Guest Post: What’s in a label?

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Today I am delighted to welcome Janet Kelly to my blog. Janet is the author of two books for adults: ‘Dear Beneficiary’, which I review here; and ‘For The Last Time’, which I review here. She also writes the Dorris Morris books for children.

Janet has kindly written a guest post for me about her experience being pigeon holed as a writer of humorous fiction by her agent. Anyone paying attention to the title of my blog will realise that this is a subject on which I have views. I would be interested in knowing other reader’s thoughts: when you have enjoyed an author’s book do you expect more of the same from their other releases, or are you happy to check the blurb to decide if the next one is likely to be for you? Before you comment (and please do), let’s read what Janet has to say.

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One of the things I found peculiar about becoming a published writer is the way those ‘in the business’ wanted to mould who I was as an author and give me a label.

My first book, Dear Beneficiary, was loosely based on a true story and was – as such – a romantic comedy. It had to be, to be representative of the story I wanted to tell.

The response to the publication of the novel was fantastic; great reviews and my readers, agent and publisher telling me and others how great they thought it was.

I was thrilled because Dear Beneficiary had been received as I wanted people to read it – enjoying the humour and understanding the characters.

When I showed my second novel, For The Last Time, to my agent a little while later he was reluctant to offer it anywhere for publishing.

‘But this is nothing like your first book.’ he said, adding that he thought it was a great read and would probably consider it – if only the manuscript had come from someone else. Even the idea of publishing under a different name wasn’t met with great enthusiasm.

‘I’d rather you just carried on in the same genre – make people laugh.’

I was disappointed as I believe that For The Last Time is actually ‘my’ book, one that I had wanted to write and which came straight from the heart.  I’m not saying that I don’t love Dear Beneficiary. The option for film has been bought and it should be on the screen soon, hopefully entertaining even more people with the tale of the hapless 60 year old widow, Cynthia, who falls for a 38 year old black love – and then an internet scam. It was, and is, fun.

But For The Last Time was about something I feel very dearly about – ironically how people are judged and then labelled by society, when they are far more than those labels.

It is based on a man I met while I was working as a magistrate and his story of childhood abuse touched me deeply. How he had survived at any level was amazing enough but the fact he hadn’t turned into a total psychopath was a testament to his basic desire to try and do the right thing. He was labelled a criminal and eventually had no choice but to behave like one.

As time went on, while I was happy to accept the professional opinion of my agent, I felt I was leaving something left unsaid.  The manuscript for my second novel was calling at me, asking to be let out.

Circumstances often push you into decisions that, at the time, don’t seem to be the right ones.  In my case there were a few issues with the publication of Dear Beneficiary which robbed me of my ability to see my way to writing a sequel. I also had the urge to write a children’s book (Doris Morris and The Invasion of The Neighbours) and I knew this would be just another diversion from my comedy ‘genre’ and therefore unlikely to be placed out to publishers.

Not wanting two books doing nothing and one other doing very little I took the decision to set up my own publishing business and effectively, but not willingly, sacking my agent and publisher.  This was not just so I could publish my own titles (under BB Fiction and Bobaloo Books) but also to help others get out to market because they have a good story, not because they are building a genre – or as I think of it now, a label.

Bobaloo Books has just announced the first winner of its children’s writing competition in conjunction with Gransnet and so the new story in my publishing dream has already started.

Writers see the world as lots of stories and there are many within all of us.  Some might choose to focus on the areas they understand or are comfortable writing about and others like to explore their subjects as they go along.

Like most individuals I don’t want a restrictive label. I want to be different, however small that difference turns out to be.

And I hope that I would notice that difference in anyone else.

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My thanks to Janet for sharing these experiences. I am so glad she found a way to publish her second book as I found it a fabulous read.

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‘For the Last Time’ and ‘Dear Beneficiary’ are published by Bobaloo Books and are available to buy now.

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