A Plague Upon All Your Genres – guest post by Suzanne Egerton

20 May

Today’s guest post comes from new author Suzanne Egerton whose  début novel Out Late with Friends and Regrets was published this month by Paddy’s Daddy’s Publishing.

~ ~ ~

SuzanneEgertonStanding up in that large gathering of women, when the nice lady from BSB had been assuring aspiring writers that their editors were happy to provide feedback and advice with their rejections, and hearing myself saying, sorry, but you didn’t give me any… was hard.

“Oh. What’s your name?”
(Gulp) “Suzanne Egerton.”
“Erm… oh yes, I remember. I’m afraid it… just wasn’t romance.”

Dear friends, never underestimate the importance of research. I knew that romance figured large in their titles of course, but the thought that a big, nurturing company was actively seeking lesbian writers had focused my eyes on the pages of the website that spoke most eloquently to my ambitions. I never tumbled that they were a genre publisher. Duh!

Many rewritten words ago, when my book was still called “My Proper Place” (ugh, but there was a good, lyric-based reason for it – though not everyone is into the Velvet Underground, granted), I spent over a year painstakingly crafting submissions to the exact requirements of agents and publishers various, logging every one and later inserting the rejection date against each. I’ve just looked in that small red notebook; twenty-four polite rejections or time-outs in all. Of these, only one very sweet Irish agent took the trouble to give me the invaluable information that, though she really did like the sample, she just wouldn’t know where or to whom to market it.

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t write to a formula; it should come from the heart. But it sure helps if your story happens to fit comfortably into one of the popular genres. I was in the position of having edured a long, elephantine gestation, only to find that my baby would have to struggle through much hostile terrain before finding an environment capable of sustaining life.

I always wanted “Out Late with Friends and Regrets” to be a crossover book, not a novel aimed exclusively at lesbians. But Contemporary Women’s Fiction is a vast, amorphous  genre, and is heavily populated by that upmarket sub-genre, the Literary Book. Nothing against literary; I have enjoyed many literary books. But then scan the remaining available boxes, and tick them off on your fingers: Romance. Crime (God, I wish I could write crime!). Thriller. Historical. Family Saga. YA. Children’s. Sci-Fi (let’s include Specfic and Steampunk, shall we?) Fantasy. Erotica. Memoir. Biography. Autobiography. Political. Hey! Humour! Yes well, mine’s got plenty of humour, but also sorrow, difficult stuff about relationships and family, lust, food, friendship, getting drunk…you know, real stuff. And yes, the main character does discover that she’s gay, after being in an abusive heterosexual marriage from far too young an age. (No, she isn’t stupid; read up the psychology – these charismatic controlling men are typically attracted to bright girls and women, and unpick their personalities over the years until every last thread of the woman’s confidence and independence is shredded. And then there’s the complication of children…)

This scenario seemed to me to offer a wealth of potential for dramatic tension: when Fiona finds herself alone and long separated from friends and family, she has the struggle of relearning social skills as well as coming to terms with her previously unsuspected sexuality. She never had the chance to learn the rules of the dating game first time around, so imagine how scary her first night out with another woman feels! Oh yes, and I’ve made her a convent-educated Catholic as well, just for good measure. Authors can be so cruel…

So there they are, a hundred and eleven thousand words shuffling around in a phalanx, muttering under their combined breath and wondering which way is home – which genre will have them? My wonderful mentor, Helen Sedgwick of Wildland Editors, who read the ms and told me bluntly which parts weren’t working and had to go (twelve thousand words slain at a stroke! Never fear, they’ve been cryogenically preserved and I just may recycle them sometime in the future – writing is so planet-friendly) suggested “Coming-of-Age”. I can see how it might be a fit, but since my girl is thirty-seven when the story begins, it could be slightly misleading to those seeking teenage kicks. And the “Journey” category has been well shagged into a tattered cliché by all those X-Factor contestants.

You may have seen my bio, in which case you’ll have noted that I’m a fitness instructor when I’m not writing. When you go to instructor college, the tutors teach you (amongst a heap of other stuff) to devise your own choreography and exercises. However, much of the fitness market today is occupied by multinational franchise companies, who supply music and choreo to those instructors willing to deliver classes identical to every other instructor of that class in the world. Sorry, that isn’t for me. It stifles creativity, doesn’t allow for client (or instructor!) error, and robs a class of its USP. We upstream-swimmers are known as freestyle instructors, and I guess my natural writing genre, if any, could be termed freestyle too. Despite the sexuality-unfolding storyline of “Out Late etc.” there are some important straight characters, and gay men too, amongst the lesbian and bisexual women; I have been very chuffed by the compliments I’ve received from mixed audiences of all sexes and sexualities when I’ve given readings from the book.

It’s significant, I think, that when my submission finally found that special person who fell in love with the sample chapters, and who sat up most of the night to read the rest, it was a young, straight, family man; a man who decided to be a publisher because he cares more about the writing and the story than about the commerciality of the genre.

I guess my book is essentially about the freedom to be yourself.

Here’s to freedom.

Suzanne Egerton is English by birth, but settled in Scotland in the eighties, and for the last few has lived with her partner in Motherwell, with deceptively cute mutt Jonesy (F) and a house and garden that take a lot of work to maintain. Her debut novel Out Late With Friends and Regrets is published by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing and you can read more about her here.

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3 Responses to “A Plague Upon All Your Genres – guest post by Suzanne Egerton”

  1. Hannah May 20, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    Interesting thoughts about the publishing world. What you say about the fitness market and formula writing seems to apply to many other areas; restaurants, hotels, tv dramas among others come to mind.
    I’m glad you found a publisher in the end. Hope you also find lots of readers, from
    all walks of life.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Plague Upon All Your Genres – guest post by Suzanne Egerton | Eclectic Books - May 20, 2013

    […] A Plague Upon All The Genres � customer post by Suzanne Egerton […]

  2. News roundup – free book, new anthology, Cherry Potts and the Bold Strokes blog tour | UK Lesbian Fiction - June 5, 2013

    […] and you can read more about the background on the novel’s publication and the story in this guest blog on […]

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