Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Positioning, Polarising and Publishing

Positioning is all about creating an identity for what you’re offering people. It ties in with branding, and also combines lots of other aspects of the marketing mix that I’ve been covering over the last few blogs. Covers and pricing, for example, are central to positioning.

Since I wrote my last blog entry, there have been some major challenges for me regarding the positioning of The Syndrome Diaries.

I read out an extract at my writing group, expecting the usual suggestions of developing some dialogue, making a character’s motives a little clearer, and so on. But half an hour after I’d finished reading, the room was still engaged in a heated debate regarding the behaviour of one of my main characters. This is perfectly justified: what he’s doing is very polarising and different people are bound to respond to it in different ways. But I wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction, and I was worried that I’d upset people by what I’d written (which is something I have to learn to deal with, as a lot of my writing involves controversial subjects).

Although going to writing groups has improved my writing, the difficulty is that I’m only reading out relatively short extracts, so the way that the whole plot hangs together can’t be immediately clear. Some of the feedback was quite tough to deal with because if I were to implement it, the whole novel would fall apart. I was left wondering whether I’d written something that, ultimately, wasn’t worth putting out there without a complete rewrite.

But after a chat with a couple of the group’s members, the issue is more to do with positioning. While another group had labelled the novel as women’s fiction, it isn’t. It’s too edgy. Much as I love Maeve Binchy’s wonderful story-telling, I’m not writing Maeve Binchy feel-good, happy-ending fiction. The character causing the problem is entitled to do just that (and I don’t think there’s any stopping him), but the book cannot be put in a pink, fluffy category. And I don’t think it ever really was; I was quite surprised that the first group thought that was where it fitted, and so much feedback since then has suggested that it doesn’t.

My parents have now read the completed beta version of the novel: this is the version which is as polished as I can make it without other people reading the entire manuscript. They came up with some ideas for improvements which I agree with, but I was quite surprised at how much they thought should stay as it is – including the ending, which I was considering changing. Although they’re my parents and one might expect a bit of daughter-directed bias, my Dad in particular can be very critical although he’s constructive with it. The beta version is going to another two readers who are acquaintances rather than close friends/family; I trust them to come back with quality feedback, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they think the ending is convincing.

The blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months will be about the beta feedback and revisions, and then it’s time to self-publish. I’ll also be documenting the steps to get the book on Amazon, as it’ll be the first time I’ve gone through the process. And then I’ll be covering what happens next (i.e. real sales figures, not those headline-generating, exception-to-the-rule numbers).

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4 thoughts on “Positioning, Polarising and Publishing

  1. Your observation is crucial: “Although going to writing groups has improved my writing, the difficulty is that I’m only reading out relatively short extracts, so the way that the whole plot hangs together can’t be immediately clear. Some of the feedback was quite tough to deal with because if I were to implement it, the whole novel would fall apart. I was left wondering whether I’d written something that, ultimately, wasn’t worth putting out there without a complete rewrite.”

    I have discovered, painfully so, that critiquing a full-length novel in a writing group that meets at most once a week, does not work well. For the exact reasons you state.

    As much as I feel like they give me good guidance with the individual pages read, it is impossible for them to remember everything over a span of months. We don’t read books over such a long period of time, but to critique a novel in a group setting, there isn’t much choice.

    My best experience has come from a beta read online with a fellow blogger. We exchanged ms’s and read at our leisure and commented as we went along. This way it was easy to flip back through earlier chapters to jog my memory or to make sure the plot was on track or the characters were developing nicely.

    This could happen in groups too, but only if the members are willing to spend the extra time to read “outside” of the meeting to make sure they’re remembering all the details, and that they’re feeling the increase of tension, or what have you.

    But it sounds like things are moving in a positive direction for you, and you’re lucky you have parents who will be honest and objective with your writing. That’s hard to come by! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, 4am. I think there’s a learning process for understanding the feedback that groups give. There’s been a lot of really good advice and ideas, but there have been some things which I’ve taken on board – particularly the categorisation of the book early on – that were based too heavily on a small amount of the manuscript. There’s a skill in selecting what you take on board and I also need to remember that whatever I do, some people will disagree with that choice: there are no right answers. Some will like the book, some won’t.

  2. The only feedback I can give is that having been privileged to hear you read excerpts from The Syndrome Diaries, is to maybe look at going down the traditional route of trying to sell the book to a publishing house, possibly via a literary agent. The standard of writing is certainly high enough to merit the chance of getting a deal on the book rather than heading straight away down the Amazon, self publish route.

    I agree it’s not Binchy and neither is it Kinsella or Keyes and thankfully not James (EL) it’s Hallet, strong, well constructed edgy and current and therefore I believe whatever decisions you make regarding character will work well for you and your future readers.

    • Thanks Flatfield – those are very kind comments and I’m hugely flattered! There are quite a few reasons that I don’t want to go down the traditional route, largely relating to being a control freak. Also the time involved in going down the agent/publisher route puts me off – that’s assuming I was lucky enough to get a contract, as it’s more likely that I’d spend months pursuing it and end up no further forward. I also think that the dissemination process is changing incredibly rapidly – much like it did for music – and that boarding the trad route is much like boarding a supertanker. Much more flexibility and creativity is needed to ride the changes.

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