Labels

How many times have you reinvented yourself?  I ask this question because I’m in the middle of doing that very thing.  Having to come up with bios for my guest panelist applications have made me question what kind of writer I am.

If someone asked me what I like to write, I’d tell them speculative fiction.  This title encompasses everything from paranormal romance to horror to sci-fi.  That’s me in a nutshell.

So why does any of this matter?  It does when it comes to things like query letters, marketing, and sales because everyone wants specifics.  However, I’ve been thinking a lot about the rules governing urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I feel like I’ve outgrown them.  I’m cool with that.  😎

Though my stories have urban fantasy elements, I don’t have kick-ass heroines who go out looking for trouble or tote their toughness on their sleeves.  They’re touchable, which is a rarity in urban fantasy, and IMHO, makes them more human.  Trouble finds them and they’re forced to become something they’re not or do things they wouldn’t normally do.  My paranormal romances depend heavily on the action and mystery while falling in love always adds another complication on top of the heap.  Is that the definition of a romance?  I don’t know and don’t care.  I write the story the sings the loudest whether romance is involved or not.  Let’s not forget about that sci-fi YA I’m writing.  That’s completely off the paranormal spectrum…but not outside the realm of speculative fiction. 

Some writers know exactly who they are and what they write.  Lately, many of them have been dipping their toes into other waters, making me wonder how they bill themselves.  Paranormal romance authors have gone into the urban fantasy arena.  Chick-lit authors have taken chances with a contemporaries.  The list goes on. 

I don’t like labels.  Not unless they’re broad enough to encompass all of my interests.  That’s why I think speculative fiction is the best label for me.  The only reason why it has taken me so long to embraced the “speculative fiction” tag is because of marketing.  I don’t think the word has gotten out about speculative fiction and it leaves too many questions in a reader’s mind.  Nonetheless, that’s what I am and I’m proud of it.  😀

Have you always known what you write or have you bounced back and forth and questioned your label like me?

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15 thoughts on “Labels

  1. I’d say I definitely bounce back and forth. I think it’s normal for the creative mind to do that.

    I guess some writers bounce because they don’t know “who they are” (I use that phrase loosely, because, really, I think any good writer is always evolving) or what they want to write about, so they try different things.
    Some bounce because they just want to, because they need a change, or because their creativity is starving for something new and challenging.
    Either way, I think it’s a good exercise in creativity.

    But it can be a double-edged sword, testing the waters from style to style, genre to genre if you don’t truly “hone your skills.” I guess that’s where the “jack of all trades, master of none” problem can come in.

    I don’t really like labels either. I think as a writer they make you feel like you CAN’T change, you have to fit a certain mode and not venture out- but how the heck is creativity suppose to thrive in that type of environment?!? I would probably go insane writing inside a box for the rest of my life.

    That’s my 2, or 3, cents. 🙂

  2. This is something that I’ve struggled with, too. Where does my writing fit in the huge marketing spectrum? Who knows? I’ve heard of authors who’ve written stories that weren’t intended as romance novels, only to have the publisher market them as such. So, I guess at some point it’s up to them.

    I’ve been told my stories have “elements” of romance, so I joined the special interest chapter of RWA known as that, only to find that even “elements of romance” isn’t something you can put in a query letter. And if ever I get published, I don’t want to be segregated, which runs the risk of “pigeon-holing” my writing.

    So, as much as I’ve know what I write, I still don’t know how to explain it in a query letter except to skip mentioning it all together. And when seraching agent lists, I don’t know if I should steer clear of the ones who specify “does not accept romance,” or submit to those who do, running the risk of segregation.

    Maybe I’ll let the agent rejecting me decide. 🙂

  3. Marcia, call me a bouncing ball. (I know I’m asking for trouble saying that to you. 😆 ) The lines between genres are blurring, and that’s a good thing, IMO. Speculative fiction is a great term! That encompasses a lot.

  4. I am a bit hoping to think that this post was inspired by something I said in my previous comments. I don’t want to have a label and I don’t. I have in the makings urban fantasy, contemporaries, erotica/pornography, horror and gothic stories, high fantasy and steampunk. I like to think of myself as profilic and to be honest to be able to do everything you want, you gotta cheat it. Become someone else. Writers can do that. You won’t be the first. Become marketable in the UF & PR as Marcia [since both go pretty much hand in hand and what is UF can easily be also PR since the relationship factor keeps being shoved at in your face] and then become Stacey or Monique for horror or sci-fi, but use the same agent preferably. It won’t be cheating or being dishonest, but being able to go unjudged and uncompared. “Oh look she is trying to shine everywhere” is what you wish to avoid and you will be able to.

  5. I’ll bounce with Edie! Aside from the erotic component, which is actually quite small in my niche, I’ve written fantasy, futuristic, contemporary, suspense, historical, chick lit… I think that might be it, but I’m not sure.

    I guess I’ll have to say I’m just an author, LOL!

  6. I’d give it 5 cents, Tivi. 😉

    And you’re right about backing yourself into a mold. If I were a chick-lit author trying to break into horror, I doubt anyone would take me seriously unless I had already built up a name for myself. Not only that, but by picking up new readers, you risk isolating some, too. It’s a double-edge sword.

    Being a jack of trades and a master of none isn’t a good thing either for the reasons you said. Unless you’re someone like Neil Gaiman who can write a pea soup recipe and win an award, it’s going to be a tough sell. Exercising creativity, I think, is a necessity for any writer. But when it comes down to it, you have to start somewhere. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a bunch of unfinished manuscripts and not one step ahead.

  7. Exactly, Kath! When it comes to query letters, you need to have an answer for what it is you write. They want to know right up front. Some times, I think the only thing we have to go on is damn good writing the hopes they’ll recommend us to one of their agenting friends if our work doesn’t fit. Too bad, I don’t know of anyone who that has happened to, yet.

    You also bring up another good point. Shelving. Publishers are putting a lot of books in romance that shouldn’t be there. Then, the readers get upset with the authors because they thought their book was a romance and the hero/heroine died at the end. I think readers are catching on that the publisher and the bookseller really need to work it out. Even if it is, then you’re left with where do they find your book the next time?

    When it comes down to it, I plan on leaving all of that to my publisher and will be more than happy to send a disgruntled reader to them for an explanation of why they’ve been duped. Nobody asks me where I’d like my book shelves since I wrote it, so I’m not dealing with it. 😉

  8. Another “bouncing” good point, Edie. 😉 The lines are blurring and I think it’s a good thing because it forces you to step outside of your creative realm and take chances that you normally wouldn’t take and it might not be so far off your normal mark either. That’s what got me started with paranormal romance.

  9. Delivered as promised. 😉 Though I had written this post before our conversation, it certainly helped me to iron some things out.

    Because of everything I love to write, my agent list has shortened considerably. While agents say they’ll sell whatever you have, if they don’t rep YA’s, then how can I be sure my agent will do their damnedst to sell it? Do they even know which editors to submit it to? These are questions I have every time I re-evaluate my list.

    As for changing names, I can easily see me having to do it for my YA stuff while keeping my current name for my adult stuff. It’s a balancing act that writers who cross genre have to do. Some do it well, while others have crashed and burned. For me, I plan to stick to the speculative fiction stuff and leave the contemporary non-supernatural stuff to the experts. 😉

  10. LOL! You and Edie, you all-over-the-map makers. 😉 Spy, there is nothing wrong with trying out everything, as long as you excel in it. But if I pick up your contemporary looking for a fantasy, I uh comin’ to finds ya. 😉

  11. Hey Marcia,

    I think you’re label is great. And you can customize it with whatever audience you’re talking to.

    Zoe Winters writes paranormal romance (except for the one erotic short story for the contest, but that was because I wanted to take advantage of the little bit I’d already done with this name, to get votes.)

    Since I’ve decided that I really want to start gaining a male audience as well, I’m going to market as “paranormal fiction” to men and “paranormal romance” to women. I mean if men can watch and enjoy Hellboy, they can total take my stories. There isn’t a milky missile or manroot for miles.

    I’m thinking of making my covers more gender neutral.

    And my other identity writes down and dirty erotica.

  12. 😆 Zoe, spelling and correct grammar are an option on this blog. When someone pays me to blog, I’ll care.

    That’s the reason why I’ve chosen speculative fiction. For the women, I write paranormal romance. For the guys, there’s sci-fi and a horror streak inside me, too.

    Like you pointed out, it’s all about the audience, and as far as I know, that’s made up of both males and females. We shouldn’t care who reads more than the other, but rather, try to get the attention of both. If that means flexing muscles on both sides, then why not? 😉

  13. Marcia and Co.

    I so hear y’all on this. Branding and Marketing is tough, and can’t be ignored.

    I’ve always known the general category of my work: Fantasy. It’s the subcategories that get me! My debut was a futuristic fantasy (which I wrote on a dare and never dreamed it would go anywhere), but my mass-market debut, my Dorchester books are Historical Paranormal/Fantasy. I’ve realized that I can write in any time period but the present. 🙂

    So I call myself a Dark Fantasy Author, because the foundations of my story are always traditional fantasy elements. I tend to include intense/spooky stuff (hence the “dark”) and Fantasy is generous enough of a genre to often find those romantic through-lines that make me a Romance author too. My trouble will be if people think Fantasy means Wizards/Elves. Because there’s where I’m strictly Paranormal, as my “creatures” are only Ghosts, Psychics, and “enhanced” mortals. *sigh*

    I confess that having a label in some ways is comforting to me. Since I have so many different interests and my career path has been all over the map, I feel that a label, even a broad one like “Fantasy” helps to keep me focused. The minute that word becomes limiting, or I find that it isn’t working with audience expectations, I’ll have to question it. But for now, it works.

  14. I’ve realized that I can write in any time period but the present.

    😆 Now, THAT’S funny. But it works for you, so who’s gonna complain? I know I’m not. You’ve got the goods, girlfriend.

    For a while, I thought I was dark fantasy, too, but then I saw that some people were actually interpreting it as elvish stuff. But the more I’m in the business, the more I realize it’s a matter of perception. If anyone asks, we just have to set them straight on what it really is that we write.

    How you look at labels is very interesting. I never thought of it as a way to keep my straight and focused on what I’m writing. A friend said to just call myself a paranormal author, which would also keep the scope wide enough, but obvious enough to give readers an idea of what I write. Regardless, it’s a necessary double-edge sword. Like you said, whatever works. 😉

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