...

I think it's nice to have a variety of CP's when it comes to critiquing. They may notice something that could strengthen your story that another person wouldn't -- adding that much more to your book and making it more unique in your particular genre. It may still be a good thing to find someone in your genre to do a beta read, but it's not something I would stress over. Sounds like you have amazing CP's. :)

Martin Willoughby said...

Writers in other genres will bring a perspective that may be needed to make a story 'whole'. It also helps to read outside the genre you write.

Nick Wilford said...

Leigh - Thanks, yes as many different perspectives as possible is best!

Martin - Agreed, I would definitely get bored reading just one genre.

Stina said...

The majority of my beta readers and CPs read and write mostly YA (and some MG). My experience is they are the best judge of the genre and can give the strongest feedback when it comes to voice and anything related to YA. Having said that, I do have a beta reader who has my YA novel but who doesn't write YA. Yet.

With YA and MG, they aren't really genres. They're age groups. Which means most of us read a lot of different genres under the umbrella of YA (or MG). This helps us from being bored of one genre. In a month, I can read a YA thriller, YA romance, YA contemporary, YA urban fantasy. See what I mean? :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Hey, Nick,

It's usually a good thing when someone can pick up a book written in a genre they don't normally read and still enjoy it. That says something about the writing. It's good to shoot for CP's and beta readers outside your genre for that reason. Of course, the expertise of those within you're genre is also key. They'll know what works and what doesn't.

Nick Wilford said...

Stina - I can see how that works out well!

Joy - I think it's good to find a balance.