Surviving a Genre-Identity Crisis: What I’ve Learned as a Virgin Author by JC Stockli
I can say with firm conviction that I never thought I’d write a book, much less self-publish. It just happened. Come to think of it, nothing in my life has happened as planned, but that’s a blog for another day.
So there I was, consumed by a story, driven by names and faces screaming through my subconscious. I wrote my manuscript, edited, re-edited, and re-edited some more. I pulled my hair and cursed at myself for thinking I was worth anything to publish this piece of sh*t on my own. But no, I persevered through the self-loathing and doubt. I conducted my due diligence, read blogs from published authors, some self-published and some traditional. I met a few. We talked shop.
I hired an editor, learned more than I anticipated… and yeah, suffered a little more self-doubt as I agonized over the torture administered by my editor, built up that proverbial “thick skin” and all. I found cover art. I botched the first design, but landed on something so personal that I know I made the right decision. And yeah, I engaged social media, something I refused to do in my personal life. Lastly, I studied the f*ck out of Amazon, identifying my genre, choosing those crucial keywords to qualify my book. All the while, I was confident in one thing… I knew what kind of story I was writing. I released my passions unto the world on January 27, 2015. I’m proud of her; The Nothingness has been performing well. (http://t.co/ajOeFrlnKb).
Prior to publishing my debut novel, I used social media to work on “my platform.” You know the one all those other how-to authors are toting. I blogged. I’m not sure to who exactly, but I blogged here and there, and a few people saw me. I wrote a piece about preparing for the birth of my novel. You see, I had equated the process to the invasiveness of childbirth. Unoriginal, I know. Still, if you’ve ever spent time in a delivery room, you’ll feel my pain—pun intended (http://bit.ly/18VusEu). Even as I wrote that blog, I was sure I knew what my writing was. I assumed I’d outgrown puberty, both in a physiological and metaphorical sense. Way wrong! Shortly after I published, exposed myself heart and soul to the world, and whilst proclaiming the subject of my novel, I fell into a sort of genre-identity crisis. How embarrassing?
You see, on a holistic level, I consider my work to be “dark fantasy” in the sense that I focus on fantasy elements peppered with dread. Okay, I like intense, emotional arousal and gore—there, I said it. Judge me as you wish. Regardless, in addition to identifying my genre, I added keywords like “supernatural” and “romance” to narrow things down to a sub-genre of sorts. Voila! Published! Reviews started coming in, and they spoke to “dark,” “gritty,” and “sexy” subject matter. I liked where this was headed. Readers were picking up on my vibe. The last thing I expected were reviews like, “I loved it… but it wasn’t dark fantasy it was definitely erotica.” Wait a second! Hold the phone! I told everyone this was dark fantasy. No, I didn’t write erotica… no… wait, did I? I mean, I held no punches in the boudoir scenes. I want to write stories that both scare and excite readers. No, my plots are not sex driven. Then that damn word kept coming up in my reviews; “erotic.” Sweet mother of all things holy, what am I? Discovering the answer was more stressful than embracing it.
The real question here is not what genre I write, but why do I care.
Following the birth of my novel, adolescence flashed by like a supersonic jet. The initial reviews were great, but then the doubt—puberty—set in. Not negative, but rather questionable reviews came back. They were likely only problematic in my eyes as the author, but so be it. They prompted me to question what I thought I knew so well. I joined author groups, and they all asked the poignant question: what genre do you write? Well, I always thought I was dark fantasy, but… who the hell knows. I talked this out with myself—aloud. I was willing to embrace my twist in the genre I had aligned my work with. Being that every group wanted to know, I thought they’d all view me through a different light based on the level of erotica or romance in my style. Did that make them bad? No. Did that make me borderline neurotic? Yes. The truth is, they ask to find like-minded authors for support and allegiance. The kicker was I never asked them why they cared so much about my label, but silently trusted there had to be something to it if everyone asked. Just like with puberty, it wasn’t about the group of friends I was trying to make—it was me. I was so f*cking afraid to represent myself as something I wasn’t or to label myself a pariah right off the bat. “Judging, all judging,” that’s what the voice in my main character’s head tells her time and time again. I felt like Evie, and I was afraid to be judged. I resolved to grow a pair and call out this topic in my user groups. You know what, I wasn’t the only person fighting this awkwardness. Every author suffers this self-doubt in some way, shape, or form. Those that say they don’t… well, I want to siphon their essence and intravenously gorge myself on it—maybe sell that sh*t on the black market.
Never fear, support is already out there for us. There are many blogs (all great) that define sub-genres. You can google them on your own. You’ve got your dark fantasy; as defined above, fantasy with elements of horror. Then you have your urban fantasy; fantasy in a modern setting. You’re paranormal fantasy… you see where I’m going with this; add a splash of romance, and you’ve got yourself a PNR. Work in some suspense, thrill, or action adventure; my my, what a hodgepodge you’ve created. As soon as you offer some graphic sex… well now all of a sudden you’re erotica. Say what? I beg to differ on that one. Even if I didn’t, who cares? What if you fall between the cracks? What if you have a dark story with paranormal elements and a romantic twist with some lights on sex scenes? (Side note: I heard the “lights on” phrase from another author and I think it hits the nail on the head, description-wise. Brilliant!)
As far as writing goes, I think we’re all looking to find our place within the grimy cracks. That’s what agents and publishers want, right; work that crosses genres? That, my friends, is what it’s all about. That’s fantastic! No longer should we suffer such identity crises. We can proclaim that we’re all a little f*cked up and all over the board. I suppose they call it speculative fiction for a reason.
I’ve received some great advice in my short tenure within author groups; that is to be true to your writing. Look for the best fit, but don’t sweat if you find more than one sub-genre to define your work. In other words: be you. Write what you love and don’t fret the details. Be passionate about your art—BUT (disclaimer time) make sure your synopsis accurately alludes to graphic content that some people would have otherwise steered clear from, be it sex, violence, immorality, etc. That’s just being considerate and mitigates any potentially negative reviews.
I have found nothing but love and support from fellow indie authors, and so I bestow such courtesy unto you. Let’s connect and swap war stories (mine are still a WIP). I write dark and sexy sh*t. I’m not the first person to coin the phrase romantic horror, and I won’t be the last. But yeah, that’s me. I also fit comfortably within the paranormal romance sub-genre. I’ll give you an HEA, but dammit, you’ll suffer a little for it. If that’s what you like, well then you might enjoy my writing. If not, well that’s cool too. Just write on and love yourself. Let the pieces fall where they may. Cheers!