Thursday, June 24, 2010

Know who you are...

Earlier this week Molly wrote about knowing your audience. Very important stuff. All successful writers need to understand this. It’s the thing they probably love and well… hate… about their fans. Their fans keep them going, give them success and pay the bills. But the fans also have expectations and once those are set there is not a whole lot of room to deviate. So if you want to write “everything” that’s going to be tricky.

The flip side is knowing yourself. I write category romance. I love category romance. Read it for years before I started writing it and I hope I always get the chance to keep on doing it. But I also like bigger stories. I spent a long time debating if I wanted to write romantic suspense, straight contemporary or historicals. Since I knew I could combine the suspense element with history that was a factor. Then I had to think about the ideas I had. Were they big enough? Could I support a series? Did I want to spend a significant period of my time in the past (i.e. research)?

The answers were yes to all those questions. But now a new question has come up. Most who follow the blog know I’ve got a proposal out on submission right now. The one editor currently reviewing it is not a traditional romance editor. She’s an historical/historical mystery/historical with romantic elements editor.

I could (and we’re all practical here so we know the likelihood of actually getting an offer is I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% so I’m not losing sleep about this) be faced with a decision if this editor likes my idea enough to buy it but decides to steer away from the romance and focus more on the mystery suspense elements.

I’m not a mystery writer. I’m a romance writer. I’m not an erotica writer, but I do tend toward sexier scenes. Mostly because I think they are more fun to write. The question becomes can I be an historical mystery writer with romantic elements? How much of departure is this for me?

This is no small decision. If she likes the idea, if it sells, if my idea for sequels are picked up, if people read it and like it and buy it… Once again we see the small window an author has for success. I’m thinking 1%. Note: I’m being very mathy today...

Anyway if all goes well then that’s who I will be. I will be an historical mystery writer with romantic elements. That will be my world. That is where I will live. And until people stop reading the books there will not be a whole lot of deviation for me.

This post is a caution for all you folks out there thinking between two ideas. Some authors can go down two roads. Eileen of DWT is a perfect example. But the reality is most will follow a set path at least for a time.

Know who you are. Know where you want to live and make sure at the end of the day you can live with that decision for a long long time.

So will I forgo some of my more racier sex scenes and become an historical mystery author with romantic elements if an offer is made…. HELL YEAH! Do I look stupid?


Molly O'Keefe said...

This decision is one a lot of the DWT'ers are thinking about right now. And I totally understand the angst of it - you have to be able to sell your next idea to an agent and then an editor - so knowing it and being able to classify EXACTLY what it is - helps a lot.

But, I'm wondering, once you get that idea to the editor and the editor loves it and then you're working on it - why can't it be all things. WHy can't it be sexy and mysterious and historical?

I'm a frustrating person to talk to about this - because I'm not mixing any genres, I have not had to figure out what I'm doing and then worried if I'm doing the wrong thing. But, the mish mash of genres - which I adore to read, is always just waiting for the right one - I think. The sexy historical mystery...why wouldn't that work? Am I niave?

Eileen said...

One of the things my agent told me when I was shopping more than one genre around was don't put anything out there unless you're willing to write four or five more books like that. I do think you have to commit to a genre -- even if it's a second or even third one for you -- so it better be one you love.

No, Molly, you're not naive, you're adorable. Maybe it's time for the sexy historical mystery. The idea is piquing my interest already.

Kathy Holmes said...

Oooooo, I've been struggling with this ever since I started writing - lol! But I started writing when my whole world was turned upside down and I had it in my head that I was not a romance writer - I was a women's fiction writer because, not only was I on a journey, but my characters had to be, too. Now that my life has settled down, I'm returning to my romance roots and writing romance. Who knew? Certainly not me. Great post!

Maureen McGowan said...

Molly keeps telling me that you and I are a lot alike, Steph... and I'm totally seeing it today. :)

This is exactly what I've been struggling with right now. And Sinead, too, I think. Although she always seems way more decisive than I am.

As much as I do believe we can be smart and plan what shelf we'll end up on... I sometimes wonder if it isn't better to also just go where the universe takes us, a bit... (As long as we can figure out a way to stay on that shelf for a few books, as Eileen points out.)

Recently, I was working on an UF idea and got worried that it might get shelved as sci-fi because it wasn't set "now" (or wouldn't get onto any shelf, because it straddled genres too much) and in the middle of all that "where will it get shelved?" panic (romance? fantasy? sci-fi?), I decided to make it a YA where genre matters slightly less. In that world it's more about what editor/imprint do you send to, than what shelf you'll end up on. At least from what I can make out.

But it feels like a potentially huge decision. That I'm giving up writing adult books and the sexy stuff that I also love writing for the foreseeable future... But this is all assuming anything even sells...

But if we don't go into a project assuming it'll sell, what's the point? And as much as I love making shit up... for me, there has to be a point. I have to believe someone will want to publish it and lots of people will want to read it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Also kind of related...

I read an interview with Charlaine Harris in this month's WD and she considered herself a mystery writer pretty much until True Blood went on the air and all of a sudden her already published books were cast in a very different light. (And she shot from midlist to bestseller.)

Interestingly, Yann Martel was also profiled in the same issue and while he's not technically a commercial fiction writer, the huge commercial success of Life of Pi really messed with reader expectations (not to mention his publisher's expectations) of what he'd write next, too... But would he go back and not have that success? Um. No. But what a humble and realistic guy. He totally gets how lucky he was. There's a quote where he says something like, if there'd been one different person on the Booker committee that year, my book would never have even been read outside of Canada. Basically, the luck of getting the right 5 judges completely changed his life. And he recognizes that.

I should be saving some of this stuff for my own posts instead of writing mile long comments.... LOL

Sinead M said...

I've always, except for one disastrous attempt at a category, tried to write books that I know I would be happy writing indefinitely.

But as a writer that mashes several genres together, I know they can be difficult to market. But a sexy historical mystery.

Definitely YES

Eileen said...

So somebody sent me a snippet of an interview with Stephenie Meyer today that I think pertains. Basically she says that she's sick of vampires and she's sick of everybody clamoring for the next book and writing now feels like homework. Can there be too much success at a given genre?

Stephanie Doyle said...

All great comments... and so much fun to discuss.

Maureen we should definitely hook up at some point in Orlanda. We can talk about how we like to plan things in an unplannable business... :)

Too much sucess... sure. Look at JK Rowling. The woman is a natural storytell her but what in the heck does she do next?

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