Boxing Your Genre

I’m not HUGE on labels in life. But I understand their importance in the consumer world. And in the commercial world of artistry, proper classification is essential. With writing, you need a clear-cut genre. It’s probably best if you go into a project with your genre in mind, but I’m sure many a passionate writer stumbles across it the way I did with Chaos (un)Controlled. I had no idea where I was going with it, how it would end, what revelations the characters would reveal. The story quite literally unfolded in front of me as I wrote it, so that even I was surprised at the final outcome. The open-ness of my mind had full and free reign. And then, with a finished product, I realized I needed a category.


Most that I shared the story with immediately pegged it as Sci-Fi.

Sci-fi? Do I even LIKE Sci-fi? Well…I did love Inception, and Ready Player One remains on my Holy Grail list. But how could I have written one without intending to? I considered my story more of a Fantasy concept, but a little more research made me skeptical on that one too, because there’s no centaurs or orcs or unicorns. But, there are parallel dimensions blended with realism, and elemental power synonymous with magical elements. I discovered a blended genre called “Science-Fantasy” which seemed to be a closer fit. But only a couple of days ago I stumbled across a review on Amazon where someone was initially put off by a book because it was listed as BOTH Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I can only imagine this is because maybe Sci-Fi purists prefer their HARDCORE Sci-Fi. I had Amazon relist Chaos (un)Controlled under the Sci-Fi–>Fantasy–>Contemporary sub-category, because they’d stuck it in Urban/Paranormal, and I was wondering why Twitter promoters kept using the hashtag #PARANORMAL (why does Amazon classify those two together anyway?). Contemporary definitely defines much of the story, but maybe not enough for it to be the main standalone genre? And then there’s the YA aspect…

So what happens when you have a Black teenage girl crossing dimensions from New York City to library-worlds-in-the-sky and desert wastelands with prejudicial climates, questioning higher power and struggling to wield elemental magic?

For marketing purposes, I settled with YA Science Fantasy. Because ultimately, I consider it a mix of both, and you can’t please everyone.

But no trailblazer blazed a trail by adhering to current standards. So perhaps it was good that the boxing left me conflicted.


When Promotion is Shameless

Every author needs to promote their work somehow. But unless we have some degree of fame or an established platform, we enlist the aid of someone with experience in that field because we’re mere writers. Indie authors generally aren’t shelling out big bucks for savvy promoters, or tossing spare Benjamins to BookBub. We try to tackle as many low-cost promotion sites that we can, the majority of which are for free or discounted books.

And then there’s Fiverr.

Now Lincolns, we can spare more easily. Of course, you look at a gig and question how this person can have a reach of “millions.” You know 200 Facebook groups you can promote to? You have access to the largest, legitimately purchased mailing list and you’ve never gotten a single spam complaint? Hmmm…I work in email marketing so I know that’s about as attainable as beating a Water Temple from the Zelda series on the first swing without using an FAQ.

Still, you try out a few whose descriptions seem less scammy, and they email you proofs of their work. You check the first few images and think, okay, posting on book-related pages…doing good. Then you start to see groups like “Music Promoting Only,” “Make Money Online,” “House Music All Night Long,” and “Cape Town Finest Hip-Hop.”

Okay…I see where you’re going with this. Mass blast everywhere and hope it hits some randos, right? Until I saw this one.blogevidence

Never mind the Baby Swap shop…did you just post my book in a group called Mothers Who Have Lost a Child?

This is where promotion becomes shameless. This is where “Let’s mass blast this to EVERYONE in hopes that numbers increase bites” fails. If I could offer an apology to everyone in that group who had to read that post, I would.

I still highly support Fiverr, of course; as an indie author and New Yorker, I’m always willing to try out the smaller businesses and indies in the same situation as I. I will just be a little more cautious in the future by analyzing the gig description with a finer-toothed comb than I already have, and pray the provider has some damn tact. It’s like CraigsList. You can absolutely find a lot gems if you know how to avoid the shadies.

~Tael (I’ve landed 4 jobs off CraigsList.)

Protagonists With Melanin

It’s inevitable that the Black writer will encounter caution on the author journey; warning that it will be harder for us to succeed in this medium (much like everywhere else). The logic behind this slant is particularly transparent to me.

While I don’t have as much time as I did in earlier years to rapidly devour books on a regular basis, the trend I’ve noticed is that Black authors have two categories:

The “urban” or “hood” category that generally tells a tale of the projects, drugs, sex, and some sort of downfall and/or escape from an illegally extravagant lifestyle, e.g. Zane, Noire, Tracy Brown. I have fond memories of attempting to read every sort of book like this I could get my hands on when I was still in school, attempting to hide the cover on the train or in public because those covers screamed “I’M READING A HOOD BOOK WITH JUICY SEX SCENES” and e-readers were not yet a thing.

Then there’s the “Black consciousness” category that actively addresses race and focuses on the Black struggle throughout the story. So your Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, etc…

I have yet to encounter a well-known Black novelist whose content doesn’t fit into either of those niches (but if you have, I’d love to hear about them!). Where are they? And even when Black characters are introduced to plotlines outside of these niches, it can still feel kitschy. Ernie Cline pulled it off with respectable shock value. Suzanne Collins seemed to get it right, until the Hunger Games movie came out and Rue’s big-screen appearance caused ridiculous controversy. Even though Collins described Rue’s complexion in the book as dark-skinned, Hunger Games devotees (who you’d assume had read this) lashed out against Rue’s actress, Amandla Stenberg, 14-years-old at the time, mind you, in hatefully insulting ways. I was shocked that the young reading community could be so dense and close-minded. The millennial generation is supposed to be an incredibly accepting one. I wrongly assumed it could only carry on and get better from there. For people to say that a character being Black ruined the movie for them, made the character’s death less sad…for it to supremely shake their core like that, that a character they’d come to love turned out to be Black and they missed it due to their own lack of reading comprehension, it’s a significant #TruthTreble.

In Chaos (un)Controlled, Rixa and Azurre are Black. Is it an “urban” tale? Well, the realistic setting is New York City and that’s the extent of it. Does it incorporate themes of “living Black”? Not particularly. From my experience, Black churches tend to have a different vibe than the rest, so some readers who recognize those elements may pick up on the cultural connection. Is there an underlying implied interracial romantic theme? Yessir. But Rixa’s race has no bearing on the plotline whatsoever. I simply chose a main character with skin color in my own likeness.

In today’s world of boxed genres, is there a place for an indie author of color with a YA Science Fantasy novel that features a female protagonist with melanin in a non-urban or inherently “black” setting?

We’ll see.


The Fiverr Book Cover Chase

Like other indie authors self-publishing on a budget, Fiverr was an amazing discovery. The tools for your publishing process all exist here, from book promotion, design materials, e-book formatting, and the ever-popular, book cover. From my Internet research, the Fiverr book cover supporters/opponents are like Gryffindor vs. Slytherin; they either love it or vehemently look down on it. I dove in with gusto and, let me tell you, it’s quite easy to get addicted. It’s a whole new world of gigs at your fingertips for varying increments of five dollars, so it seems low-risk, provided you don’t go berserk in pursuit of perfection.

I started off with a couple basic gigs, giving them my initial CreateSpace cover I’d done myself (you know, what you’re not supposed to do with self-publishing) and asking them to revamp. The first version looked like they’d made absolutely no changes. The other simply changed the font style. Here is when I learned ratings don’t always mean too much here. A highly-rated Fiverr gig can still result in a garbage product.

I went for a $15 gig next, thinking that a higher cost would equal a higher incentive to actually try on the artist’s part. This artist actually put some thought into it, switched up the design, and added some color-contrasting elements. She did a very good job, so I replaced my homemade one with hers, but found that when displayed next to other indie covers, it still wasn’t on the same level of quality. Like a dude in khakis and Converses in a room full of suits. I like Converses and casual dress, I just prefer not to stick out that way in this case. This is one of those rare instances that I realized I SHOULDN’T try to go against the grain. So the hunt continued.

I searched forums on Google for Fiverr recommendations. Many of the suggestions were no longer active. I did try the highly rated Jimmy Gibbs who won an award for best book cover design on Fiverr, but I wasn’t really impressed. It seemed his design was specifically geared toward the gritty action man’s explosions and car crash sort of genre and he couldn’t give a softer fantasy touch. Chyna_Creatives, also highly rated, produced something I probably could have done myself in Photoshop, and seemed more interested in her Fiverr rating above all else; even asking me not to request additional revisions through the request tool because of how it might affect her stars.

My winner was Okomota.


He nailed it on the first try, sending me 3 concepts that were all so stunning, there was no chance of making a bad soup/salad choice then regretting it later. Barely any revisions necessary. You could immediately see the quality and effort that blew all the other covers I’d gotten off Fiverr out of the Jolly Roger Bay waters. He’s an example of a skilled designer who knows what special touches to add without your guidance. The details he added on his own were incredible. You won’t be paying $5 for his services; he’s on the higher end of Fiverr, but his work is definitely worth it and still a bargain. He knows what he’s doing. Must stop gushing. But really, go to him first if you don’t want to spend time weeding through the rest on Fiverr hoping to get lucky.

Runner-up goes to mnsartstudionew. For a lower price tag, he definitely still adds some unique touches and comes up with an original idea.

So as far as Fiverr book covers goes…Gryffindor for the win!


Ready, Set, GO!

Greetings! Welcome to Tael’s Beat.

In a burst of motivation and determination, I recently self-published a YA Science Fantasy novel titled Chaos (un)Controlled, and that motivation has extended its reach here. When I first read the suggestions that a self-published author should have some sort of website, my first thought was “Oh god. Yuck. I don’t have the time or expendable funds to hire a guy to take care of this for me.” Then I realized it didn’t have to be some fancy, show-off-y, media-ridden bells-and-whistles kind of thing (although I think that’s what sells nowadays). I’m quite happy with eccentric simplicity.

Since Chaos (un)Controlled is my current project, this blog will mostly address my self-publishing journey. I am in no way an expert with skilled advice and successful statistics to provide. I’m simply your average lover of reading and writing who wrote something I’m proud of and am trying to put it out there to the world while sharing my personal experience. I hope other first-time indie authors going into this as well can relate. I haven’t tried to operate a consistent blog since Xanga. We’ll see where it takes me.

Yesterday, my cousin, who recently finished my book, looked me in the eye and very confidently confirmed exactly what inspired my title. Who else can guess what it was?