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Monday, November 03, 2008

Writing in different genres

Many of you already know that I've sold a romantic suspense story to Steeple Hill's Love Inspired Suspense line when I'm already published in romantic chick lit.

Genre-hopping for writers is a hotly debated topic. And actually, before selling my romantic suspense, I would have advised writers to stick to one genre until they're better established.

What I didn't take into account was the publishing market's tightening of their belts in the past year.

Things to consider:

Some genres don't sell as well after a while.

For example, chick lit is no longer a "hot" seller because the market was glutted with it. There are still lots of readers who enjoy romantic, funny women's fiction (which is what chick lit is), but they've read too many single-girl-wants-a-man-and-can't-have-him-for-some-reason stories, and they want variety.

If your genre is on the downturn, it might be time to jump to another genre.

However, my suggestion is not to stray too far from your brand, even though you're switching genres.

My brand is Asian American romance. I wrote Asian American chick lit, and now I’m writing Asian American romantic suspense.

The genre is different, but the brand still carries over.

If your genre is doing well in the market, such as historical romances right now, then my suggestion is to stick with your genre for obvious reasons.

Don't just follow the trends.

If you decide you'd like to jump into historical romance simply because it's hot now, chances are that when you finish your new historical romance manuscript, the market will have changed.

Don't follow behind the trends. Instead, you want to try to swim ahead and catch the wave when it catches up to you.

For example, do you love writing speculative fiction? Then write it. The market could catch up to you eventually (how long it will take is another matter and another entire debate in the publishing industry).

Another example: When historical romances weren't selling well a few years ago, historical romance writers still continued to write them, and now that they're selling like hotcakes, those writers are prepared to ride the wave.

A better question to ask yourself is this: Can you tweak your (completed) manuscripts to be both visionary of the trends and yet one foot in the current trend? That's a more effective solution.

For example, make your speculative fiction manuscript more of a thriller with speculative elements.

Another example: make your chick lit more of a slightly comical, heartwarming women's fiction (with both married and single women, and deviating from the typical chick lit formula) and ride the women's fiction upswing right about now.

A last thought: write what you want to write. Don't write a genre just because it's trendy. Write what you enjoy writing, what you enjoy reading.

If you write something you're not really into, an editor/agent can really tell in your manuscript.

Try to stick with your brand.

I know, I know, I mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating.

Your brand is what makes you stand out from other writers writing in your genre.

I stood out from other chick lit writers because I wrote Asian characters. I still stand out in my new genre, romantic suspense, because I write Asian characters.

So refine your brand—spend lots of mental and emotional energy on it. It will carry you through genre changes and industry trends better than you realize. It's worth the time to figure out how you stand out from the crowd.

That will sell you to a publisher more than anything else, especially in the current market where it's so much harder for an unpublished writer to break in.

The simple fact is that there are more writers these days competing for a limited number of publishing slots, and you have to write better than ever—or stand out more—in order to get picked up.

8 comments:

  1. I had a slightly different problem--the genre I was writing in changed on me. Thriller is still popular, but it's very different than a few years ago. It became more gritty, more crime-focused, and had more gratitious violence. I'm an action-adventure writer.

    So I considered changing genres. It was a difficult decision. I didn't want to leave thriller, but I was unwilling to write crime novels or do gratitutious violence. I made a list of the four genres I normally read and then listed the pros and cons that would exist if I wrote any of them.

    This list helped guide me to Urban Fantasy, a category under fantasy. I could still do thriller-style stories without touching crime, and I could have action-adventure. I'd considered trying it before, but the stories I'd read were all about vampires, and I didn't want to write about vampires. In the time I'd waited, books had come out with other types of magic and otherworldly characters, so now I had something I could work with.

    But ... it did take me a good six months to work through all this, and it wasn't an easy decision.

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  2. Oh man, I don't have a brand. erk. I better work on this.
    Looking forward to your suspense! :-)

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  3. Camy, how long did it take for you to develop your brand?

    I write almost strictly fantasy (every once in awhile, a little scifi), since that's what I enjoy reading, and what captures my imagination the most. I'm almost done with my first novel draft (I'm using NaNoWriMo to finish), and I've written a couple of short stories, though they haven't been published anywhere yet other than Elfwood. I feel like I haven't written enough to know what my brand is yet.

    The only thing I can think of is that I like to give my stories a taste of the bizarre, sometimes as a major part of the plot, or at others, a short scene or even a line. I don't know if that's enough for a brand, though, and I doubt I'm the only one who does that.

    Do you have any advice? What other things can I look for in my writing?

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  4. I find it hard to navigate the ever-growing numbers of subgenres to really figure out where my stories fit. How do you know when you've crossed, for example, from racy romance into erotica? How do you classify a novel with paranormal, romantic, mystery, and feminist elements?

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  5. Garridon, sounds like you knew exactly what you needed to do, you did it, and things worked out well for you and rewarded your patience. Six months is actually not that long--sounds like you've got things all together now.

    Thanks, Jessica!

    You're welcome, Lynn!

    Sina'i, sometimes it takes a while to develop your brand. The best thing to do is to read a lot of what's being published now--both in and out of your genre--so that you know what's already been done, and also so that you know what HASN'T been done yet. That way you can focus your brand on what's not being touched on, yet have your brand also be in line with what publishers are already publishing. Also, reading extensively will enable you to mix and match elements to help develop your brand into something new and interesting.

    Jennifer:
    Knowing when you've crossed over:
    This might seem weird, but mostly it's what genre you WANT to be known in. Some people are uncomfortable calling their writing "erotica" so they'll continue to say they write "racy romance." Others feel uncomfortable calling their writing "speculative fiction" so they'll focus on the other major genre of their writing--thriller or mystery or romance--and slyly mention "paranormal elements" in their writing.

    Ultimately, it's really what YOU want your genre to be. If a genre is hot right now, like erotica, then my suggestion would be to hop on the bandwagon, and be willing to slide halfway off if the genre starts to tank in the market.

    Classifying novels: when you query, focus on one main subgenre that your book fits in. Most books have one major genre. For example, most paranormal books are classed as paranormal even if they have other elements because the paranormal genre is dominant by the very nature of paranormal. The romance and mystery will come out in your blurb, and the feminist elements will be hinted at in the synopsis, but the main thing the editor needs to know is what the major genre is.

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  6. Great advice, Camy- thanks!
    I'm now trying to figure out what my brand is, and I've been trying to figure out what the genre of one of my WIP's is.

    I'm a genre-hopper. I read everything, and I end up writing everything. All of mine have romance, but my two current WIP's are Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense with elements of fantasy.

    I don't know how that will work out as I try to get published. But I write what comes to me, so we'll see where that goes.

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  7. Thanks, Camy. That is some great feedback!

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