Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stretch Your Writing Comfort Zone

Jenn here. One of the advantages to my stubborn/determined personality is the fact that I despise limitations. If you tell me something can't be done or it's nearly impossible, my gut reaction is to prove you wrong. This has both advantages and disadvantages. As a young person with a lack of maturity and experience, this would often lead me down a path I didn't necessarily belong on. I might have succeeded, surprising myself and others, but it still distracted me from the path I should have been on. Now with maturity and experience, I'll secretly smile to myself and think, "I bet it CAN be done, but I can't allow it to distract me. I've already made commitments to other things."

The good thing about this personality trait is the fact that it developed confidence in me before I gained enough discipline to stay on course. It stretched me out of my comfort zone--beyond the limits I already knew. This applies to my writing life as well.

You may have heard me say that I once had an agent who told me, "You don't know what you want to write." Well, I did know, I wanted to write historical romance, but that encompassed many centuries--a lot more time periods than contemporary. I wanted to prove that there wasn't a time period I couldn't write. In my mind a great writer could write anything, and I spent a lot of my time trying to prove it.

Did I waste my time, I don't think so. It's now being put to use. For instance, I just finished a proposal on a Quaker historical--yes, me, Miss Scottish Historical. Would I give up my Scottish historicals, absolutely NOT! But why should I be limited to them? My father's people were Scottish. My mother's were Quaker. Our Fraizers were Scottish Quakers! Perhaps I should try THAT for a subgenre.

So many people will tell you not to write to the market, but to write the book of your heart. I think it is true for debut authors who have the time to write anything that is on their hearts. Their goal is to prove that they are a fresh new voice with something a little different to offer. If they sound like everyone else already on the shelves, why would anyone take a chance on them? They must have a breakout voice. So many people talk about the breakout novel--but I believe it takes a breakout writing voice. A breakout voice can take a mediocre plot and make is special--sing to a new tune.

Published authors beyond the debut novel, now have to concentrate on meeting deadlines, never-ending marketing and promotion, and the market swings. If you want to stay published, make a living or a side-living, you will have to write to the market. This is why so many publishers pressure their authors into writing in subgenres that they may not have written before--and why some authors choose to leap at the opportunity.

I've written a contemporary. Surprise! And it was a 2007 ACFW Genesis finalist right along with my debut novel, Highland Blessings. Why did I write it? 1) Because I wanted to prove I could do it. The story had been lying on my heart for 13 years and I didn't feel qualified to write it. God must have felt differently, because He gave me the story. 2) At the time, no one wanted historicals and I had already written 4. I got tired of beating my head against a brick wall. Plus, I wanted to know in my heart that if the market swings, I can swing with it.

This is why I think it took me 14 years to become published. God had a different plan for me. This is MY journey. I share it because there are some of you out there who may be like I was and need someone speaking out and telling you it's okay if you want to write different genres. Perhaps you're like me and you don't have A book on your heart, but LOTS of books on your heart.

This is the good news: The market is CHANGING again! This time the changes are bigger than ever before. It goes beyond genres and subgenres and is causing an entire paradigm shift in the publishing industry. It's called e-books and online publishing and social media.

If you don't sell millions in one subgenre, but you sell thousands in several subgenres that make up millions, would that end result be all that bad? I don't think so. Think about this analogy--long ago families could survive on one income. Now, it takes two families, and those that choose to live on one income must be VERY disciplined and they could be in serious trouble if that one income is laid off. It's a risk--and most prefer not to take that risk, so they both work. If you can make a better living at writing in 3 subgenres than one, do it. Just make sure you can still meet your deadlines and be smart about how you market to your readers.

For more information on this topic, here's a blog post on Surviving By Writing Multiple Genres.

In print sales I can't touch some of those authors who have been in the market longer than me, but I've been watching the Kindle sales and mine have been consistently lower than some of them for 8 months. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps it's because I've been working hard to build a strong online platform and I tend to reach more e-readers. Or maybe debut authors are appealing to younger readers who are more open-minded to e-reading platforms than traditional readers who only want print books and who tend to stick with their favorite long-time authors.

All I can do is speculate, but I DO know this, the e-reading market is just beginning to grow and if I can tap into that market early on, I'll have a stronger place in the e-reading market in the future. I don't want to be left behind, do you?


  1. Hi Jennifer:

    I think we are marketing soul mates! I agree with your views and I would like to add two more insights.

    1) there is not just one market: there are hundreds of markets. Some are like little ponds and a few are like oceans. Perhaps the most important market in the future is the market the author builds from her own readers.

    2) there is a tsunami coming because of eBooks and it’s called the ‘backlist’. Soon old established authors will be putting thousands of books on the market in the form of eBooks. These books are ‘new’ books to many new fans. These books are not aged. These books are usually cheaper. Some of these books are gems. This will be fierce competition for debut authors because a reader has only so much time in a day to read a romance. It is more important than ever to build a loyal base of fans. It would be great to develop fans who will enjoy your style of writing in several subgenres.

    It is a brave new world. It would be wise to be thinking about how an author can use the eBook format in a way that enhances the medium in a way the print book cannot. (Pictures, sound clips, video clips, links to web pages, etc.) It would also be invaluable to be able to develop a voice that appeals to readers 'in and of itself' and thus attracts readers in a pan-genre fashion. (I’m not sure this would be easy to do. : ))


    P.S. It would also help to tell a publisher that you have a ‘base’ or ‘platform’ of 2,500 loyal readers. That is, that you have your own market!

  2. Wow! Jenn and Vince are on a roll and it makes me excited about the future having read and sensed the excitement percolating between Jenn's post and Vince's comment. I'm a thirsty learner! Teach it please!

    I also like your analogy Jenn... I hadn't thought of the market like this. Makes me want to really get back to work on some of the books I've started - that could fall in different genres - and finish them.

  3. Great post. I agree with Jenn---and Vince. I want an e-reader for Christmas so bad!! I still like traditional books, but I'm ready to try out the new trends. I think marketing and the whole shebang needs to be keeping up with everything that's going on.

  4. Vince, I agree! Thanks for the extra insights. I didn't think about the tsunami of back lists.

    Christy and Lindi, Glad it was helpful. I really think we have to change the traditional thoughts we have about marketing and promotion--and the publishing industry in general.

  5. I'm a day late, but excellent post, Jenn! If I wasn't so stubborn I don't think I ever would have published.