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Friday, November 28, 2008

Utilizing Subtexting in Dialogue

One of my favorite writing books is Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actorsby Brandilyn Collins. The chapter on subtexting is one of the best I've ever read.

Subtexting is a powerful writing tool that isn't used enough by beginning writers. Think about all the times you've said one thing but meant another--that kind of dialogue in your novel can convey layers upon layers of powerful emotional meaning.

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

How to Utilize Subtexting in Dialogue

Take Dialogue to a Deeper Level

Add subtlety and richness in meaning by incorporating the tricks of cross-talk in dialogue.

Subtexting, or cross-talk, is when characters say one thing but mean another.

Dialogue doesn’t always need subtexting, but it adds weighty significance to certain dialogues within the story that you might want to emphasize. It can bring emotions to light with even more power than if they were stated.

Here is a passage from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park to illustrate.

Maria is engaged to Mr. Rushworth, the master of Sotherton, but she is falling for Mr. Crawford. They are at Sotherton, standing at a locked gate, and Rushworth has gone back to get the key. Maria and Mr. Crawford are not alone—Fanny is nearby. But the flirting commences, thanks to subtexting.

Crawford speaking: 

“And to tell you the truth,” speaking rather lower, “I do not think that I shall ever see Sotherton again with so much pleasure as I do now. Another summer will hardly improve it to me.”

Incomplete Thoughts

Here, Crawford doesn’t complete his chain of logic—he won’t like Sotherton because in another year, Maria will marry Rushworth and be mistress of Sotherton. He doesn’t want her to marry Rushworth—but he only talks about Sotherton, leaving her to make the connection. He implies she should marry himself even though he isn’t as rich as Rushworth.

When your characters don’t complete the line of thought and leave the other character to fill in the blanks, you convey information without actually saying it.

Maria speaking;
“You are too much a man of the world not to see with the eyes of the world. (It’s acceptable for a woman to marry for money rather than for love.) If other people think Sotherton improved, I have no doubt that you will.” (But are you giving me a more emotional reason to not do as the world expects?)

Highlighted Words

Maria uses words “the world” to refer to what other people would say, in order to ask what Crawford feels. Her words are pointedly used—she is marrying Rushworth for “worldly” reasons, namely money. “Worldly circles” accept this reason. Crawford better have a reason to be objecting—that is her principle meaning.

Be judicious in the words you use to convey deeper meaning.

Maria speaking:
“You seemed to enjoy your drive here very much this morning. I was glad to see you so well entertained. (I was not.) You and Julia were laughing the whole way.” (Aren’t you after my sister Julia instead?)

Other Contexts

Maria mentions his drive with Julia, not to talk about the drive but to introduce Julia’s name into the conversation. She speaks of the drive—an innocent topic—to convey a unspoken barb about his flirting with Julia.

If the conversation you write has already been pointed, introducing a supposedly “innocent” topic creates contrast and lets the character know that there is a deeper current. While the context is innocent, the words have a different meaning.

Maria speaking:
”But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.”

Metaphors and Double Meanings

Earlier, Maria uses “Sotherton” when in reality, she means herself. Here, she talks about “getting out” which could mean through the locked gate—but she means out of the engagement.

Have characters speak of things metaphorically, call things by other names, and utilize double meanings and double entendres to convey different meaning than what they actually say.


Utilize a writing prompt and write dialogue that talks about one thing on the surface, but is talking about something else underneath. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at subtexting.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Interview on Missy Frye's blog

Missy Frye asked me about writing and the writing life on her blog:

What is your writing routine?

I start off doing emails and marketing in the morning, and move to writing in the later part of the day, with a few email breaks in between. I try to be disciplined but that doesn't always happen. :)

Click here to read the rest of the interview.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Building a blog, part 3

Read part 2 here

Blogging Logistics, continued:

Give your blog a unique design.

Make your blog design uniquely “you.” It will serve as a visual cue to readers to know they are entering your happy place and can expect a fun read.

A cheap way to alter your blog template is to ask a computer savvy teen or twentysomething to help you “pimp” your blog. Many teens know html b/c of their experience personalizing their myspace pages.

An expensive way is to hire a blog designer. Check out several of your favorite blog designs and figure out who the designer was. Then email them to ask for prices.

Keep the visual distractions to a minimum.

A blog with too many little ads or too many widgets on both sidebars can be distracting to a reader.

Aim for clean lines and good visual cohesiveness. Incorporate lots of white space.

Overall, make sure your nice unique blog design isn’t overshadowed by ads or widgets or flashing bling.

Turn off the music.

Blogs with music playing tend to be distracting. Turn the music off.

This will keep the reader focused on your blog post, not the music.

Also, any readers on dialup will have a hard time visiting your blog if it has music streaming. You want to make sure your blog is easily accessible to all readers.

Save time—blog for the entire week at once.

This is the “secret to my success,” in a sense. I take one day a week and write all the blog posts for the coming week all at once.

It usually takes only a couple hours at most, because each blog post is only 250-400 words. If your post is going long, break it up into two days’ posts.

This is much more time efficient than taking 20-30 minutes each day to blog. Take it from someone who writes for a living.

Don’t waste precious time you could spend on other things. Be efficient with your blogging time.

Next: Blog content

Monday, November 24, 2008

Building a blog, part 2

Read part 1 here

Blogging Logistics, continued:

Keep your blog posts short.

Blog readers tend to skim when the blog posts are very long.

The ideal length for a blog post is 250-400 words.

Yes, you read that right.

The longest a blog post should be is 750 words, although if a blog post is a short fiction story, they can be as long as 1000 words.

Short blog posts also enable you to blog more—a long blog post can instead be broken up into several parts, making two or three days’ posts out of one long post.

Utilize boldface to draw the readers’ eyes down the page.

This is a technique from business writers who want to make sure the reader hits the pertinent points. Boldface also helps the reader keep track of the main points as they read the blog post.

However, italics are harder to read than boldface or regular font, so use italics lightly.

Choose eye-friendly colors.

In general, white typeface on a black background is hard for a person to read on a computer screen. It messes with the eye and blog readers will not often return to a blog with this inverted color scheme.

Go for simple: black text on white background.

Also, make sure the colors you choose for links or other text on your blog are pleasant, easy to read colors. No pastels that can be difficult to pick up from a white background. Other than being easy to read, any color is fine.

As for the design of the rest of your blog, feel free to choose your favorite colors.

Make any pictures low resolution.

Pictures or clip art are good since blogs are very visual, but make sure they’re low resolution pictures.

Any readers still on dialup will be able to read your blog easily if you have low resolution pictures, and the blog will load faster for those of us on high speed internet connections.

If you don’t know how to make a picture low resolution, ask a teen or twenty-something you know who is computer savvy.

An easy way for me is to use the free Kodak Easyshare software. It lets you save a copy of your picture as “web” quality, which is lower resolution.

Once you save a picture copy in lower resolution, upload that copy to your blog. People will be able to view your page faster and easier.

Next: a few last words on Blogging Logistics.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bumping your dialogue up to the next level

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Writing Riveting Dialogue

Tips For Taking Dialogue to the Next Level

Here are a few key elements needed to make dialogue sparkle.

Before, I wrote about how to make dialogue sound more natural, but what if you want to bump your dialogue up to the next level? What if you want to make your dialogue really pop?

Dialogue Is War

In the words of Randy Ingermanson, “Dialogue is war.”

Dialogue should have some form of conflict or tension. The characters don’t have to be shouting at each other, but there should be some sort of tension that keeps the dialogue from being a nice, easy conversation between two nice, easy-going people.

Nice, easy-going dialogue is boring.

In good dialogue, a character should be fighting for something: fighting to retain information, or fighting to extract information, or fighting to convey information.

Don’t make it easy on your characters—make the conversation a battle for at least one of them.

Read Award-Winning Plays

Tony Award-winning plays are excellent resources for writers wanting to improve their dialogue writing skills.

Plays are mostly dialogue, and award-winning plays are filled with award-winning dialogue.

The more a writer reads successful or lauded plays, the better the writer gets at seeing the different aspects of truly good dialogue.

Research Dramatic Timing

Learn the rhythm and cadence of the dialogue as it relates to dramatic timing.

This is best seen in movies or on stage. Watch a few Academy Award-winning movies, or (a cheap alternative) catch clips of key scenes on YouTube.

Pay attention to the timing, the rhythm of the words, the cadence of the sentences, the pauses, the flow of the conversation.

Even though dialogue is read, there is an auditory aspect of it. Most readers “hear” the dialogue in their heads.

This part of learning to write great dialogue is experiential—a writer must listen and observe different examples in order to understand timing. It’s a more organic process than other aspects of learning fiction writing techniques.

If you can learn the rhythm of dramatic timing, your dialogue will be that much more vibrant.

Make Strong Word Choices

Even the individual words you use for dialogue can make a conversation insipid or enthralling.

Use strong “power words,” as Margie Lawson calls them in her Deep EDITS online course. Be careful and deliberate with your word choices—make them vivid, emotional words that evoke vivid, emotional responses in a reader.

“You’re a jerk,” she said. (boring)


“You’re a Bourbon-soaked turd in that toilet of a house.”


“You aren’t worthy to lick the gum off my stilettos.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

As with any skill, strong dialogue requires practice.

Take a writing prompt and write a dialogue-only scene. Then revise, working in “power words” and tweaking the sentences’ rhythm and cadence.

Any extra time you spend on practicing your dialogue-writing skills will be rewarded with rich, vibrant dialogue in your fiction.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Building a blog, part 1

These days, blogging is a great way to express yourself and/or to market a product you might have. Blogging is cheap, easy, and can be a lot of fun.

But while anyone can blog, how do you create an effective blog? Here are a few tips, broken down into Blogging Logistics and Blog Content.

(Before I begin, I also want to mention that blogging isn’t for everyone. Not everyone likes to blog, and that’s perfectly fine. I think that no one should feel forced to blog—if you don’t like blogging, then don’t blog. But if you do enjoy blogging, this is a series of articles to help you make a better blog.)

Blogging Logistics:

Blog consistently.

Good blogs have bloggers who post consistently and often. Most of these bloggers post five days a week, taking Saturday and Sunday off since blogs usually have lower traffic on weekends.

Ideally, a blogger who wants to improve their blog traffic and effectiveness should post five days a week.

If that gives you a heart attack, try to commit to posting three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), and you can build to five days a week in a few months.

Some statistics show that bloggers who post two or more posts a day collect more traffic than bloggers who only post once a day, but don’t panic—once a day is fine, too.

If it helps, set an alarm on your computer to remind you to blog. But there’s also a trick for blogging that I’ll talk about later.

Utilize lots of white space.

Studies have shown that because words on a computer screen are harder to read than words on a printed page, people tend to skim when they read blogs.

Also, because it’s harder to read a computer screen, people tend to skim even more when a paragraph is long.

Therefore, keep your paragraphs short. No more than two or three sentences. Ideally, the paragraph shouldn’t be longer than an inch or an inch and a quarter long on your computer screen.

Also, make sure you separate your paragraphs with a double carriage return (enter key). Blogs that don’t have that extra blank line between paragraphs don’t have enough white space and are harder to read.

Also, try to have a blog template (or alter your blog template) to have the paragraphs be narrow rather than long. This enables your reader to read your posts more easily than with paragraphs running the length of their entire browser screen.

Next: more on Blogging Logistics.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Writing more natural-sounding dialogue

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.

Writing Natural Dialogue

Tips For Making Dialogue Smoother and More Realistic

Here are tips for making dialogue flow and sound more natural when a writer has been told the dialogue is stilted.

Sometimes a writer will get feedback that sounds something like: “Your dialogue is stilted” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound natural” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound realistic.”

How to make dialogue sound more natural?

Beware the Info Dump

“Info dumps” are lines of dialogue that are there solely to inform the reader.

For example:

“As you know, Jane, our sister Lydia ran off with your ex-lover George and robbed a bank with him last month.”

Jane already knows this, and her sister wouldn’t repeat the information to her—instead, she’d speak knowing what Jane already knows.

“Doesn’t it pain you?”
“Lydia and George? No, don’t worry about me. My relationship with him was over long ago. But the public shame of Lydia’s behavior hurts more than I expected it to.”

Break Up Long Paragraphs

Dialogue tends to be more back and forth—one character says something, the other responds, sometimes interrupting in order to respond. If you have a long section of dialogue, break it up.

Here’s an example from Single Sashimi:

“Jenn is totally freaking out.” Trish’s eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings. “Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—her cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell. But in an excess of high spirits, she took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along. So now she’s taken over Jenn’s kitchen.”


“Jenn is totally freaking out.” Trish’s eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.

“What brought all this on?” Venus asked.

“Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—”

“Is she doing okay?”

“Clean bill of health. Cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell.”

“So that’s why she’s taken over Jenn’s domain?”

Trish rubbed her back and winced. “She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along.”

Have People Read Your Dialogue To You

Don’t read your own dialogue—simply listen to people read it out loud.

You’ll be able to hear the rhythm and cadence of the sentences, how easy it is to pronounce the words and syllables, how long each character’s dialogue is.

If you’ve been having problems with stilted or unnatural dialogue, listening to it as an “outside observer” may open your eyes as to why or how it’s not quite realistic enough.

Keep Practicing

The best way to improve dialogue writing skills is to write more dialogue.

If you’re not writing enough dialogue in your novel, pick a writing prompt and write a scene of pure dialogue. Writer’s Digest has fantastic prompts every week.

The more you practice writing it, the more you’ll come to understand cadence, rhythm, timing, and the traits of natural-sounding dialogue.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview with Steeple Hill editor Melissa Endlich

There will be a great interview with Melissa Endlich (Senior Editor for Steeple Hill) on Seekerville tomorrow.

PLUS, Melissa will be popping in to answer any questions people post in the comments, so make sure you head to Seekerville to participate in the conversation!

Interview with Cathy Bryant

I'm on Cathy Bryant's blog, talking about my own writing life, some tips and book recommendations:


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interview on blog tours

I'm being interviewed on the He Said She Said blog about blog tours. This will be informative for any of you who are wondering about blog marketing, especially for fiction.

Some of you may not even want to think about marketing right now in your writing journey, but for those of you who are published or agented, this will help you formulate your marketing plan.
1. How did you first learn about blog tours?

I don’t quite remember. At the time, they were still very new, so I know that when I started planning my first blog tour for Sushi for One, it made a hit because a lot of people hadn’t heard of a blog tour before, or they’d only seen small ones, or ones with just book blurbs—not original content.

2. Which of your books have you taken on a blog tour?

Click here for the rest of the interview.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Writer’s Genre

One thing I never got a chance to talk about in my article on finding your brand is when you want to nail down the basic genre you should write in.

I know lots of writers (myself included) who would love to write in several different genres. Before I was published, I had to decide which genre to focus on, which genre I would want to break into publishing in.

It's not an easy decision, but I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, that gives tips on how to pick your genre, as well as the reasoning behind why you need to pick one.

Tips for Novelists Trying to Determine a Genre

For novelists who write a variety of genres, here are a few tips for how they can nail down which one(s) to focus on.

While there are many published authors who write in several genres, for an unpublished author trying to break into the publishing industry, it’s good to find one genre to commit to for at least a few books.

Why Commit to a Genre?

This helps out the editor, who can slot the author into a genre niche within the publishing house’s lineup.

Most houses will not contract two authors whose novels are too similar. For example, a house wouldn’t contract two suspense novels that are too similar in tone and style.

However, houses do like to contract authors with different brands even if their genres are the same. For example, they might contract a suspense author who writes all female protagonists and another suspense author who writes all male protagonists. Or a house might contract one author who writes humorous women’s fiction and another author who writes serious women’s fiction.

However, if they contract an author and slot them into a spot on their lineup, they won’t contract that author’s next novel if it’s too different from the genre slot that author fills in that house.

Say you get contracted on a humorous women’s fiction novel, but then your next novel is a suspense. An editor will want you to produce several novels within the brand and genre of the first contracted manuscript, not to genre hop.

It’s important for you to define your genre and brand to make it easier on the editor who wants to contract you.

Pick a Major Genre.

This will take time and might even involve writing several manuscripts to determine which genre you like writing in. But choose a major genre you wouldn’t mind writing in for several books.

The major genres tend to be:
Contemporary romance
Contemporary fiction
Historical romance
Historical fiction
Science fiction
Women’s Fiction

Pick a Secondary Genre.

This secondary genre will help a writer further define their brand. For example, humorous women’s fiction versus serious women’s fiction, or legal thrillers versus international espionage thrillers.

Further defining your brand will also help you better describe your writing to an editor, and give that editor an idea of where you could be slotted in a publisher’s lineup.

Again, this might take time, but determine what secondary genre you wouldn’t mind writing for several books, because if you sell that first novel in that genre, your publisher will want more books in the same vein.

Give Your Genre a Unique Spin.

Here is where your writer’s brand sets you apart.

If you write humorous women’s fiction, how does your writing stand out from the other humorous women’s fiction novels on the shelves? If you write legal thrillers, how do your books stand out from other best-selling legal thrillers?

This will help an editor understand that you’re not the same as some other women’s fiction author in the publisher’s lineup, or that you’re not a John Grisham copycat. This will allow the editor to see that you have your own unique place to fill on the bookstore shelves, and in the house’s lineup.

And if you have a unique place to fill, you’re not in direct competition with a best-selling author already contracted with that publishing house. You are more likely to be considered than another writer whose manuscripts are too similar to what the house is already publishing.

Take Your Time.

Discovering a genre, sub-genre, and unique spin will take time. Don’t be discouraged. The more thoughtful tweaking you do to your brand—and, consequently, to your manuscripts—will make your writing more likely to be noticed by editors.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Writer's Brand

Under the post on Writing in different genres, we had a lively discussion on brand. I had more to say that would have made too long a comment, so instead I wrote an article on tips for discovering your writer's brand, which originally appeared on Suite101.

Tips for Discovering a Writer’s Unique Niche in the Market

A writer’s own particular brand can be hard to discover, but here are a few tips for helping to brainstorm your own unique writing brand.

These days, publishing houses often want to see how a writer’s “brand” sets them apart from the thousands of other manuscripts they receive.

It’s become more difficult to become published by traditional publishers, and a writer’s unique brand is often what raises them to the top of the slush pile.

But it’s equally difficult for a writer to determine what their brand is. Here are a few tips.

Read Extensively, Not Just in Your Own Genre.

With the lines between genres becoming blurred, it’s important to be well-versed in what’s already being published in the genre(s) you write in as well as in other genres.

If you already know what’s being published, you can determine:

(a) how your brand can be similar to what is already being published

(b) what is not being published so that you can ensure your brand is unique.

This research is crucial for unpublished writers. If a writer doesn’t know the current market, they can’t expect to wow an editor who is very well-versed in what’s on the shelves.

Look at Trends in Your Completed Manuscripts.

Look at genre and other marketable elements.

Do you write with humor across genres? Do you tend to combine certain genre elements (for example, paranormal and crime mystery, or high-octane action and contemporary romance)? Do you write kick-butt heroines? Do you write military heroes? Do you write in a particular exotic setting or career?

Remember to look at concrete elements. More abstract things like “issues” tend to be poor brand determiners.

Things like “adoption issues” or “grief issues” or “redemption” are not good brand determiners. They are not concrete.

But “suspense novels always involving young children” or “compelling women’s fiction novels always involving extremely dysfunctional families” can be good brand elements.

Notice the differences. “Young children” and “dysfunctional families” are character trends, which are more concrete brand elements than “issues.”

Brainstorm About What You’d Be Happy Writing.

If you can’t find obvious trends in the manuscripts already written, then look at your ideas for future manuscripts.

Are there genres you’d like to dabble in? Plot or character elements you’d like to explore?

Brainstorm and list the books you’d like to write.

Then prioritize them into the top novels that resonate most strongly with you.

Then look at the character, plot, and genre trends of those novels. What do you tend to like to write about?

Make Your Brand Unique.

This is the hardest part of discovering your brand, but it’s also most important.

Once you figure out what you like to write or tend to write, and once you’ve done research into what’s already being published, how can you tweak your writing so that your brand is unique enough to make an editor sit up and take notice?

Brainstorm ways to present your brand in only a few words—6-8—that will encompass exactly what you write and how it’s different from anything else being published.

Here’s my brand: Contemporary Christian romances with Asian American heroines. It’s specific, and I’ve done my research—there are no other authors writing my brand.

Some authors write historical romances with Asian heroines, although none of them write only Asian heroines. There are also some authors who write contemporary romances with overseas Asian heroines, but not Asian American heroines, and again, none of them write only Asian heroines.

Find a way to present your own brand that shows you’re unique from anyone else being published, and an editor will not only know that you’ve done your homework, but will see that you’re different from any other manuscript.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Episodic writing

I recently got a few questions on what episodic writing is. Earlier, I posted the link to an article on episodic writing, but I also wanted to address it myself. In this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, I talk about how to recognize it, and some things to get rid of it.

Make the Character Proactive Rather Than Reactive

Eliminate episodic scenes by giving the character an External Goal, Obstacles against that goal, and Forward Movement in the story.

A story is more than just good writing. A story plot must have forward motion and a sense of movement that pulls the reader along.

Sometimes writers will get feedback that their story “lacks purpose” or is “episodic.” What exactly does that mean?

Episodic Writing is Reactive Writing in Vignettes.

A character needs more than just to fall into an alternate world and face Scary Monsters. He needs to have a purpose and doggedly pursue that purpose. If he simply goes from one Bad Thing to another, the story lacks direction.

When a character simply reacts to the Bad Things that happen to him, he is being reactive rather than proactive, and that can be boring to a reader.

It’s also boring to read a novel where the characters have coffee and discuss the heroine’s dead-end job, then have dinner discussing the hero’s wayward sister, then go out to breakfast the next morning and discuss the mystery of the missing diamond necklace, etc. A novel like that simply moves from one vignette to the next without a sense or urgency or movement that pulls the reader along.

Instead, give your novel focus and purpose.

Make Sure the Character Has an External Goal

Editors like to see a character who has a strong External Goal that carries him forward in the story. It provides something for the reader to follow, and it provides direction for the storyline.

In The Wizard of Oz, sure, Dorothy gets swept into another world. But her goal all the time is to find a way home. She follows the Yellow Brick Road, tries to see the wizard, gets the witch’s broomstick because the wizard told her she needs it to get home. All the things she does is for the sole purpose of finding a way home. She is not simply moving from one strange event to the next. She has purpose and focus.

Make Obstacles Against the External Goal.

Once the character’s goal is established, make the conflict targeted toward that goal.

If the heroine’s goal is to buy a particular house on Blossom Street, make every obstacle directly against that goal: maybe the bank won’t give her a loan, or her old house won’t sell and she can’t raise the down payment, or some other family is in competition for the same Blossom Street home she’s trying to get.

Don’t just have “conflict” against the character—make the obstacles work directly against whatever her goal is. Then, the story will be targeted rather than episodic because each obstacle is trying to thwart the character’s external goal.

Make Each Scene Have Several Purposes

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.
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