Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that


can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?


How to Create Your Own Book Universe: Reoccurring Characters


At age eleven, I began writing my first ever novel and somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered whether I’d ever get it published. I worked nearly two years on the first draft and seemed this 300,000 word monstrosity “The next Harry Potter.” Not only to friends, teachers, and pedestrians who would listen, but to literary agents too. Yes, at age thirteen, I confidently typed “How to write a query letter” into Google and began to look for representation for this fantasy book which I intended, which the smugness only a preteen intellectual can have, that the agent would sing me a multi-book deal that would earn me millions.

If you’re interested in such past projects of which there have been several, feel free to read a post I wrote more than a year ago about my writing history.


Part 1

Part 2

I spent nearly a year revising the draft (which was obviously already perfect) while simultaneously querying every single agent out there, regardless of what genres they preferred. Five years later, I’m not at all embarrassed by these attempts, but actually a tad impressed with my ambition. At least through this long process of writing “soon-to-be bestsellers” and querying them, I learned a lot about the publishing process. I have even been able to publish a few short stories and poems.

I began writing poetry at age 16 as a means of making fast cash through contests; though I think my strength lies in storytelling, I found


quicker success in the world of poetry. I began juggling a lot of different projects, some of them to do with writing, some with history, some with photography. I am a multi-tasker stretched to his limits.

But as I finish writing the second draft of my newest novel-in-progress In Lickskillet, I feel that familiar pride and unwarranted smugness. I feel that this is by far my proudest, best work, which is how I feel about every single project I can complete. With only a few thousand words to go before completion, I feel satisfied that this will be not only a good story that deserves telling, but also a marketable, publish-able book.

So, the question arises: I plan to publish this as my first novel, now that I have nonfiction articles and short story creds under my belt. But once that ends, what’s next? That’s when my mind goes into serious overdrive.

Obviously, I have plenty ideas for future stories. Maybe one day I will blog about all the crazy ideas I’ve had for novels which I think would actually work (like a retired boxer who tries to time travel to escape a Mexican cartel) (or maybe that idea about a political conspiracy theory set in the inside of a single plant cell.) But most of all, I am wondering whether I will continue the stories of the characters in this particular novel In Lickskillet.

Having written about them for over a year, I have formed an attachment with them; they are teenagers, so when the story ends, their stories do not. Not really. They will grow to become adults and maybe have families and jobs. Each heads in a different direction, markedly changed from who they were at the beginning of the story, but of course, they are still only high school graduates. They will grow up further and do other things beyond what I write.


If you have ever read the works of either William Faulkner or David Mitchell, they both employ this idea of all of their novels existing within the same universe. Characters who appear minor-ly in one work may re-appear as major characters in another. Sometimes, even characters only mentioned or simple waiters will come back with their own books, their characters fully-fledged. I would like to perhaps do this, showing glimpses of characters from past (already published) or future (planned) books I intend to write.

It lends a certain dramatic irony for those who have already read your work and for those who have not, they don’t miss out on anything. Instead, the inclusion acts as a nod to more fervid fans. For example, while reading Cloud Atlas (about which a new movie is coming out starring Tom Hanks and which I’m still unsure about) when a certain character finds himself trying to escape a nursing home by calling his brother, any reader of David Mitchell who has previously read Ghostwritten knows that the character’s rich brother has died and cannot help him at all.

Of course this sort of thing exists within a series, like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire when different, previously inconsequential characters take center stage. But these books will be more self-contained and will not in any way act as a series. The idea exists quite commonly within comic book canons as well.

So maybe that is overly ambitious, to create a network of stories which in fact interact. But I think this is a grand idea, though implementing the idea might take years and would require me to first publish my novel. If you’d like to check it out, you can read about In Lickskillet here or here!

How do you feel about world-building between non-series books?

Book-Thumping On the Street

Talking about my book is just weird. It’s not that I haven’t memorized a spiel to tell people when they say, “I hear you’ve written a book, what’s it about?” At one time I even considered printing business cards to give to people, so high was my fervor to promote my book which has yet to be published. I started this blog with the sole intent of marketing hardcore. This has actually worked, since I’ve slowly gained a readership who is loyal and very nice. Some even like my writing!

Having a Twitter and Facebook page– those things are easy. Facebook has singularly helped increase my views on this blog by a tremendous amount. But marketing a book has to do with more than posting incessantly about blog posts and book signings. Eventually, you’re going to have to talk to people in real life about what you have written.

“Hey, I read your blog. I saw that you wrote a book.”

“Yes, I…. yep. I sure did.”

“Cool. So when will it be published?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I don’t really have a contract or an agent.”

“Oh, so you haven’t sent it off to the publishers yet.”

“Well, it’s not that simple… you see, you have to…”

“What are you talking about? How did Twilight get published then?”

“I don’t really know. But you see, first you need an agent…”

“No, you don’t. Just self-publish. Like my mom did when she wrote that western-erotica. You should totally buy it. It’s called Cowboys and Aliens 2: Cowboys Come Again.”

“Wow. Well…… that certainly sounds interesting. Is she very successful in selling it?”

“Six people have bought a copy, so…”

“That’s why I’m not sure I want to self-publish.”

“Well, what’s your book about?”

*Sigh* “Well, it’s about, well…… um, a serial killer. But he’s actually a pretty good guy. Except he’s a terrible person. And I guess I still want people to feel pity for him or at least sympathize with him. And it’s also about a lot more characters, and it tells their stories. I guess it’s rather complicated. Oh, and some prostitutes die. I guess there’s something in there about how murder is a fad. Or maybe… yes.”

“Well, right, I’ll totally buy that whenever you decide to send it off to the publishers.”



Sometimes it seems downright impossible to explain your own work. I’d rather explain sex to a four-year old. We get nervous, ready to show our genius we are to our friends and cohorts. But then all that comes out is mush that doesn’t make much sense at all. I wonder what some authors told their families while writing their works. What did Thomas Pynchon say? What about David Foster Wallace? Or David Mitchell? Everyone would say, what were you thinking? What exactly are you WRITING? At some point, I guess we all have these problems.

NANOWRIMO: Stop Writing!!!! Just… Stop.

It’s almost that time of year again! When all of your friends say “Hey, I should write a novel!”

Naturall, National Novel Writing Month… or NANOWRIMO:

Obviously, it’s my favorite time of the year because I lose my superiority of being the “writer” type among my friends. During the month of November, everyone is a writer.

The best thing to do, obviously, is dissuade every young person from writing. Because, honestly, there are too many writers and books, already, right? Why can’t we just take some time off from writing books? There are already too many to read. We can resume in thirty or forty years.

For the next thirty days, I challenge you to discourage your friends to write! No, seriously! Whether they have a blog or are working on a novel or even if they were poets… discourage them from making any literary progress at all. You too should stop writing. Just stop.

No… just stop writing. There are probably so many books already published that yours won’t even matter. It won’t make a dent in anyone’s life. It will sit anonymously, lonely on a shelf in some rundown used book store. It will sell out of print and not be re-printed. Haven’t we exhausted the explanation of the human spirit by now? I mean, really? Haven’t we?

If you are an aspiring writer, I implore you with a full heart to stop trying. Put down your pen, close your laptop, burn your journals, shred your poems, forget your stories.

Why don’t you go do something more productive? Where will writing get you?

You could catch up on Season 15 of South Park instead. You could weave a basket:  aren’t baskets better than books? And believe me, you will have an easier time selling a basket than a book.

Well, there is an off-chance you’ll write something semi-good. And sure, it won’t change the world, but it might change one person. It might speak to just one little human being. What you write about, how you write, they might be affected by that. They might finally be able to verbalize their feelings through your immaculate paragraphs.

But you should probably not even try. It might not get you anywhere. Sure, you CAN change the world, but what’s the point, right?

Failing Math? On the Bright Side…

Like most writers, I am terrible at math. I am so bad at calculus, that I have the makings to be a grand and famous writer. Because any writer worth his merit is terrible at math.

There must be, then, some sort of graphical correlation between math ineptitude and literary excellence. If we created a scatter plot where the X value represented how poorly you marked on your last math test and the Y axis represented the gauge for storytelling skill, would the graph show such a relation?


The great thing about being a writer, though, is that you don’t become one because you couldn’t become a doctor. Well, maybe you really could not have. But that’s no reason to be a writer. Why a writer? In fact, a lot of professions begin because people cannot make it as a writer. Like many plumbers and coffee baristas I know.

If ever you feel strange and isolated from normal society, bear in mind you might, like me, possess commonalities with stereotypes often appropriated to writers.

Which, of course, means you will probably write a book some day. Just sit down and type it on out. Get published and become famous. Sort of like Henry Miller, sans the STD’s, opium, and incest.

The next time you fail to find the square root of X, you can tell your professor that the square root of evil is calculus. And

that mathematics solves nothing, really, but things we already know the answer to. I know that, because the answers are always in the back of the book. And the professors of mathematics… well, they’re just an imaginary root squared– their solution is to just make everything negative.

You may also become a brilliant writer if you drink coffee (tea is also acceptable, depending on your proximity from the British Isles).
Also, writers are apparently super anal about grammar. So if you are a member of the Grammar-reich, fear not! Naturally, you’ll be a writing.If you get writer’s block, you become verified as a bond-a-fide writer. You can, therefore, call yourself a writer without ever writing anything. It’s called “chronic writer’s block.” Just be ready to speak abstractly about the great works you’d like to create, but cannot because of your malignant disease.

And according to common stereotypes, if you cannot get a job… you can always just be a writer.

Well, even if you experience any of these bad symptoms, you can probably become a writer!

How I Write

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

— W. Somerset Maugham

As a writer, the way you say something means just as much as what you say. It’s difficult to assess something and determine it was written by a “writer.” Who judges such idiosyncrasies? Do we call someone a writer because they have published books or written readable print? Or do we gauge writer-dom by the complexity of the verbiage and the incomprehensible crux of his interminable, orbicular clause compositions?

I began considering this, having begun writing something entirely new (it’s going to be another novel, *cough, cough*). How do I write? Do I follow any specified rules or do I apply any special formulas? Every writer claims not, but in their writing, every writer implements a system. No matter how simple or complex.

Hemingway, he wants to tell you something simple, but in telling you that, he’ll imply something far more nuanced. Henry Miller wrote all of the horrible, immoral things he thought and then created a book. Dickens meticulously constructed formulaic plots and caricature characters to support his criticisms of society. Kurt Vonnegut wrote several varied paragraphs linked only by a similarly eccentric style, and TADA!

I tote a few strange rules, though not so much rules as stylistic preferences. For example, I strive never to begin a sentence with “however,” “moreover,” or “therefore.” Sometimes, the words must be used, but a sentence can be written less awkwardly by inserting the word after the first clause. While this has nothing to do with grammar, I do it still. Some things simply embed themselves in your stories and style; they stay there.

Sometimes, my style of writing fiction and style of writing nonfiction merge, sometimes to create something great, other times… troublesome. In journalistic writing, there tends to exist rigid rules that prohibit from certain behaviors. Contractions, first person pronouns, and biased statements should never be found in a news story.

I, however, write op-ed pieces more frequently:  I keep up not only this blog, but I also pen a monthly column for our school newspaper. In any pieces like that, I  give my opinion. To learn to write objectively and subjectively, though, improves writing style overall.

I proclaim opinions in the form of anecdotes. I make sense of my beliefs by telling stories. Of course, this isn’t as good as using scientific data or “textual evidence.” But to reaffirm what you already believe, it can at least convey a thought. Even if a story is untrue, if what we mean by it is, then truth doesn’t even matter. Like parables, our memories serve to justify who we are. To explain our identities.

In a fiction story, as well, we use stories as evidence. Why is this person so mean? Could it be that he has a deficiency in his amygdala or because he was abused as a child? Storytellers rely on the social causes before turning to biological ones. But it’s how our minds work. Not so much in the sense of psychology:  we are analyzing humans not on a mental level, but on an almost spiritual one. I prefer to think that the human race is more or less incomprehensible. The best we can do is… sympathize.

The best we can do to explain how we act is to tell stories. About our past or about things that never occurred.

Every writer writes differently, but what makes someone a writer, really a writer, is that through a story they hope to uncover a great

truth. The truth can spawn from the writer himself or perhaps it’s a truth about the reader, which the reader may discover through reading a book. Or maybe both, so that the act of writing is very much like telling prophecies. What you feel now, that indescribable emotion, will be felt by someone in the future when they read about what happened to you. About what you did. Somehow, a person will be touched through what you have written about.

Writers write with different inspirations, with varied “creative processes.” Some can only write in utter silence or in the peace of nature:  that’s me. Some prefer to be in the clash and cacophony of life, sprint-typing in the center of some urban Starbucks. Dan Brown, after each hour of writing, does a quick set of push ups and then of sit ups.

I often write in the nude.

Whether you rely on the night sky or hardcore drugs, every writer is striving to find the same truth.

To answer my question, how do I write… well, style hardly matters. What really matters is the intent of the person; this universal intent  binds us under the single title:


How to De-stress

Since 8 o’ clock this morning, I’ve been fretting over college applications. And personal statements and scholarship essays. Pile these life-changing applications atop mountains of schoolwork:  essays and research projects and benumbing busy work. Atop poetry submissions to various magazines and the need to work on the design for a chapbook and the need to further edit my novel and the need to send more queries and hope that this time, there will be one agent who won’t be “sorry to inform” me of anything.

So, instead of working on any of those things, I play Mario Kart.

I pick the largest racer (Bowser, usually, or Donkey Kong) and I pick the largest vehicle possible. I will play online as a visitor and spend the time knocking opponents off the edge. It doesn’t matter if I topple off with them, because winning the race isn’t the point. The point is to fee better. And by being a jerk to people on Mario Kart, I feel better.

Some people punch holes in walls or sob heavily or immerse themselves in work. I play Mario Kart. Think of this as the geek’s version of going to bars and getting in fights. Sometimes, I even pick out just one person to terrorize. After they fall off the edge of a rainbow path, I pause to wait for them so I can knock them off again. This may seem rather aggressive, but it helps.

That’s not the only way I de-stress.

Some people find that yoga helps. I like to cook pasta for myself and others, only eat it all of it myself. I’ll write mocking poetry. I’ll buy things I clearly don’t need and that are incredibly overprice:  Fruit Gushers, for example. Because what says “happy” better than a bag of fruit snacks filled with delicious?

Sometimes life gets stressful, so yes, sometimes you have to be a jerk on Mario Kart Wii.

Writer’s Angst: Self-Published E-books

Here’s another common ailment of writers which I currently suffer under. ANGST! Toward publishers, the reading public, and indeed, agents. Why?

Well, this sort of angst forms in the hearts of every writer who is again and again rejected. Publishing is certainly a wonky battleground right now- bullets zip through manuscript pages and query letters flutter into pools of dirty blood.

Here’s the thing: I’m starting to get the hang of marketing. I think I might understand a wee bit about it, because I’ve been blogging. And my view count approaches 1000, and every day this blog receives more views. Exciting, right?

So in the midst of writing query letters, reading back through my novel to edit more for the hell of it… some people (my family, mostly) have the gall to ask, “Why not self publish?”

Of course, I am born-bred to believe that self-published books, uploaded e-books are invariably horrible. There is such a terrible stigma behind these sorts of books that I cringe every time someone suggests I do it.

Then, I considered it. Wait! Derek, you’re a product of the 21st century, fairly apt at social networking. Hell, you spend most of your time “social networking.” Well, Derek, what if we DO self-publish? As an e-book on Amazon? You wouldn’t need an agent, you could do whatever you’d like to do with your novel. Total control. You know plenty of talented artists. Enlist their help for cover design. Derek, we may have stumbled upon a small miracle.

And the truth is… when I first started writing, I would never have considered self-publishing. But now, e-books seem like the future. It seems that perhaps for a new, unknown author, it could be cheapest way to get published, to get my name out there, make money. Because of the really dark and taboo subject material of Word Salad, it may be better if I do. Every agent says: “Writing is great. Don’t think I can sell something this… um… extreme.”

And well, where does something extreme belong? Maybe… the internet!

Tell me what you think of self-publishing, then go read the synopsis of my book:

For say, $3.99, would you buy it for your e-reader? Or for your computer or Ipod? What would you do?

Self-publishing used to seem like it would be a defeat, but maybe in it’s own way, it could be an actual victory.


In the next few weeks, I’d like to post one blog a week about querying. Because it’s something I’m struggling to figure out. To master.

The funny thing about a query letter is that it is far more nerve-wracking than writing a novel. If not every single word in a novel is perfect, 1/120,000 ain’t so bad. But a query is short… this is your entire book crammed into about 300 words. Writing a synopsis was even harder for me.

But soon, I’ll be posting on how I went about learning to craft a query letter, what I hope agents will learn about my writing through my query letter, and how to deal with rejections to my query letter. If you’re trying to find an agent like me right now, I know it’s hard. Insane. A leap into a canyon.

It disturbs me when people ask me when I’m going to “send my book off to get published.” If you don’t write and have no real interest in navigating the publishing world, reading these posts may still be helpful. It might help you appreciate the strife of publication. Of query letters. Of agent guidelines. Of rejection.

So, I hope you learn something, and believe me, we’ll be learning together.

Why You Should Subscribe Here

As many of you know, I have written and am currently in the act of trying to sell a novel called Word Salad. If I haven’t blabbed about it to you, this is what it’s about:

“Sebastian Martinelli needs a new hobby. Some men enjoy carpentry. Others drive over the speed limit or shoot up heroin. They go out and get drunk and get into fights, just to feel alive.  They set fire to garbage bins or slit their wrists or poke lit cigarettes into their eyes.

Sebastian murders people.

WORD SALAD is a transgressive literary tale—think the intertwining story lines of Cloud Atlas with the abrasive storytelling of Chuck Palahniuk.

Escaped serial killer Sebastian wants to redeem himself; unfortunately, America knows him as a highly publicized sicko. But after killing the only woman he ever claimed to love, he decides that it’s not too late to return to America, to make things right. But making up for a life of gory debauchery may involve more than “I’m sorry.” If he wants to make things right to the people who he hurt, Sebastian may have to risk his life.

Sebastian’s story of redemption runs concurrently to details of his past, seen through the eyes of people whom he knew during his life such as a burned out jazz musician, an ex-mob member/stir fry cook, a childhood friend abused by his adopted father, and a Chicago detective working undercover as a maid in a brothel. After pushing a paraplegic bully down the stairs, Sebastian flees the orphanage he has always caused home to live in the slums of New Orleans where he begins to deal with the monster that is ruining his young life—himself.”

As part of a pre-publication marketing campaign, I am starting a blog and a twitter account and maybe later on, a facebook page (once I’ve acquired an agent). Until then, I think it would be fun to keep us this blog about the progress of the book. Also, other fun stuff. I hope you subscribe, and pretty soon, I hope I’ll have some great news regarding publication.