Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Writing Outside of Your Genre

Just a quick update--not because I have anything earthshaking to share, but I was getting tired of seeing the cover for The Long Way Home on the last two posts and I wanted to push them down on the page. The Goodreads giveaway is still on through the end of the month, but after that, I'll probably take the post down because it will be confusing.

Like a lot of writers, if I'm notably absent from blogging and Twitter and Facebook etc. it's because I'm engrossed in working on a book. And that's been the case recently. I've also been doing some pre-book release stuff for The Long Way Home--things like sending out books to book bloggers and letting some local media outlets know the release date (May 1st!) is coming up. The marketing department could have handled this, but I offered to do it since I've found that people are more receptive to personal emails. The marketing department does plenty on their end, so I'm glad to do my share.

This is the first novel of mine that wasn't originally self-published, which is a little nerve wracking. Before, when a book went out in the world, I always figured that if it got bad reviews and was universally panned, I'd just take it down. No harm, no foul. Now that I have all these other people involved, I don't have that option. Of course, having the other people involved has a million benefits to it, so I'm not complaining. I'll just feel better when the readers have spoken (and hopefully like the book).

The book I'm writing now is a complete departure for me. This goes against conventional publishing wisdom. Usually they tell authors to find a niche and stick with the niche. It makes it easier to market the books, readers know what to expect etc. And that makes sense, to a degree. Except we're not making widgets here. I love to read different types of books and I love to write different types of books.

And you know what? I think publishers don't give readers enough credit. I didn't read Stephen King's latest book and get confused because it wasn't a horror novel. I read the description ahead of time and looked at the cover and figured it out--it was a time travel story. Not that hard.

I once read an interview with a literary agent who said, (and I'm paraphrasing), "I tell my clients that they must write at least two books in a given category first, before they switch to something else." Good advice? Yes, overall. But what's with the word "must"?  What if a client has the greatest idea in the world and is on fire with wanting to write it--should they set it aside to work on something they're less enthused about just to fulfill this dictum? I don't think so.

Have you ever read a book by an author and thought something like, hmmm... I loved her first six novels, but this new one seems tired? I always wonder if the author herself/himself feels tired of doing the same thing, but is required to stay on track to fulfill publisher requirements. The ho-hum writing reflecting the author's state of mind. 

A PR person (not from my publisher, thank God) once said to me, "You're all over the place." And I don't think she meant it in a good way.

Now that self-publishing is becoming more accepted, I think we're going to see a lot of authors writing all over the place. It's already been done by big names like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Neil Gaiman, because no one was about to tell them no. And now the rest of us have the same option.

Personally, I'm loving the freedom to write whatever I want. My current WIP (that's writer speak for "work-in-progress") is a young adult novel with paranormal elements. I envision it as the first in a series. Is it any good? I hope so. All I know right now is that I'm having big fun writing it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is a great time to be a writer. Probably the best time in the history of the world.




Rex Kusler said...

I can't believe your new book is #78 in the Kindle store right now and it's not even released until May 1st. That's amazing!

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Rex! My mom just emailed me with the same info--#78. Astounding.

Maybe I'll have to change my blog entry to say I'm only writing women's fiction from now on...

Christina said...

Christina - xristya@rock.com - Hi Karen - I read your book and loved it! Book Room's boss, however, has just sold Filmsay and I might have to publish some film reviews there before I can get to your book. I have a novelist friend in CA whose work is very good (Jim Krusoe) and he publishes (last few books with Tinhouse) but I noticed he doesn't have book club questions....do you know how novelists get on a list that's sent out to book clubs as a selection? I'd like to know in order to tell him. And as for your book - not tired at all, very energetic, in fact I think it's your best yet!---If the book club answer is long, just send it to my email box, xristya@rock.com (wanted to tell you about possible delay of the review, too - don't know for certain yet).

Sean McCartney said...

Couldn't agree more Karen. As my futile attempts to find a home for the Treasure Hunters Club series continued I started a new novel for adults. Teachers actually. It isn't a how to but a funny look at our profession in a fictional world. I haven't told any of the people I teach with because they are providing such good material. :)
Just a side note about the Club series, even though my publisher is closing down his children's division the books continue to sell. Not earth shattering numbers, mind you, but okay for no publicity. Didn't mean to monopolize the space. Looking forward to the new book. :)


Karen McQuestion said...

Christina, you READ it already?! You're an absolute wonder. Seems like I just mailed it out. :) I understand that you have to abide by the site's schedule, so don't worry about the timing of the review. I'm just glad you loved it.

Just for the record, I didn't feel ho-hum when I wrote THE LONG WAY HOME. I was enthused about it--I'm just saying (for example) that if after this I was locked into doing books about women on trips I might get weary of the subject.

As for book club questions: my publisher includes them in my books, but I discovered, during a Skype visit with a book club in Texas, that the group preferred the questions on Litlovers.com. I wasn't even aware of this site, but it's a terrific resource for book clubs. You could suggest your friend contact Litlovers.com and ask if they'd be willing to include his book in their listing.

Karen McQuestion said...

Sean, I'm sorry to hear that the Treasure Hunters Club series didn't find an appreciative published, but I am glad to hear the books are still finding readers.

Good luck with the new novel. New novels are always such bright shiny projects for me, so full of joy and potential. I won't talk about the pitfalls, because I'm sure you won't encounter any...

H.S. Stone said...

As a writer and avid reader, I completely agree. It's like an actor being pigeonholed to a certain role or genre of film. If an author is excited about his/her book, I think their writing will reflect it, and it will make a better read than an author forced to churn out book after book in the same genre. It'll be interesting to see how J.K. Rowling's new book for adults does. She seems to be the latest poster child for authors crossing genres.

Ruth Harris said...

Yes!!! Karen, as you know my NYT bestsellers were women's fiction & I loved writing them but, after writing half a dozen, I was in the mood to write something different.

I've now written 2 thrillers with my DH: HOOKED and OVERRIDE also available in a boxed set KILLER THRILLERS.

I'm just about to release something entirely different: a love story set in an animal orphanage in Kenya called ZURI "beautiful" (in Swahili).

And guess what's coming next? Women's Fiction, that's what!

I LOVE this freedom. I LOVE not getting burned out!

Karen McQuestion said...

H.S. Stone, I'm eager to see how J.K. Rowling's book does as well. I'm willing to bet her storytelling skills will transfer over.

Hi Ruth, I'm with you--I love having no creative restrictions. ZURI sounds like just my cup of tea. I'll put it on my list!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Followed you here from The Passive Voice. Love your post. Before I self-pubbed my first book (I've been with indie epubs since '09) I met with a big time publisher who told me too, that I am all over the place. The conversation I had with her actually earned a spot in said book.
If you don't mind, here is a portion of the immortalized conversation:

“Let me give you some free advice because this may be your only opportunity to speak with an actual publisher,” she said. “If you want anyone to take an interest in you, not only must you learn to deliver a three-line pitch on cue, you must become branded.”
Sara blinked at her, wondering if Leah expected a response. She opened her mouth to comment, but closed it again when Leah continued speaking.
“By branding I mean this. You must become McDonald’s. When you go to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world and you buy a cheeseburger, you know you’ll get two pickles on it. That’s what readers want.”
Sara’s mouth fell open. Before she could stop herself, she asked, “Two pickles?”
Leah missed the sarcasm. “Yes. Readers want two pickles. They want to know exactly what to expect when they pick up a book by say, well, by any romance writer.”
Wondering if Leah could possibly be serious, Sara kept her eyes glued to the woman’s face. “So you’re saying the reading public wants to read the same book over and over again?”
Leah smiled in a self-satisfied way, as if she believed Sara understood the publishing world at last. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You mix up a few things, maybe reverse the order of events in your previous story, and change the names of your characters. Yes, an emphatic yes. What I’m saying is that you give your readers the same story over and over again. That’s how you succeed in this business. You can’t write contemporary and paranormal and romantic suspense and expect anyone to read your work. You’re not branded. To sell books, just like McDonald’s, you have to make the same cheeseburger over and over again.” Leah slapped her open palm on the table for emphasis. “That’s how you win the game.”

Congrats on your upcoming book and your success, and may you have just as much success in a new genre.

Christina said...

Christina - xristya@rock.com - Karen, thanks for the information for my friend about Litlovers.com - I'll pass the information on! And yes, not only have a I read your book but I can't say enough good things about it! Your husband actually took you on a road trip to check out facts for the book? They say if you want someone to like you, get them involved in what you're doing - so he must REALLY like you now!

Donna McDonald (author) said...

After eleven contemporary romances, I just last month published my first paranormal book. Worried about all you mention, I created a Q&A on Goodreads to ask readers about reading across genres. I also asked the question on Facebook. What I heard back is what I always felt as a reader. Most readers read across lots of genres, but all readers want to read good books. Having pleased my readers with my contemporaries just increased the paranormal book's chances of getting read as well.

As an author, I needed to write the paranormal books just as much as I did the first contemporary that I published. There is a gut deep satisfaction at having the freedom and creativity to write both. I figure that has to make me a better writer, which is important to me because I hope to do this for the rest of my life.

Will my new genre sell as well as my current popular one? Maybe. Maybe not. I find myself not terribly concerned because sales from the others are "allowing" me to take this creative risk. So far, it hasn't seemed to hurt my current sales to have the paranormals available. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to miss the pleasure I got from writing them.

Good luck on your all your work, Karen. I agree that no one should underestimate the reader.

Sharon Hamilton said...

I agree with your post. I think readers will follow your voice, with a couple of exceptions: erotica and YA, and then maybe one of them but not both at the same time. LOL. What am I saying? When I connect with an author, I'll probably follow them anywhere. I get addicted to their voice, that spark of something I can't put down.

Great things come with great courage. I agree, the Indie revolution is making everyone rethink everything. That isn't scattered, it's just a bigger pie, not a smaller one.

Ruth Nestvold said...

I'm hoping you're right, Karen! I usually write science fiction and fantasy, but I have a number of ideas that are outside of that genre. Once I would have thought I just can't pursue them, now I'm thinking I might be able to give it a try!

Karen McQuestion said...

Wow, I went to bed last night and woke up to lots of comments! If I'd known www.thepassivevoice.com/ was going to link to this blog entry, I would have used more care in the writing.

Julia Rachel Barrett (which even sounds like a writer's name), thanks for sharing a bit of your fictionalized conversation with a publisher. Two pickles!

Donna, you said it more eloquently than I did. I'm glad we're on the same side. One thing you said really resonated with me "...sales from the others are "allowing" me to take this creative risk." That's exactly the case with me. I'm willing to take the risk to feed my creative spirit. What's the worst that can happen? If it doesn't go over well, I'll go back to what does. I always say--they're only words on a page. I can make more.

Christina, yes, my husband drove me two thousand miles so I could fact check the details of my fictional road trip. It may have been the most romantic and thoughtful thing he's ever done for me!

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Sharon! I agree about an author's voice. That's one thing I neglected to say about Stephen King--even though he can (and does) write very different types of books, each one carries has stamp. He's a great storyteller who creates real characters and that kind of ability transcends genre.

Ruth, I say go for it! Some of your readers may follow you, some may not, but you'll also gain others who wouldn't have read your work otherwise. It's a gamble, but a fun one.

Jon Olson said...

Well, I say bully for multi-genre writers. Life's too short to write the same book over and over again.

The Mathematics of Affecton

Karen McQuestion said...

Amen to that, Jon! And speaking of changing genres, I noticed you put a link to your collection of short stories...

Brenda ND said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I love visiting your blog because of the hope I get just reading your posts.

Bill B said...

Ditto Brenda ND's comment! And Jon, I'm glad you added the link in your comment - I feel like I found a bargain with your stories ツ. And I think you're right, Karen, when you said "...a great storyteller who creates real characters and that kind of ability transcends genre." 'Confidence is high' that it will also be true of your new project. If not, well, as you said, they're only words on a page and you can make more! I hope you continue to do that --

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Brenda ND! Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad my words bring you hope.

Hello Bill B. of the sideways smile ツ !! If you like Jon's stories, I can take a tiny smidge of credit because he let me read the collection ahead of time and I gave him some feedback. He did the same for my next book, and saved me from some potential humiliation by pointing out that I had a character pop the trunk to look at the engine. I know the difference between the trunk and the hood, but my fingers type stupid things sometimes. Thank God for writer friends.

cindy said...

I agree, this is a great time to be a writer. I used to feel so disempowered by the long submission/rejection process. Not anymore:)

Christina said...

Christina - xristya@rock.com - Hi Karen - I have my review of your book The Long Journey Home at Book Room Word Press, waiting to be posted (now it's up to the owners on when they'll do so). Have you been enjoying its publication date? When it does go up I'll send you the link! (I really loved the book!)

Christina said...

Christina - xristya@rock.com - Here's the link to my review of The Long Journey Home, for you and your readers: http://www.bookroomreviews.com/2012/05/03/the-long-way-home-book-review/

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks Christina!