What Kind of Writer am I? - by Chris Longmuir

          I want to talk a bit about the different genres of my published books. I have 3 published novels on sale, one paperback and two e-books. Dead Wood and Night Watcher are dark crime novels which some readers describe as scary, although I don’t necessarily agree with this. Maybe I’m immune. This sticks me in the crime writer genre box. However, I have also published my historical family saga, A Salt Splashed Cradle, and two books of short stories which include horror. So which genre box am I in now?

          So what’s with this genre box thing? Well, an author who is lucky enough to acquire a publishing contract is immediately put into a little box that defines which genre he or she will publish. So if the first accepted book is crime, you become a crime writer.

          Many authors are dissatisfied with this but find it impossible to climb out of their genre box, which publishers keep firmly locked. With e-publishing, however, the situation can change. An author has the freedom to write in several genres, and provided their book descriptions do not mislead the reader, this can be quite successful. A word of warning, the author should ensure the book that is on offer is accurately described, and the cover fits with the genre. After all, a reader might be a bit miffed if they think they are buying a family saga only to discover it is contemporary dark crime.

          Up until I published A Salt Splashed Cradle as an ebook, I was firmly in the crime writer box. My first novel, Dead Wood, was traditionally published as a paperback after it won the Dundee International Book Prize, so that decided the genre that publishers would be expecting. My second novel, Night Watcher, was published as an e-book and has been doing reasonably well. I’m almost finished a third crime book with a theme of internet predators. So what happened to make me do a side swerve into historical family sagas?

         It really wasn’t a genre changing moment for me. You see, ASalt Splashed Cradle was the very first novel I wrote. At the time I was part of the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) New Writer Scheme. This scheme allows unpublished writers to submit a novel each September for them to crit. If they think the novel is good enough it will get further readings and then submission to a publisher. Well, A Salt Splashed Cradle almost made it, however it got a rave rejection from the publisher. I think my timing was bad, because that was the year that sagas went out of fashion and several well-established saga writers were dropped by their publishers. So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

          Anyway, after I published Night Watcher as an ebook, I remembered this novel I’d written, way back in prehistoric times and thought I’d have another look at it. So it was dug out of the bottom drawer, otherwise known as my computer hard drive, the place where all unpublished manuscripts languish, and I read it. At that point I realized it was a good story and started on the rewriting, revision, and editing process. The result was, I published it, and was then flabbergasted to discover it had reached Number 41 in Amazon’s Family Saga best selling list by that same evening. Since then it has gone up and down the lists, fallen off the bottom and then made comebacks, similar to what happens with Night Watcher.

          I must admit I have a soft spot for this saga, probably because it was the first book I wrote. It’s a story about a fishing community, and the effect a young bride has on it when she infiltrates it as the young bride of Jimmie Watt. Back in the 1830s these small fishing communities were insular, they married within their own community and ‘incomers’ were not welcome. So you can imagine the impact that Belle, a town girl who dresses in silks as opposed to the rough woven fisher clothes, has on this community. She does herself no favours when she falls in love with the laird’s son, and becomes ostracized as well as unwelcome. The story encompasses fisher life and traditions, as well as whaling, and the setting moves between the fishing village of Craigden and the Arctic. And that’s all I’m going to tell you.

          But if you’ve read my dark crime books and want to check out whether I’ve been successful in switching between genres, check out A Salt Splashed Cradle. I think it’s good, but do you?

Chris Longmuir tweets at @ChrisLongmuir


Bill Kirton said…
A very familiar dilemma, Chris. We don't want to disappoint readers who, if they like us, expect more of the same. On the other hand, it's nice to switch styles and try something different - predictability is so deadening.
Using pseudonyms is an answer that seems obvious but, of course, isn't. I now have 3 writing names - one for crime, one for kids and one for a sort of satirical fantasy novella. But each new name means you're starting from scratch. (Unless you're Ruth Rendell.)
Anonymous said…
Hi Chris
I read about A Salt-splashed Cradle here and bought it straight away. Am I the only person who has read it and not read your crime novels - yet? It's great you got your first novel 'out there' in the end. I had similar experiences with mine (so near and yet so far!) Maybe I'll follow in your footsteps one day!
Ali B
Lee said…
Does Salt have anything genre-like in common with your crime novels? Maybe a sense of darkness? Or?
Chris Longmuir said…
This post went up on the morning I left for the Harrogate Crime Festival. I saw it on the train and tried to answer but my AppleMac Air wouldn't show the Captcha and without that I couldn't post. So firstly, thanks for your comments, and Bill, I've steered clear of pseudonyms, it's difficult to get your name recognised without the added problem of 2 names. And Lee, my Salt Splashed Cradle is definitely not in the frothy romance category, maybe I should let the lovely Bill have the last word on that he said - "it's a romance but the murkier motives and actions are still in evidence" so maybe I should describe it as a dark romance! and Ali, you're certainly not the first to read this book before the crime ones. It's been surprisingly popular given my reputation for writing dark crime.

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