IWSG—The classification conundrum

My Horny Hump Day post is here, and my What’s Up Wednesday post is here.


It’s time for the monthly meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, where writers share insecurities, doubts, and concerns.

My contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll was the book that got me back into actively pursuing my long-deferred dream of being a published writer. But of the 28 or so queries I sent out over the course of 2011, I only got two requests, and both agents passed.

At the time, I didn’t realize that the state of publishing has changed so much, along with the idea of what’s considered young adult following the YA explosion of about 10 years ago. How was I supposed to know books over a certain length are unpopular these days? I tried pretending Parts I and II were the first book of a trilogy, but that ultimately felt like selling out. Also, I meant the entire story to stand together, not split up.

So that book, now down to around 387,000 words after editing (would’ve been shorter had I not needed to write in left-handedness for a number of characters, which was a huge oversight), is going to be one of the things I’m intending for indie or e-publication. It’s just too outside of what’s commercial, and straddles too many genres and age-based categories.

I’m still not quite sure exactly how to classify this book apart from the main contemporary historical and Bildungsroman categories. Much of it feels like women’s fiction, but Adicia isn’t even an adult woman till the book is almost over. And besides Adicia, there are main characters of varying ages. The book can’t be put into just one category. Even if everyone were roughly the same age, the writing and situations are more literary and adult.

Would you as an adult reader feel annoyed or tricked if you picked up a book classified as adult and found the story of children, preteens, and teens?

This is also a concern I have with putting out my Russian novels, but I’m worried that potential readers may be turned off by how I use third-person present tense. I began the discontinued first draft of Little Ragdoll and my first Russian historical novel in 1993. Present tense didn’t really emerge as popular or trendy till very recently.

I almost feel like I have to include some kind of opening note explaining the origins of these books, so people would know choosing present tense was a carefully-considered and unusual decision for the time. I was years ahead of the bandwagon. I would resent anyone assuming I use present tense for these characters just because it’s popular or I have no experience with past tense. I actually write most of my books in past tense, and had been writing exclusively past tense for my entire writing life up till 1993. I didn’t even know present tense could be used till late ’92.

I have very strong feelings about the misuse and overuse of first-person present tense, but choosing present tense, with my usual omniscient POV, was something I felt worked best to create a mood of drama, immediacy, urgency, being right there in the moment with the characters, never knowing what’s going to happen next. I can’t picture those characters existing in past tense, just as there are certain actors I can only picture in black and white.

Would you automatically refuse to read something in present tense or assume the writer used it as a gimmick instead of a deliberate writing device based on the overall mood and scope of the book? Do you see a difference between first-person and third-person present?


8 thoughts on “IWSG—The classification conundrum

  1. Can’t answer about the tense, but I guess it would depend on the storyline and ending ages. I’m currently reading Ender’s Game, which when it was released was technically an adult book, and I don’t feel misled.


  2. So many adult novels start out young. I think readers will expect the character to age (which it sounds like yours has done) But i don’t think they’d be disappointing with a younger character for the beginning. As long as the writing is good the tense is invisible. Draw me into the story with your characters and I won’t even care if it’s in 2nd person 🙂


  3. First, whoa! Nearly 400K words! That’s like 5 novels in one, and that’s for adults!

    If you have any aspiration to get published, you have to do your research on the industry. It’s exhausting, but you have to know the business BEFORE you take a step into it or you’ll get eaten alive. This means trolling the agent and publisher blogs to learn what is trending and what’s acceptable.

    Second, 28 queries is a tiny drop in the bucket. There are thousands of agents out there. Query widely and often. I didn’t stop at 150. You can also go directly to a small press these days without an agent. It’s the trend these days.

    As for the POV & tense, if the story is well-told & written, that doesn’t matter. Present tense works well in YA but not really in adult genres.

    Lastly, do not write any kind of up front explanation. You have to trust your writing or people will read through and see that you’re doubting yourself and that will come clear in your writing.

    Write, revise. work with many critique partners, revise after each one until you get to a point where there aren’t many comments, then query, but not until after you understand the current publishing environment. I can’t stress this enough. This business is BRUTAL on a good day. Good luck. If you work the process wisely, you’ll get there.

    I;m one of Alex’s minions for this month’s IWSG.


  4. I don’t refuse to read any book based on any “rule”. So much of it depends on how it works for that particular story. And wow, Nancy gave some great feedback– glad I read her response too. Sounds like you pour a lot of your heart and soul into your writing, which ultimately, as a reader, is what stands out to me.


  5. I love first person present… it’s what I feel most comfortable writing in! And I don’t think I’ve read 3rd person present tense before… Most 3rd I’ve read has been in past! And I loved Nancy’s comment. I think you need to query more!!! You’re so good, Carrie-Anne.


  6. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    I used to not care to read anything in first person – but that changed and now I love it. I can read anything as long as it’s done well. And I wouldn’t feel tricked if it was adult and the novel started out with the MC as a young child or young adult. 🙂


  7. I’ve read many adult novels where young people are heavily present and I don’t mind.

    I don’t care too much about tense and POV as long as the story is good. Of course there are certain things that fit depending on the story.


  8. I’ve read plenty of adult books with your main characters. 🙂 Good luck with this! It sounds interesting. 🙂


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