Author Tamela Hancock Murray

Fresh Formulas

fresh-formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

Critics think genre writers churn out story after story with little variation…following a proscribed formula. And while opportunities to be published in genre fiction are more plentiful than trade simply because genre lines publish a greater number of titles (see the statistics incorporated into this blog post), editors are nevertheless highly selective. They must be, because readers are right to be demanding, and genre authors must be dedicated to the craft.

Success

To be successful with a line, stay fresh and new while following the genre’s rules. When thinking of genre fiction, I like to visualize a box that needs to be filled with a story. The rules of the box include a strict word count. If you’re writing for a genre line, be sure to stay with the word count.

Guidelines for plot are concrete. For instance, with romance, the story of the hero and heroine must take precedence over anything else. The romance cannot be overshadowed, for example, by a murder mystery, a setting becoming a character in its own right, or a subplot involving secondary characters. Because of these guidelines, readers can rely on certain types of books to provide them with the stories they expect. In an uncertain world — and the world is always an uncertain place except for God’s enduring love — seeking genre books again and again offers readers comfort along with entertainment.

Twists and Turns

Once the writer learns the rules within the box, then what? Know that editors are looking for fresh ideas within the parameters of the genres they edit. To get an idea of what might work, read books from the line you are targeting. See what themes work. Concentrate on those that capture your imagination.

Interested in history? Consider researching real events that can launch a novel. For contemporary or historical, find a unique obstacle that will confront your characters so the reader has no idea how they can overcome it, and wrap a romance or mystery around it. Then plot and write. The author who stays within the rules of the line, yet comes up with a variation or twist on a beloved theme, is likely to find success and avid readers.

Your turn:

Do you read genre fiction? What are some fresh ideas you have enjoyed seeing in recent books?

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What Does That Mean?

Some time ago, I was writing a story and used a variation of the sentence, “He wished he could be fly on the wall when they had that conversation.” This puzzled my critique partner, who didn’t know it meant. She had never heard the expression “fly on the wall” before and didn’t know it meant the character could be an unobtrusive observer. I decided to change the sentence for fear others wouldn’t understand, either.

I grew up in rural Virginia, and we had some unusual local expressions. Consider:

ugly as homemade soap

screaming bloody murder

grumpy as an old sitting hen

bleeding like a killing hog

slow as molasses on a December morning

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Your Brand is Not a Limitation

It is All About Expectations

What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.

Your Best Friend

Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide”  and Cattle comes to mind.  And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.

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How Many Critiques Spoil the Broth?

Today I’ll give my opinion on a question sent to our blog:

When an author is trying to find the right Genre to write in for a particular subject, is it profitable to listen to only one critique? 

Discover

The author who posed this question is in the discovery phase. Writers who read lots of books and have developed a love for many types of stories often have trouble deciding what to write. Often I receive proposals from new authors who tell me they have written, for example, romance, women’s fiction, and romantic suspense and want me to market all three. From a statistical perspective, that makes sense. Isn’t it more likely that three proposals going to thirty places will be more likely for at least one to find success than one proposal going to six places? Well, no. This is because authors are better off finding their writing passion and pursuing that with the best book they can write rather than researching and writing across the board. For instance, romantic suspense and contemporary romance have in common the fact that the story’s main plot point is the relationship between a modern hero and heroine. However, a romantic suspense writer must be willing to learn about police procedure and the law, but contemporary romance authors usually don’t because their books focus on different types of conflicts.

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New Year’s Resolutions

So many resolutions. So many possibilities. So many dashed hopes.

In the interest of avoiding disappointment, here is my list of New Year’s Resolutions I am likely to keep:

1.) Watch more television.

2.) Buy more awesome clothes that go with red lipstick.

3.) Add to my collection of black pointy-toed spiked-heeled shoes.

4.) Increase my collection of black high-heeled platform shoes.

5.) Do less housework.

 Well, maybe I shouldn’t keep any of these. But my hope for the new year is to show everyone I care about even more:

 1.) Love.

2. Understanding.

3.) Mindfulness.

4.) Compassion.

5.) Patience.

Yes, more of these than ever before.

This is actually a very selfish resolution. For when we do these things, the likelihood of being rewarded in kind is great.

Happy New Year!

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A Year to Remember

Anyone following this blog or who knows me personally realizes this was a very exciting year for me on a professional level. After ten wonderful years with Hartline Literary Agency, this summer I joined The Steve Laube Agency. I am thrilled to be working with Steve as my new boss and Karen Ball as my colleague.

Although I kept the same title of literary agent and both agencies are headed by Christians, they have different personalities and styles. The transition has been challenging but rewarding. I extend my gratitude to my faithful clients who remained with me through this time of change, and can’t wait to explore the many possibilities ahead for their careers. I am enthusiastic about forming new relationships with beginning and established writers. I see God’s hand in my career as He gave me the leaders I needed at the time I needed them. Joyce Hart gave me chance when I first moved from being an author to an agent. Steve Laube is working with me to help me reach my full potential as a literary agent. My excitement about being part of this great agency has not diminished one iota since I wrote my first post for this blog, Happy to be Here! My esteem for Steve Laube has only grown and over this past year we have formed a solid relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

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Christmas Melodies

The good news for us in Virginia is that we rarely experience a white Christmas. Of course, for snow lovers, that is bad news. No sleigh rides for us.  Not even to a groovy beat. What I love is that winter is cold enough to call for a coat, but usually boots are more of a fashion statement than a necessity.

But here we have plenty of seasonal atmosphere, with an abundance of holly berry scents in candles and sprays, and Christmas music piped in to all the stores. I hope the writers of “Jingle Bell Rock”  and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”  retained their copyrights. Surely they must be billionaires by now.

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What Role Do Influencers Play?

One of the services a traditional publisher provides is working with authors in regard to getting publicity about books through word of mouth. This piece of the publicity puzzle is more important for trade books than for mass market books because they fit into an established line and are less author-focused than trade books. Trade books rely more on author identity and brand recognition to be successful. This is why traditional publishers ask writers to provide lists of influencers for their books.

Who Might Be Influencers?

Often after you are contracted, the publisher will ask the author for a list of influencers. In return for spreading the word about your book, many publishers will provide a copy to the influencer free of charge. Already your agent has insisted that you include a list of potential endorsers in your proposal. Chances are good that not all of your potential endorsers were asked for formal endorsements, so begin with the remaining friends who already know you, like your writing, and support you in your career. When asked for a larger list, choose wisely.

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The Superiority of Christian Romance Novels

A dedicated reader of the blog (Thank you!) posed an excellent question in response to a recent post:

 Recently, I heard a female Christian marriage counselor/speaker say that women should avoid Christian romance books. She stated there was no such thing as Christian romance. Since she was speaking on the topic of pornography, I assumed she was referring to fiction that leads the reader’s mind where it ought not to go. In my opinion, most romantic Christian fiction does not fall into that category.

My question for you: How would you respond if someone told you Christian romance was sinful, or that there was no such thing? Has that happened to you before?

Last week I responded to the idea that there is no such thing as Christian romance. “Christian Romance – Fact or Fiction?

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Christian Romance — Fact or Fiction?

In response to a recent blog post, “A Matter of Taste,”  a reader asked what I would say if someone claimed there is no such thing as Christian romance.

In fact, I have been confronted with this question before. At a Christian writers’ conference a few years ago, a woman told me in a snide manner that romance is a “fantasy” and walked away before I could respond. I felt especially sad that the woman was no doubt a fellow Christian, but it sounded like it had come from a jaded secularist. I believe this woman’s attitude reflects her own experience rather than the state of Christian publishing. True, not all real life endings are happy, and Christian romance novels traditionally end with the premise that the couple will enjoy a bright future. That is the hope and promise these books offer. Indeed, isn’t that the hope and promise of weddings in real life?

The Lord never promised Christians perfect unions. My heart aches for anyone in a miserable marriage. Hurt people hurt people, so no amount of convincing will change some minds about romance. But God is bigger than any situation, and He heals willing hearts.

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