The boxing of books
Red carpet shot!
After a busy few weeks of editing, Alexandra and David have advised me to take the next two weeks off – not only to get some sleep, but so I can come back to do a final check on The Bone Season over with fresh eyes. (You know you're working too hard when your publisher literally tells you to stop writing.) The final MS looks fantastic – I'm so pleased with it! It's come such a long way since David first offered me representation. Alexa and I have worked very well as a team to bring out the best in the story, and in my writing. I'm officially ready for it to go to press in January. The proofs were originally going to be ready before Christmas, but to make sure I don't have to rush my final read-through, Bloomsbury have decided to go with early 2013 instead.
I'm reminded every day why I chose Bloomsbury to be my publishers. They really care about their authors, not just about getting novels out to meet deadlines. It's a huge relief to have a few extra weeks to read through The Bone Season carefully and make sure there are no little inconsistencies left over from old drafts. It's been a slow process, and I know it's frustrating for you guys not to have a lot of information about the book after all this time, but I promise, next year will reveal much more. I'm getting my own website set up with a soundtrack for the novel, as well as clues and other little bits and bobs. I've worked my socks off this year to make The Bone Season the absolute best it can be when you start reading it.
I keep seeing articles with titles like 'the rise of New Adult fiction'. This is just one example of what I'm going to call a vogue genre. First it was chick-lit, then paranormal romance, then urban fantasy, vampire fiction, dystopian fiction, YA – the list goes on and on. Vogue genres are the ones that have a little marketing zing around them. 'Twilight was successful? Let's pick up loads more vampire novels.' That kind of thing. Now the new buzzword is New Adult.
From what I understand, NA deals with similar themes and situations to YA – sometimes called 'mature YA' – but the protagonist tends to be older, from 18 to about 25. The books deal with the 'coming-of-age' that comes between being a teenager and an adult. The violence is heavier, the sex scenes steamier. Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled by the surge in interest in older protagonists. The Bone Season's narrator, Paige, is 19. Many of the characters are even older, ranging from 15 to about 60. I'm delighted that readers are hungry for grown-up characters and settings – but I'm starting to get a little jaded when it comes to genre. I don't think novels should be shunted into these rigid categories. Look at Harry Potter. It was marketed as children's fiction, but people of all ages loved it: adults, young adults, kids, grandparents. Twilight was YA, but again, people of all ages enjoyed it. They found something they loved in YA.
It's important to remember that the novel itself is a hybrid of several forms. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that the idea of the 'novel' really set in, pulled together from the strings of 'romances', 'histories' and 'adventures' (the text widely accepted first English novel, Robinson Crusoe, was originally entitled The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe). The form is still young, but it's entrenched in our minds – just like genre.
I've been asked several times what genre The Bone Season falls into. Truth is, I didn't write it with a genre in mind. I didn't stick to a pattern. I knew I wanted to play around with dystopia after reading The Handmaid's Tale, but I didn't force myself to stick to a rigid structure. That was what made Aurora bad. With The Bone Season, I just wrote it. The result is a mix of several genres. It's urban fantasy because it's set in cities. It's dystopian (not post-apocalyptic, which involves humankind recovering from an end-of-days scenario) because it involves a government that hunts a particular group of people. It's paranormal because many of the characters are supernatural creatures, the Rephaim. There are elements of steampunk and cyberpunk because of its Victorian-influenced, futuristic setting; there's also a bit of thriller, mystery and suspense. As for age range, all I'd say is that it's not for kids! Luckily, Bloomsbury have taken a 'genreless' approach to the book. The cover doesn't give anything away in terms of genre. It could be pretty much anything. It's a risky venture, but I hope it's one that will pay off.
When DGA was selling The Bone Season in France, they had a bit of a dilemma. Several French editors had read and enjoyed it, but they were struggling to work out where to put it in the French market. French readers, they said, like to be sure about their categories. They like to read books from clean-cut genres. The fact that I'd "mixed too many genres together" led to several publishers turning the book down, despite saying how much they loved the writing. Fortunately I received a very enthusiastic offer from Éditions J'ai Lu, which publishes A Game of Thrones in French. But if they'd been put off by the cross-section of genres, I might not have been able to publish in France at all. This was what really made me aware of genre as a barrier, even a restriction, in the literary world.
Some publishers get nervous when they can't put a book in one box. I can understand why, as most bookshops are divided by genre and audience ('adult fantasy', 'YA romance' and so on). There does, obviously, need to be some kind of organisation, or you wouldn't know where to start looking for a book you might enjoy. Many of the foreign publishers I've sold The Bone Season to have put it under a YA imprint, even though it isn't YA. I hope YA readers will enjoy it, but it was written with a slightly older audience in mind. Those publishers have assigned a genre to the book that is technically incorrect, given that a 'young adult' is someone of between 12 and 18 – maybe because they saw it as YA, maybe because they had to put it somewhere. Whatever the reason, it risks putting off the slightly older readers for whom the book was written. I don't expect to influence the way in which others perceive my work (the "Death of the Author" theory) but it interests me that the expectation of genre holds so much sway over it. I'm especially interested to see where bookshops will shelve it.
I can see the necessity of genre for writers, readers and publishers, but that doesn't stop me being wary of it. Not only does it mean that novels that don't conform to genre are ignored (or at least treated with caution), but it also encourages writers to produce cookie-cutter novels based on successful genres, instead of taking risks and writing 'hybrid' or 'genreless' fiction. If not for that all-important mindset of experimentation, the novel itself might never have been born. In a genre-based book market, I don't know what the solution might be. There's a singer called Santigold who claims to produce genreless music. This is unusual in the music industry, just as it is in the publishing industry. But surely if we get too entrenched in genre, no new genres will come into existence? Genre is born from tradition, but also from experimentation. I only hope that, as we move into an era in which publishers take fewer risks, genre is always treated as a classification system – not as a blueprint for the kind of literature that gets published.
What do you guys think about genre? Do you like to choose your books based on it, or do you look for gripping synopses, no matter what the category?