SPS-301: Literary Fiction: What Is It? – with Roz Morris
Are book genres defined by one very simple thing: reader expectations? Roz Morris and James try to solve this eternal riddle.
- Starting out in publishing as a ghostwriter
- What is literary fiction and how does it differ from genre fiction?
- On teaching writers to self-edit
- Seeing publishing from both sides of the equation
- Roz’s best book marketing strategies
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-301: Literary Fiction: What Is It? - with Roz Morris
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Roz Morris: I came of age really, because I did my novel my way, and there was no more ghostwriting novels for other people. Only me.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson, and first-time author James Blatch as they shine the light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Yes. Hello, and welcome. It's the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Episode 301.
James Blatch: For people who are not watching on video, I'm holding up an episode 300 mug, celebrating those episodes, which surprised us all by appearing through the door.
Mark Dawson: We don't know who sent it.
James Blatch: I thought you'd sent it.
Mark Dawson: I wouldn't do that.
James Blatch: I overestimated you.
Mark Dawson: I thought Sarah Cattell might have sent it, or at least she did. Sarah's our designer, but it wasn't her. I think the culprit eventually outed himself and it was Mr. Stewart Grant who was very kind and sent, I don't know how many he sent out, so there's me, you, and John. Yeah. That was a very nice thing to do. Also, please James after 300 episodes you've now remembered to say if you're holding something up that most of our listeners don't know what you're talking about.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: That's well done. That's progress. Six years.
James Blatch: Yeah. I'm not guaranteeing it's going to remain like that.
Mark Dawson: I'm sure it won't.
James Blatch: A collector's item, then. We could perhaps auction them off at SPS live silent auction them off and couldn't we?
Mark Dawson: I saw a Banksy, where it was just sold for 18 million, yesterday.
James Blatch: The one that destroyed itself? That was absolute genius.
Mark Dawson: It was. Complete genius. I'm not suggesting our SPS 300 mugs are going to be worth 18 million pounds in five years time, 18 pounds, perhaps.
James Blatch: No. Now, you are, for people who now know, if they watched the last episode, or listened to it they have an idea of how this is all put together in the background, and they'll see that you're on Zoom, because in your garden you are still building your studio. How is that going?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Really good now, so it's weatherproof. The windows and the doors are in the roof stand, and we're starting to think about a bit of external stuff, landscaping and they're busy working away inside, so we are talking about heating systems and where the desks will go, and where the plugs are going to go, so it's all it's all running ahead quite fast. I think they'll probably be in, in January, is my guess, January, or February.
James Blatch: Okay. Wow.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Very exciting.
James Blatch: Good. We're recording this on the Friday, a week before it goes out. On Sunday we're meeting, you, me and JD at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is a football stadium in London to watch egg hand, not football, which is a sport imported from our American colonies.
Mark Dawson: Yes. We're watching the NFL, so the Dolphins are playing the Jaguars. I'm a Dolphins fan, I have been for a long time, so there was some hope that they might be quite good this year. That hasn't exactly turned out to be the case. They are one and four. They've played five, and won one, and the Jaguars our zero and five, and are at a 20 game losing streak.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: The teams are really bad, although, this is pure waffle, so please skip forward if this is offending you, anybody, but the Dolphins quarterback called, Tua Tagovailoa has been injured and I think he's playing again on Sunday.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: It will be fun. Yeah. We're having a bit of an away day aren't we?
James Blatch: I've never been to an NFL game, so I'm very excited about it. I do watch the Super Bowl, normally. I remember you going on about tanking for this guy so you had to get badly to get a good picture or a draft.
Mark Dawson: Unfortunately. Even though he's nothing were tanking for him. It turns out the quarterback they didn't pick, so the one who went after him, is this guy called Justin Herbert, and it looks like he is unbelievable, so they pick the wrong one.
James Blatch: Wow. There you go.
Mark Dawson: Which is very Dolphins, but there you go, that's how it is.
James Blatch: I just realised it's a Florida local derby. Do they use the expression local derby in America?
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: Local rivals?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: The Red Sox, and the Yankees and stuff.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. The cleaners are just downstairs, so you might hear a Hoover going around in the background. Not really the same. For example, The Spurs and Chelsea in London, West Ham and Man U in London, or Liverpool and Everton, those are grudge matches in football, where the have a little bit more about them than normal than any other match would be. It's not quite the same and the crowds aren't quite the same in American football. Although, I have been to New England before and it was pretty feisty, but not quite the same as some of the tribal atmosphere you go to a membership game.
James Blatch: Okay. I'm still looking forward to it, and I guess I have to support the Dolphins, because-
Mark Dawson: If you don't want to get sacked. Yeah. Absolutely.
James Blatch: It's tough, isn't it? You did come to the Mets game with me. Who by the way, have had a very similar season with their lead pitcher Jacob deGrom. The moment he went off injured, they can't win any games, even if he wasn't due to play anyway, so their season was a season of two halves, as well. We're doing that on Sunday, a little get together in leu really of the time we'd normally be spending together at conferences, and travelling.
As it stands at the moment, there is a possibility that the American government has woken up a little bit to the fact that people need to know a date of when Europeans can go and they've whispered that it might be the eighth of November, so we've done some rearranging this morning for the umpteenth time of our flights to get us to Vegas, and we are, I don't know, moderately hopeful I suppose that we will get there hopefully on the eighth or ninth, but who knows, we are planning to be there.
Mark Dawson: Just this moment, talk about changing plans, we have four tickets for the game. Don't we?
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: On Sunday and my friend has just emailed me to-
James Blatch: Just dropped out.
Mark Dawson: Say he's got COVID, so now we have three tickets.
James Blatch: Let's have that conversation off air.
Mark Dawson: We will. Yeah. Oh my goodness. This is life these days. Isn't it? No. We are hopeful that we'll be able to go on the eighth. But you know, we don't know, it's only three weeks away. This year is running away with us. It's my daughter's birthday today. It's my birthday, too.
James Blatch: Happy Birthday, Freya.
Mark Dawson: Then, we're off to Vegas. Then, before you know it, it'll be Christmas.
James Blatch: Thanks for that. Okay. Right. Onto more serious matters.
Can I welcome Sheena Agar, who is our latest person to become a Patreon supporter of the Self Publishing Show. She's been to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. Thank you, Sheena, very much indeed. You're very welcome. I think that might have been a week late, so I do apologise for that. We have a good interview today.
I've been very busy books wise, this week. Actually we had a webinar during the week where we talked about the success we've had with Fuse, about we've been bringing a new series online, one of our existing series has slumped a little bit over the last six weeks, so I'm now working with another Facebook ads guy, so he and I are talking about how to revive that and how to get that going in the right direction, again.
I've been putting paperbacks online today, which is something you need to do carefully, otherwise you end up with mistakes on air or mistakes that publishers don't want, so each one of those are kind of read. I get up from the desk, I don't know if you do this, you know at some point you've got to change your scenario, you got to get up, walk around, go make a cup of Joe, come back again, and then read something fresh before you make it live. I think when you work by yourself, I guess we all do it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Make sure it's not in italics.
James Blatch: No. I did do that once. I did I think talk about that, didn't I once? I try not to do that as much anymore.
Mark Dawson: That's good. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: That helps.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Right. We have an interview today with an author called Roz Morris. She's actually in the UK here in London, southwest London. Roz has really a strong background in writing. She's actually a literary fiction author. We don't speak to literary fiction authors so much on this show.
Genre fiction seems to lend itself much more to indie publishing than lit fic, but she came up I thought with a really brilliant definition of what is the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction, which we'll talk about after the interview. She's also somebody who spent a lot of time teaching authors, particularly about the writing process, and it was a very valuable interview. I hope you'll agree.
Roz Morris, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. We had a little bit of a moment there where we first spoke to each other, and thought we're both British, which is weird in this world.
Roz Morris: It is. I'm so used to the internet connecting us and everybody. I happily talk to people on podcasts in America, or Canada, or anywhere.
James Blatch: You know, publishing, self-publishing, writing is booming, and it's huge in the UK, but it is massive in America, which I think lots of our colleagues who we speak to are in the US, so we sort of get used to that. It's funny, there's quite a few sort of high profile people like Mark, and Jo Penn, and and Nick Stevenson, and others here in the UK, so we punch above our weight, I feel.
Roz Morris: We do. I remember when I first started self-publishing, and I was getting my books into the charts on Amazon in the US, and people who I knew who had traditionally published were saying, "You haven't sold American rights," and I said, "That's not how you do it."
James Blatch: Yeah.
Roz Morris: Completely different.
James Blatch: We're going to talk a bit about this, because I know you've got a lot of experience in the whole area. We'll talk a bit about literary fiction, and people who don't write a book a month, which includes me, I should say, because you seem to be not surrounded by, but you very often do you meet people who seem to be able to write books at a phenomenal rate, but not all of us can do that. Right?
Roz Morris: Yeah. Absolutely. The great thing about self publishing is that we make our own rhythms, and for some people a very fast production is very good for them. It's good for their creativity and for their business model. For others, they need much longer, and we can find a way to do it that satisfies whatever we need.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. Let's talk a bit about you start off with Roz, if you don't mind.
Why don't you give us the lowdown on Roz Morris, a bit about your writing and publishing background.
Roz Morris: My writing and publishing background. I was an introverted scribbling kind of kid. When I got out of university, I stumbled my way into a publishing company, and started working there, and I thought one day I want to be writing books, I want them to be my books that go out. Meanwhile, I had a very useful apprenticeship, because I learned all the publishing ropes, so I knew what went into making a book publishable. These are the kinds of hidden things that a lot of people don't realise goes on.
Then, bit by bit I was starting to write my own work. I got to know some writers. I married a writer, and that was very handy, because I was suddenly then among a lot of people who took their writing very seriously. That I think is something you need. You need some people around you that you can actually physically meet them or not. You need some people who will make you think, okay, it's all right for me to take this as seriously as I want to. From that, I actually got some ghostwriting jobs, because my husband was doing some ghostwriting.
He's a very prolific and established author. He had ghostwritten a project, and the publisher then changed their mind about what they wanted, and I'd been doing quite a lot of apprenticeship writing bits and pieces. I'd been workshopping a novel, and all sorts of things, and he said to me, "I don't have time to rewrite this the way the publisher wants it, but you could do it, it's really, you will be able to do it," so I did, and I handed over this manuscript and the publisher said, "Thank heavens, you've managed to do that. You saved our bacon," they didn't notice me at that time.
But, once we said, "Actually, it was Roz, and not Dave," then I became someone who could be relied on to produce a ghostwritten novel, which is what I did, if needed. I got my way into publishing that way. I was ghostwriting novels for other people.
Then, gradually I was working on my own books, and I was mentoring people as well, because I discovered I really liked talking about how fiction worked. I did quite a lot of mentoring for an agency called Cornerstones, who I think is still going, and they're a developmental editor's, really. I would write developmental reports. I kind of realised I could figure out what a writer was trying to do and what they needed to be taught in order to get them what they wanted.
I was doing a combination of those things, writing books for other people, helping other people write their own books. I had a bit of a lull in ghostwriting contracts, and I thought, I'm really going to finish my book, and about that time self publishing was taking off. I started a blog. I wrote a book called Nail Your Novel, which was about just how to get the book out of your head, and onto the page, and in a form that will do it justice, and I self published that.
That seemed to do really well. I hit the right spot just at the beginning of the big self-publishing revolution, which was I think, 2009. Then, in 2011 I had my novel ready and I'd already got an audience, people knew who I was, because I'd been blogging, and we'd all been talking to each other around the internet, and so I self published my novel, and that's I think when I came of age, really, because I did my novel my way, and there was no more ghostwriting novels for other people. I was me.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Roz Morris: That was it.
James Blatch: Was the ghostwriting experience a learning process for you, getting in the heads of other writers?
Roz Morris: Fantastic. Yes. A fantastic learning experience from that point of view, and also from working with editors, because what I learned was all sorts of requirements of commercial fiction. I already knew about the publishing process from the editing side as an editor, because I had done them all. I'd done developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, all the production stuff, and all the development stuff, but what I hadn't had was I hadn't been on the receiving end, and when I started ghostwriting, I was on the receiving end of this all, so that's very different.
I was kind of knocked into shape by that. I found out exactly how fussy copy editors are about the stuff you write, and you might not realise that.
It was an apprenticeship in two ways. It was an apprenticeship in writing a lot of things that I would not necessarily have chosen to write, but I learned how, because that was the brief, and I also learned just how to write books that would publish well.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's funny, we talk about finding your voice when you're a writer, and there's an old adage, I think whether it's true or not, that it takes a million words or somethin before you find your voice, hence all the rewrites a lot of us do with our first novels. But, when you're ghostwriting, you're finding somebody else's voice.
It feels to be fundamentally different, or is there a you in there as well?
Roz Morris: Sort of, but what I had to do was figure out what they would write if they could, and also what their audiences would write, because ghostwriting is very commercial. I actually have a whole course about this. It's very commercial. What you are doing is satisfying a market that's already been identified, so a publisher will say, "We know this person would sell quite a lot of books, if only they could write them," so that's how it works.
You get into two heads when you get into the head of the person on whose behalf you're writing, and the heads of the people who want to read books by them, so you have to satisfy both of that.
James Blatch: Let's talk about literary fiction, which is what you've settled on. I think, obviously is your preferred genre. Isn't it? Although, using the word genre for literary fiction is a slightly, we better talk about this, because I think you said you get asked quite a lot.
What is literary fiction? I wonder if one of those things that we know it when we say, but it's quite difficult to define.
Roz Morris: It's hard to define. I tend to think of literary as it's a quality that could apply to all kinds of stories, but there are a few distinguishing features as I see it. The biggest, I think, is that a story in a literary novel does not necessarily follow the kind of paths that the same kind of story would follow in genre novel.
If you had a murder, for instance, in a crime novel, there would be certain things that would have to be done in order to satisfy what the readership is looking for, but in a literary novel a murder might not be solved, it might just be the start of something like in Reservoir 13 where it just kicks off a load of things that are really nothing to do with the murder, and life just happens in a different way because of it. That would be a literary way of using a murder.
In The Secret History by Donna Tartt, there's a murder in that, but it's not used as any kind of mystery. The interest for her is all sorts of other things, it's about how the people behave around it. Literary might take something that would be used in a particular way in a genre novel, but it might use it in a completely new way to make something different out of it. Usually there's another quality to a literary novel, it's got some aspect of depth, and maybe metaphor and poetic shape that the writer is also very interested in.
Now, some people think that literary is just about the language, and it might be, but then there are a lot of genre writers who are amazing wordsmiths, really exciting to read, or really funny, and so it's not just the way words are used, it's actually the writers underlying interests.
An example could be that the novel that I've just published, which is called, Ever Rest, and it begins with a man who falls into a glacier while climbing Mount Everest, and his body can't be retrieved. 20 years later people are still waiting for him to come back and be found, so they can get on with their lives. What makes it even more difficult for them is the fact that he was a rock star.
His music is still in the world, and it's as it was when he went missing 20 years ago. The whole world is playing his songs, and bringing him back to life all the time, and he's frozen somewhere in the Himalayas. When I had that idea, it seems mysterious to me, but it also seemed incredibly resonant, rich, because I felt it told a truth about how we remember very remarkable times in our lives, and also how we were say age 19, and how we are now 20 years on from that. This all kind of generated this world for me, and this set of people with a problem, which is how do they move on, and until they can move on they will not, hence the title, Ever Rest.
James Blatch: I like that. It's a really interesting concept. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you. But, I was just thinking about how famous people exist, like Elvis Presley has been dead since 1977, but I never met him personally, would obviously never meet him. For me, he exists in more or less the same way he did when he was alive in 1977. I see him on TV. I still hear his music on the radio. He's just stopped ageing. I guess that's what happens when you die when you're famous, you just stop ageing as far as we're concerned.
What a fascinating concept. We all leave that digital print now. Just going back a little bit, I think it's really interesting to talk about the definition of literary fiction. I was thinking when you talked about a murder doesn't necessarily need to be solved, or follow police procedure, or whatever, or even a thriller way of things, and I was thinking about Atonement, one of my favourite books, where there's actually a sexual assault at the beginning of that, it doesn't follow any kind of predictable pattern that you would expect in a genre book at all. It is, indeed, exactly as you described, life continues to happen, and it's the repercussions 40 years, 30 years later that gradually unfold.
If we're going to define literary fiction as you're not confined by genre expectations, as soon as you say you're not confined by genre expectations, effectively, it's a literary book.
Roz Morris: Yes, really. The way I think of it is what the reader wants from you, so the reader of a mystery, wants the mystery to be sorted out in some way, it doesn't mean they want it to be predictable, but that's something that they will feel dissatisfied if you don't give them that, because they wanted a clever mystery, or a clever murder, and that kind of tying up.
The reader of a literary novel, and the writer of a literary novel is interested in different things, and I think that's the way to think of it.
James Blatch: Do you feel a freedom with a literary fiction book? Is that the reason why you haven't gone down the genre fiction route, at least yet, because you don't want to feel confined to certain expectations of the reader?
Roz Morris: I think it's because the way these ideas appeal to me is because of just what they suggest, I had the idea of the guy in the glacier, and could have treated that in all manner of genre ways, that wasn't what really spoke to me about it. If you think about how we all write, we all write from what individually makes us curious.
I've got the kind of mind and heart that is curious about the more unusual ways to treat a story, and somebody who writes straightforward thriller has got a different kind of mind and heart. It's really just we write what we are moved by and curious about.
James Blatch: Although, I know there will be some people listening to this saying, hang on, I write genre fiction and yet I do put thematic stuff in there, there is a message in there. You may not see it, I mean that's the great thing about art, some people see it, some people don't, so we'll take different things from it.
Some people will write genre fiction and also be making a statement about the world or the human condition within those confines.
Roz Morris: Absolutely. This is where I think you have to think of literary as a continuum, because there are some works that are very literary, and they're full of depth, and meaning and all the qualities that you would say were in a literary novel. Then, there's some that are less obviously literary, but still have some aspects, and themes are great for all kinds of fiction, because they're a really good way of tying a lot of things together, so you've got plots and subplots.
Usually the way you tie them together is by having a main plot and then a subplot that's got some aspects of the same questions that you've gotten the reader interested in and they can all work together. It is really more of a continuum than either literally or not literally.
James Blatch: We will talk about marketing a little bit, but I just want to very quickly ask this. From my perspective, and I market other people's books as well as my own, I do think marketing literary fiction is more of a challenge for indie authors and marketing genre fiction.
Would you agree with that?
Roz Morris: Totally. Because literary fiction is so individual. What I've been describing now on this podcast is how literary authors tend to write books from a very personal quest with an idea, and it's less easy than to explain that in an easily digestible package for advertising, and marketing.
Writing a blurb for your literary novel is really hard, because you can't follow the patterns a mystery reader wants and you've got to find all sorts of ways of getting across the deck that is in there, as well as the plot of the characters. Yes. It's a real challenge.
James Blatch: On the writing front, you've been teaching a bit, I think you've done some master classes here in the UK, one of our big national newspapers.
How have you structured those courses? What are you actually teaching?
Roz Morris: What I did for The Guardian, that's where I taught, it was a course in self-editing, and that was aiming to be useful to all sorts of different writers, usually novelists, but also creative nonfiction writers, memoirist. It was distilled from my days when I was ghostwriting, and I had to revise my own novels quite quickly, and make sure they hit all the marks they're supposed to, and also from when I was doing a lot of work with Cornerstones, literary agency.
I would find that there were certain things that people had blind spots about, and I could help them see that, and so I created that course out of the various tools that I developed for helping writers. It was a broad spectrum of all sorts of writers, and I just took them through the stages of assessing your manuscript, doing deep level analysis, creating a rewrite plan, finding out what we should do next, and getting them through it, as well, because it can be quite a gruelling job, but something that I feel about revision is it's easily as creative as the first draft, but even more so.
James Blatch: Yeah. Certainly crucial to the outcome, that's for sure. I know that from my own experience.
Do you generally have people who are new novelists coming in here, or people who are experienced novelists who join that sort of masterclass?
Roz Morris: Both. I've had some very experienced nonfiction writers, best selling nonfiction writers, who've wanted to transition to fiction, and the rules are completely different. They come to me, and I help them with their novel manuscript, and unpick the thinking that they have nonfiction, and give them a new set of thought patterns for fiction.
James Blatch: Is your husband traditionally published?
Roz Morris: Yes.
James Blatch: You're a hybrid household?
Roz Morris: A hybrid household. Yes.
James Blatch: You see the world from both camps. How do you feel about the world of trad versus indie? There will be people listening to this who would love a deal, love just to be able to get a note back from an agent saying, "Yes. I'm interested in this one," and many others who just want to get on and do it themselves.
I'm always interested in people who have a view of both camps and what your advice is.
Roz Morris: Whatever you write, it is always worth seeing what friends you can get for your work and the friends might be an agent, and a publisher, or you might do it yourself. First of all, I will always see what is out there that could help you get your book to the biggest number of readers, and that might be a traditional deal, or it might be that you're better sailing off a bit yourself, but it's always worth querying, and having a go.
What you might find is that the responses you get back, if you look at what you're being offered, they're not very good compared with what you might want for the book in the long term, especially if you want to keep the book going for many years. Then, traditional publishing might take quite a lot of rights away from you that you might be able to work with better, because they will probably publish a book, and not do very much with it after the first six months.
You have to look at a number of different things, but I think everyone should just see first of all what is possible for your book, and then make your decision about how you're going to actually publish it.
James Blatch: In your household, do you look at each other one thinking, "I can't believe you get 70% of your income," and the other person thinking, "I can't believe you don't have to do any of this marketing business?"
Roz Morris: Actually, the trad published side of the household does have to do quite a bit of marketing.
James Blatch: That's the other thing about modern trad publishing that people don't realise is you do have to do your own marketing.
Roz Morris: Yeah. You do a lot of work yourself. Sometimes he'll be saying, "I got quite a lot of radio interviews for one book I did."
James Blatch: Yeah.
Roz Morris: Bits of jealousy, meanwhile I'll be saying, "But, you don't have the editor who wants to change something so drastically that it's going to ruin it."
James Blatch: Yes.
Roz Morris: But, I think there's a lot to be said from seeing really what it's like on both sides. The grass isn't necessarily greener. It's not necessarily easier to be trad published and vice versa. It's a lot of work to publish well.
James Blatch: Let's talk about writing speed, because I know some of us just feel when somebody says, "The way I make it work is I write a book a month, every year," and you think I just can't. I'll be lucky to do my first draft this year of my second book.
I know I'm not the only one listening to this podcast who can't get into the mindset, or don't have it in them creatively to turn books around so quickly. I think you are one of those people. Right?
Roz Morris: Yes. But, it's also because with every book I'm pathfinding. I'm really trying to find my way. I do have one book that I wrote quite fast, actually two, really fast, and I haven't got a printed copy of that, but that's the workbook that was about six weeks. But, it was because I already had the knowledge, it's just here, it was waiting to come out.
This is a travel memoir, that was some diaries. I did a lot of rewriting on it, but that was just a few months. Then, we have Ever Rest, which is probably the one that's taking me the longest, that was years. Years and years. I was trying to figure out what it should be, and I needed a lot of downtime, as well. I wrote two other books between the time I started Ever Rest, and the time I finished it.
James Blatch: Right.
Roz Morris: It's not that I've been lazy or unproductive, but some books take the time they're going to take, because you need the thinking time in order to make them original enough, or live up to the little thing that you feel is in there, and you got to find, and that could take a long time.
But, if you're writing something like a series, you've already got so much established, you've got the characters in the world, you know what people liked about it, too, you know the questions that readers are asking, so that's much faster. It really depends what you're writing, I think.
James Blatch: You have to hit those beats. In terms of marketing, Roz, what do you do? Because you were there at the beginning, and I had people who published around '09, '10, '11 found audiences much easier than it is today.
Roz Morris: Yeah.
James Blatch: Then you probably had a good foundation to build on since then, but are you actively marketing today?
Roz Morris: I think my biggest marketing is my newsletter, and I love writing that. For one, I struggled with it, because I thought, what do I write in it? I don't produce books fast enough to have news about a book every month, and you really I think have to write a newsletter every month, otherwise people will think when one arrives, who is this? Lost track of whether I have ever heard of them before, so have to keep writing to them, but you can't keep writing news that says I did a little bit more.
James Blatch: Sounds like mine these days.
Roz Morris: Yeah. I eventually thought, and this actually started when I did, not quite lost my travel memoir, I wrote a newsletter that was about how someone had suggested I make my travel diary into a book and I said, "Don't be ridiculous, no one will read a travel diary by me," and I just wrote this conversation out, and various people had said to me, "No, I'd read it. Really do it."
I gradually started to write it, and so I'd just wrote that as my newsletter, and I suddenly thought, every month I do have conversations about my creative life and things that I'm doing, so I started just writing about being a creative person, and museums I've gone to, and quirky little things that had happened, and I suddenly really enjoyed sharing those things, because they were about my creative life, and people enjoyed reading them. They were actually really about how I think and feel, which in an oblique way is the nature of my fiction, as well.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Roz Morris: It works as a way of getting to know me. It's not a hard sell at all. It's not sleazy. It's not trying to find the excuses to mention my books all the time, and all the stuff that can be a bit icky, if you feel like you're not the kind of person who can just be pushing yourself all the time, and especially if you don't write many books a year. I started doing that. I've kept it up.
I can keep it up, because I find it personally rewarding, and I get notes back from people saying, "I really enjoyed that one about the sculpture." I don't know whether it actively sells books, but what it does do is it keeps me on people's radar. When I do have a book out, I don't know what would happen if I didn't send a newsletter, and what that would do to book sales, but I think it must work as marketing in some way.
James Blatch: What are you working on at the moment?
Roz Morris: I'm gathering ideas for a novel I've got little bits of ideas for. But, at the moment I keep getting work from people who want me to developmentally edit their books, or mentor them through a book. At the moment, I'm taking advantage of that, because I really need to refill the well. I was kind of emptied out by the book, and I need to get those characters, and those themes completely cleared away, and start thinking about other things.
I do have something that I want to nurture, and I want to spend time with it. I'll do that when I've done some other things that will actually help me solve other creative problems, just sort of work for a bit with other people. Then, I'll start working on the next one.
James Blatch: When you write standalone literary fiction novels, do you write, I'm trying to think now some of the writers, I think this does happen, you have a different voice, you could have a completely different voice between novels, whereas I'm writing my second novel, which is in the same universe as the first novel and a military thriller, so it is the same voice effectively, slightly Americanized for the second one.
But, I think trying to think of literary fiction novels I've read like Martin Amis, I read Money, but I've not read any of his other ones. The voice in Money is a very distinct first person. I can still remember it, sort of quite aggressive, machine gun kind of thoughts guy walked around. He would then move on to his next book, which is where you are now, trying to empty all that away, which is completely opposite experience of most of us who write series and so on, and start again.
That's a quite interesting concept to me. A different way of writing.
Roz Morris: Yes. To an extent, you do take on a voice that suits the book. It tells you what it needs, really. I found with one of my novels, which is Lifeform Three, which is literary science fiction, certainly. It's in the tradition of Ray Bradbury, really, so nostalgia and a world that's been mostly flooded because of climate change. I found for that a fable for it, because I felt that's what it needed, and the voice comes out of the material. It's still me though. Anyone who read it would know, Roz must have written that, because that's the kind of thing that she's interested in. Yes. Each book does have its own kind of song in a way.
James Blatch: Which I guess is part of what you've got to find when you also find the theme, and everything else. In terms of your teaching roles, is this something you're continuing to go do a little bit more of?
You've done your masterclasses, is that something that's more important to you in the future than the writing?
Roz Morris: I like it all. Teaching is great fun, because you get such interesting feedback from people. Either, if you teach a class, you get a lot of one sort of question. If you teach somebody one to one, they ask you all sorts of really thought provoking things, but you learn from your students. Also, you learn by having to help them solve their problems, because no two writers have got the same issues that they need to sort out.
Also, they have a lot of strengths, too. That's something that is very evident when you read a manuscript you can see, they've really just got an innate feel for a particular kind of scene or particular end. Seeing that in the raw is really interesting. You it makes you appreciate your art more. Teaching is very stimulating, as well as a good side hustle. Obviously, I'm a creative writer and will continue to do that. Yeah. I'll do all of it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Why not? That's another old adage I like, or I don't know if it's an old adage, I heard it recently, actually, is if you want to learn something go to a class.
If you are to master something, teach the class, because when you teach a subject it really sinks, and you really master it.
Roz Morris: Also, I like teachers who are able to really teach well, and I have had many bad teachers who have not been able to explain something, and I felt quite disappointed with that. That always made me aim to be the kind of teacher who will actually make a difference to someone. I find that so rewarding, especially with something like writing where all you're doing is helping somebody do something they've put a lot of effort in doing, they dream it, of doing well. If you can help them do that it's really something big for them.
James Blatch: Roz, thank you very much indeed for giving some hope to those of us who don't write as quickly as we'd like. Also, I think it was really interesting listening to you talking about literary fiction, and genre fiction. I think it's a very interesting area. I think probably you'll get a bit better at either one of those just by understanding what audience expectation is for genre fiction, which is where some people go wrong and wonder why their books don't do as well as they wanted, because they've not met that expectation, and literary fiction taking yourself outside of those sort of I suppose not, constraints, is the wrong word, but their framework.
Roz Morris: Expectations. I found expectations is probably a good way of describing it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Absolutely. I appreciate it. A very stimulating discussion, Roz. Thank you. You are a good teacher. I'm learning.
Roz Morris: Thank you very much.
James Blatch: I really appreciate you coming on. It's been brilliant.
Roz Morris: Thank you very much, James.
James Blatch: There we go. Roz's definition for the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is it's the reader expectation that defines that. For instance, if the reader expects there to be a crime in the first chapter, that's solved in the last chapter most of the book is about that process, that's a genre fiction book.
If the reader doesn't expect a crime in the first chapter to be solved on the last chapter, or particularly follow that pattern, that's a literally fiction book. I was thinking of Atonement, which is a literary fiction book, one of my favourite novels, which has a crime in the first chapter, a quite serious sexual assault, but it doesn't follow a path that closely resembles anything like Agatha Christie, or any sort of crime mystery books.
We know who did it from the beginning, and the book is about other things, and the longterm impact of that, whereas if you picked up an Atticus book, and you read a crime on the first chapter, and then you didn't go onto fulfil the expectations of that genre, then that's failed as a genre fiction book.
I thought seeing it in reader expectation ways, is a good way of thinking is this lit fic, or is this genre fiction?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Literary fiction tends to be perhaps a little bit more focused on character rather than plot. I think it's one of those things. I'm also slightly less bothered by labels. I mean they're useful, and they certainly help us to market to readers, and help readers decide what they want to read next. It's quite fluid. I think sometimes you can get quite literary crime fiction novels, and everything can blur, and sometimes it's a little arbitrary to make distinctions. I think that's a pretty good way to look at it.
James Blatch: I think playing around with the reader expectation is a legitimate valid thing to do within a genre, but you do have to follow some rules. Right? You can't depart too far, otherwise the book no longer is what the reader is expecting it to be, and that's when we can run into trouble with reviews.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Romance, where the reader expects a happy ever after, and you don't have one. That's a pretty surefire way of getting yourself killed in reviews. I think some genres have stricter conventions than others. The books that I write have a little bit more leeway as to how I can end things, so the one I'm writing now, spoiler alert, is not going to have a happy ending. It's kind of like, do you remember Rogue One, the Star Wars film?
James Blatch: Yes. I loved Rogue One.
Mark Dawson: Really great film. Without spoiling too much it doesn't end well, but it's a fantastic ending.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: Just as enjoyable.
James Blatch: It does confound expectations, but I agree. But, it's a good example of how you can do that within genres, sometimes.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Absolutely.
James Blatch: All right. Some people didn't like it. I got friends, one friend of mine said she won't watch it again. She found it too depressing. I can sort of see some people kind of want there to be, we shouldn't give away the ending, some people might not seen it. I will tell you, it's a brilliant standalone film, and to my mind, and I'm a very early Star Wars nerd, it is the standout best Star Wars film since the first three, by some way.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I'd agree with that.
James Blatch: I do remember talking to, I'm trying to remember her name, Debbie, I spoke to her in Florida a few years ago, and she was talking about street romance books that she wrote, and it was so defined, the genre expectation that there would be this kiss. I think she even said where the kiss would happen, like in the second to last chapter, and woe betide you if you deviated too much from that.
Mark Dawson: There's a comfort in familiarity in those readers who enjoy those books like to know that they're not going to be surprised. They're going to have the experience that they want going in, and they want to feel happy at the end of it. That's absolutely fine. It's not the kind of book that I would want to write, or read, but then I'm definitely not that audience. I think that's completely fine.
James Blatch: I think it's like a lot of things in life. If you want to break the rules, you need to understand them first, fully, and then you can break them rather than trying to do things differently, because you're going to create a new genre way of doing things. It probably isn't going to work at the beginning. But, when you're Conan Doyle, and you've written enough then you can do that Rogue One ending. Although, even here I think got a lot of stick of the time when he killed off his main character, and he eventually brought him back.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. He did.
James Blatch: There you go. Even Sir Arthur runs into that. Good. Okay. I really enjoyed that chat with Roz. Thank you very much. Thank you to our team, a myriad of people. Katherine, and John, and John, and Stewart, and Sarah, and everybody who's in the back kind of contributing to this as you now know. Thank you, Mark, for turning up.
Mark Dawson: Wow.
James Blatch: Going up three flights of stairs.
Mark Dawson: Huh? Three flights of stairs?
James Blatch: You're at the top of the house, aren't you?
Mark Dawson: No. It's one flight of stairs.
James Blatch: One.
Mark Dawson: This is in the office of the garage. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. Forget it, then.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's pretty easy for me.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay. I'll see you on Sunday with some anonymous guest.
Mark Dawson: I was thinking about that. Yes. Absolutely. That's going to be an interesting one.
James Blatch: All right. Thank you very much, indeed, all that remains for me to say is goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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