Writing All Over The Map: Leah Cutter’s Island Sampler
By Leah Cutter
Welcome to the Island Sampler!
Why do I call this the Island Sampler?
Like many writers, I write all over the map.
I primarily write fantasy, but I write many different flavors of fantasy. I’m best known for my historic fantasy (Paper Mage, the first book I sold to a New York publisher), but I also write fantasy with shapeshifters (The Shadow Wars Trilogy) as well as more rural fantasy with clockwork fairies. And changelings.
And I write mysteries—I’ve had more than one short story published in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.” I also write science fiction stories. And post-apocalyptic fairy tales. And…
You get the point.
The problem with writing so many differently flavors of fantasy under a single name is that it makes it difficult for readers to find what they like. As I am now indie publishing all of these titles, I am responsible for figuring out the marketing.
It’s fairly easy to distinguish the science fiction from the fantasy.
But how do I categorize the different types of fantasy? Particularly when so much of what I write falls under the category of “contemporary fantasy” and yet it’s all different?
For example, I write what I call “immersive fiction.” It isn’t slow paced, almost everything I write is page-turning fiction. However, in these books, I draw the readers very deep into the world, immerse them in the everydayness of the place.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I write really high-energy fiction, where, “OMG the world is going to end in twenty minutes!”
A reader who thoroughly enjoys the immersive fiction may or may not enjoy the high-energy, high-stakes fiction, and vice versa. I have readers who tell me that my immersive fiction books are their favorites and they don’t like the other things I write. I’ve had readers absolutely love the world-about-to-end fiction, who found the immersive fiction boring.
So how do I guide readers? How do I help them find the types of books that they like to read?
Since I write all over the map, I came up with the concept of actually creating a map. For me, the axis of the map turned out to be:
—For the up and down axis, I put the far future at the top and the past at the bottom.
—For the left-right axis, I grade books from low energy to high energy.
The axis for your fiction will probably be different. Perhaps you mainly write science fiction, so your up-down axis could be near-future to far-future, and the other axis may be seriousness, from literary science fiction to popcorn space opera.
Or maybe you write romance. One axis could be spice level, from sweet to hot, while levels of gender bending might be the other axis.
Once I figured out my axis, I placed all my titles on it, figuring out where each one landed.
This helped me to see that I have five separate islands of fiction.
This translates into potentially five different audiences of readers.
I cannot count on a lot of cross-over, on readers going from one island to the next. So I need to build five different platforms. Which is a lot of work!
However, the map also showed me that I have one island with the largest number of titles.
As a writer, I enjoy writing all over the map.
As a publisher, I would like to maximize my audience.
So I made a deal with my inner writer.
She needs to write one book that can be classified with that main island. Then the next book can land where ever it falls on the map. With the following book, I need to feed the main island again. Then write something totally weird and out there.
This is a slow approach to building an audience, but I’m okay with that. I have time. And I have a plan.
The next thing that I’m still working on is branding all of my covers based on island. My goal is for a reader to be able to look at a cover and instantly recognize that these novels all go together, while those over there are different. I’m doing a lot of that using fonts and different treatments for my name.
In addition, I’ve created what I call “The Island Sampler“. The sampler includes a description of each island, the type of work typically found there, as well as a short story (or the first chapter of a novel) that is indicative of the type of writing from that island.
For example, for the historic fantasy, I have a historic fantasy short story that captures the flavor of that island. For the big island, I have a short story that’s both the prequel as well as the progenitor a series.
This sampler will be given away as a freeby with signups for my newsletter.
One thing to note: Most writers don’t know what genre they write in. Or they might know the genre, but not the subgenre. I have a friend who was totally surprised when he learned that he wrote dark epic fantasy until it was pointed out to him. And it isn’t because they’re new writers. Often, even seasoned writers believe that they’ve written something in one genre when, in fact, it’s in a different genre. As a writer, you may need someone else to look at your work and tell you what genre and subgenre you’re writing. (And yes, I’m happy to help you figure that out. www.KnottedRoadPress.com/production-services)
The name of the game is discoverability. This is one of the ways I hope to help my readers “discover” me, based on the types of things they like to read.
I hope this helps you discover more readers as well!
Leah Cutter writes page-turning fiction in exotic locations, such as a magical New Orleans, the ancient Orient, Hungary, the Oregon coast, rural Kentucky, Seattle, Minneapolis, and many others. She writes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror fiction. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Talebones, anthologies like Fiction River, and on the web. Her long fiction has been published both by New York publishers as well as small presses. Read more books by Leah Cutter at www.KnottedRoadPress.com or follow her blog at www.LeahCutter.com.