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It's a grey, quiet Saturday here. Everyone's off doing stuff: it's just me and the dogs.
On Thursday, Sharon and Bill Stiteler came over and we checked the hives and started to feed them. We have six hives right now - two Italians (doing brilliantly in comparison with everyone else after a late start and a lousy year - we even had a super full of honey), two Carniolans (doing okay) and two Russian hives (one may or may not survive even a mild winter, one has a solid chance). We came back to the house.
Sharon Stiteler started making noises. Normally when Sharon makes noises, it means that something exciting has been spotted, and it's generally to do with birds.
A merlin had taken a red-bellied woodpecker from one of my birdfeeders, and was eating it in front of the house.
Yesterday I decided to get some beeswax from the buckets of slumgullion in the garage. It took three tries to figure out how to do it correctly, but I now have a pie-dish filled with clean, perfect, butter-yellow beeswax, smelling faintly of honey, and know how to get it right for next time.
No idea what to do with the wax, mind. But at least it won't get thrown out.
Today I'm proofreading. The Little Gold Book Of Ghastly Stuff for Borderlands Press comes out very soon, and they emailed me over the pdfs last night. It's a really sweet little collection, almost entirely from the last decade: two poems, four stories (including, for the first time anywhere, my first ever published short story, "Featherquest", published in 1984, cut by half when it was published and never reprinted. Do not get excited: it isn't very good), two oddments, four articles, a couple of speeches, a few book reviews and suchlike. I signed the 500 limitation pages last week. Then Borderlands discovered that too many people had ordered the signed edition and asked me if they could overrun the print-run and do some unsigned, un-numbered copies, and I said yes.
There's only ever going to be one printing of this, so if you want a copy head over to http://www.borderlandspress.com/littlegold.html and order one. It costs more to mail it internationally than the book costs (four times if you want to internationally Fedex it).
I do not enjoy proofreading.
And I need to go back to it.
Before I do, here is a Bill Stiteler film of me shaking bees off a frame of honey or three on Thursday:
0 Comments on Not just procrastinating on proofreading... as of 1/1/1900
My friend Bill Stiteler is over at my house today. His wife, Birdchick Sharon Stiteler, is off at a Birding Thing in Atlanta.
Bill just blogged the exciting birding events of this afternoon on Sharon's blog. I'm in the photos in a VERY long scarf, which I wore because it's minus something Farenheit outside and it actually helps a bit.
I am simply going to link to what Bill said and to the photographs therein.
Frankly, I'd be surprised if he doesn't get a Pulitzer for this one.
So. Home. Fell asleep at about 5.00 am, woke up about 11:30 am, so not back on US time yet.
Today I did some bee-things with Bill Stiteler (we put in a queen excluder today prior to splitting the Olga hive next week) then we planted a bag of overlooked hyacinths we found in the garage, and watched some Dr Who with Maddy (we're now up to Planet of the OOD). Also I walked the dog.
I've just been informed that due to a transfer credit-hour technicality I can't graduate with my college class & must get ONE CREDIT in summer school and walk next year if at all.
Neil, could you tell me anything to cheer me up? An anecdote, a song excerpt, news ("Jill Thompson and I are going to do that Delirium Miniseries we've been talking about for a while!"), anything?
Songs? Let's see -- I wrote a song for Peri Lyons' one woman show that you can hear a demo of at her myspace page. It's a 3.00am-in-a-bar song for a generation that's much more likely to be found in front of computer screens than in bars at 3.00 am.
Over at Lurid.com, Craig Russell talks more about the adaptation he's doing of Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and you can see more of the art, along with the adaptation he's been working on for the last couple of years of Coraline. (You may or may not be able to see the embedded footage.)
Today felt like a ghost day. It was warm enough that there was something that might have been a fine rain and might have been mist, and it hung over the snow, and it made the world unreal.
I wandered out with a camera and a dog to try and shoot the mist-world, and mostly I failed, because the camera was too good at compensating for the mistiness
Below is the barn. It was falling down when we moved here in August 1992. It's even older than the house -- probably about 150 years old. After fifteen years it's really falling down -- it's dangerous, and I'm probably going to have to bite the bullet and get it taken down this year. Sigh.
And Princess the cat has moved into a tree. She's up the tree right now.
I'd go out with a ladder and rescue her, except that she keeps coming down to eat and zooming back up her tree again. I'll leave finding her in the photo below as a task for the sharp-eyed. And yes, I know I need to do an update on all the cats, and I shall...
I live in the sunny UK, and am very much looking forward to EasterCon this year - my first convention, so approaching it with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation!
Any chance that you might be persuaded to fit in a preview reading of The Graveyard Book....? Not sure I can wait more than six months for a hint of it!! Perhaps it could clash with one of the bondage sessions, I wasn't intending to go to them! :-)
I'm definitely doing a reading at Eastercon (and will be doing stuff every day of Eastercon, for those people who wanted to know what day I'd be there) although from checking the schedule, it looks like it's a Wolves in the Walls reading (following the Make Your Own Pig Puppet program item). The current version of the schedule is at http://www.orbital2008.org/programme.html. On Sunday afternoon I've got a 90 minute Guest of Honour spot to fill, and will probably do a reading as part of that, and really, I want to find out what some bits of The Graveyard Book sound like when you read them out loud. So I think it's extremely likely.
That's terrific. The castaway is West End Star Michael Ball (who I saw in Sondheim's Passion). (I wish that Desert Island Discs was something you could hear on demand.)
Interesting reading the comments over at Boing Boing (two recent threads here and here) -- my favourite was the one from the person who was convinced that, because there was a busy Barnes and Noble near him, reading for pleasure had never been more popular.
We’ve had a lot of discussions on the blog about the use of pseudonyms. Why you would choose to use one, when you would choose to use one, and how best to use it. A question came in recently regarding pseudonyms that we haven’t discussed before. . . .
Now can anyone tell me what's the situation on gender hopping with a pseudonym? For example, plain old Alfred Churchgate (former plant auto worker), who has written a historical romance set in 16th century Rome and wishes to market his book as Cassandra Castiglione. Let's face it . . . it actually would sell more copies, wouldn't it? What are the practical objections to gender hopping with pen names?
One would assume that yes, a romance novel written under a woman’s name would sell more copies or more easily find new readers than if it were published under a man's name. I also suspect military fiction or a military thriller would have better luck under a man’s name. And honestly, I can’t think of any downsides to gender hopping when it comes to your pseudonym. At some point or another it’s very likely your readers will discover that your real name is Alfred, but is that a problem if you’ve already garnered an audience of devoted fans?
Let me throw this to my readers, though, because I’m curious. Would you be disappointed if you found out that Cassandra Castiglione was really Alfred Churchgate? And would you romance readers be less likely to pick up a book if it were written by a man? What about military fiction readers? Would you be less likely to pick up a tough-guy military, Tom Clancy-style book if it were written by Candy Cane?
Last Wednesday I did a post on the Encyclopedia of Sub-Genres and heard from a lot of you who disagreed with my definitions which I think proves a very, very good point. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Decisions on how a book is categorized or marketed is made by the publisher. It is a marketing decision and what one publisher would call erotic romance another calls erotica. I've sold erotic romance that the publisher marketed as paranormal romance and I've sold mystery that the publisher decided to call romance. Why? They felt they could better sell the book by marketing in those ways.
There are no exact guidelines to defining sub-genres. There's no publishing handbook that tells you what these are. They are all fluid and based on how each individual publisher operates and what the market demands. Just two short years ago authors writing fantasy with romance were shelved only in fantasy. Paranormal romances were primarily vampires and other beasts. Now things have changed and we see much less of a distinction between some fantasy and romance. Now it's really a matter of whether your book is more fantasy or more romance, or who it would appeal to the most.
So why would I bother with the encyclopedia in the first place? To give you a better understanding of what people might be talking about when they use these terms. When I get a "cozy mystery" that features a gory serial killer I know the writer doesn't know the market and it immediately places doubts about whether she's ready to be published. Using these guidelines you should better be able to understand where your book might fit, but ultimately it's up to your agent and publisher to decide exactly who the market is and how to make your book the most successful it can be.
I know that doesn't help the many of you who are unsure of what to call your book. What do you do then? My advice. Seek out those books that you feel would most appeal to your audience. Will readers of Jennifer Weiner or Elizabeth Berg most likely gravitate toward your book? Are you appealing more to the Christine Feehan audience or Laurell K. Hamilton before she crossed over to the romance market? Where are those books published? That's how you can define your sub-genre.
The reason for a sub-genre is so the readers (and that includes editors and agents) can more easily find your book in the bookstore and the bookstores know where to put it. So when thinking about how to categorize your book think about where it would best fit. If it doesn't fit anywhere you might have a problem. If you don't know where your book should sell how do you think the bookstores are going to feel and how do you think readers will find it?
Sub-genres are a tricky business and all of these definitions could change tomorrow.
The single-title contemporary romance market seems to be kaput for now . . . yet authors like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Catherine Anderson, Susan Wiggs, Susan Mallery still manage to hang on to their share of the market. What common denominators account for their continued success (other than being named "Susan")? In your opinion, do they write "high concept" contemporary romance?
In your opinion, can an author build a strong career today—like the ladies above—in straight contemp romance/romantic comedy?
Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was change your name to Susan? The truth is that all of these women began their careers in another time, a time when straight contemporary was an easy sell. Since then they’ve built a strong readership that buys every book they write.
A market doesn’t go stagnant or dead or kaput or whatever word we’re using these days because no one, ever, anywhere isn’t reading it; it becomes that way because it gets flooded. When a market is hot, like paranormal romance is now, editors buy everything they can get their hands on and it isn’t long before there are too many books and too many authors for the readers. It’s simple supply and demand. The readers get tired of being inundated, the cream rises to the top, a few stars remain, and it suddenly becomes a market that’s called dead. It’s called dead because the numbers slow. Why do the numbers slow? There are too many books. Is it really dead? No way, it’s just more challenging. Editors are no longer needing to fill lists with contemporary romance, they already have what they need. So to break into it now you’re going to have to work a little harder than you would have had you hit it when things were hot. You’re going to have to write a better book and you’re going to have to make it different and exciting. You’re going to have to give it some kind of hook.
You also need to realize when looking at so-called dead markets that you can’t compare what editors are buying to what’s on the bestseller lists. Once authors consistently hit bestseller lists they are no longer connected with a genre or sub-genre. They are a genre onto themselves. Stephen King is a perfect example. He doesn’t write horror. He writes Stephen King.
So remember this, dear writers. Dead is never dead. The readers, they will come. Dead just means challenging.
I received this question recently, and coincidentally I had a phone call not too long ago with someone in this very predicament. Not a bad position to be in. . . .
I am in the middle of writing a YA science fantasy, but have also been approached by a gentleman with platform to ghostwrite his nonfiction project. I see the nonfiction as bringing in the daily bread, and I know I will enjoy the process, but my passion is firmly in the fiction field. How should I go about my agent search? I’d prefer to have one agent if at all possible, but the pool of agents who handle nonfiction plus science fiction and fantasy plus YA is a short one. Should I let the "name" on the nonfiction project pursue an agent on his own, and sign agreements that way, or should I be the one on the hunt? If the latter, do I just concentrate on the nonfiction proposal, or is it okay to mention my diversity in the query letter? Note: I already know not to actually pitch multiple projects in one query; I’m thinking just a brief mention of my fiction interests.
There is a lot of advice I could give here and all of it depends on where things stand. I think you are a little ahead of yourself on all fronts here, so let’s approach things one at a time.
YA project first . . . since you are only in the middle of the project you’re not ready to query on this yet. Therefore it’s a moot point (or as Joey from Friends would say, “a moo point.”) You can only plan for your future so much, and planning for something that may or may not happen months down the road can stifle someone and eventually hurt her career. For example, who knows what decisions I would have made ten years ago had I known I was going to start BookEnds. No, sometimes the best laid plans are those that are unexpected.
I guess what I’m saying is that you need to look at the most pressing possibility first, and since you have nothing yet to submit on the YA I would simply hold off on worrying about that or even including it in your equation. In an ideal world you would find one agent to handle everything, but we all know that publishing is far from an ideal world.
As for the nonfiction project, I’m assuming you have worked with this expert and have some sort of proposal to send around. You will need to have something, even something short, to send to agents before someone is going to represent you. Before working on anything, though, I would also suggest that you put an agreement in writing. This should stipulate, among other things, how much you each expect to get paid (you could always say that this will be determined at the time of the offer), whether or not you are getting author credit or simply ghostwriting, and what happens if things don’t work out and/or the platformed author decides to find a new ghostwriter. You should of course be compensated for your time. Any time you are coauthoring or ghostwriting with or for someone, you need an agreement. I have one I use for my authors and would suggest you check out freelance Web sites (maybe someone can suggest some) for guidance on writing up your own.
Since you are the ghostwriter on this project and have no real credentials yourself it’s going to be tough to get an agent to represent you separately. I would suggest you work as a team to find an agent that can suit both of your needs as nonfiction authors. Primarily, though, you want an agent with expertise in the subject you’re selling, not someone who necessarily has expertise in YA Fantasy. Remember, your goal is to sell the book. If you need to find a second agent to sell your YA Fantasy, that’s certainly better than having one agent who can really sell neither. The smart author finds the very best agent for each individual project, especially since the nonfiction agent is really representing the book (and platformed author), you’re just a bonus in the package.
Presumably the nonfiction agent will represent both of your interests fairly and honestly. However, if you find that she expresses favoritism to the platformed author and doesn’t seem to be representing your interests at that point, when you have a deal in hand, you could always ask that someone else be brought in to represent your side fairly. In most cases, though (when I’ve done similar projects), it’s worked out pretty well.
Thank you for the great advice . . . and free advice at that!
However, it seems you are always focusing on fiction, romance, and erotica.
Yet, I see you also represent series books, like the Dummies Guides and Idiot's Guides.
Why are there no interviews from those people? And, why little information about that genre?
I have submitted some cook books and so forth, and nothing. But I am OK with that. And, I understand you have to have a platform to write these books, but Geez... It would be interesting to see something from Bookends that isn't about romance novels. Where are the interviews from Dummie and Idiot writers? You have tons of other genres, so why are all the blogs about one genre?
I think this is my first truly critical blog question. Ouch!
BookEnds does represent a wide array of genres. Of course we represent romance and erotic romance, but we also represent mysteries, thrillers, suspense, women’s fiction, and a lot of nonfiction, both in series format (Idiot’s Guides and Dummies Guides) and single-title. So why are there no interviews from those authors? Because they have chosen not to submit them. While the BookEnds blog is primarily written by the agents of BookEnds, we do view it as a community effort and offer up to all of our clients the opportunity to post an interview or blog post at any time. We don’t, however, force our clients to post. The first year of the blog we did very specific Q&A interviews, but after some time both the readers and we got bored with them. It seemed most of our clients answered the same questions. So earlier this year we did away with the interview format and instead offered all of our clients the opportunity to blog on virtually anything at any time. However, while a lot of authors who have participated have been romance and erotic romance authors, we have also seen a number of blog posts from mystery authors, nonfiction authors, and our women’s fiction authors.
If I tend to use examples or answer questions relating more to romance or erotic romance, I apologize. I assume that would be primarily because those are the questions I get. I do, however, have a few questions in the pipeline pertaining to platform, and of course that will be more appealing to nonfiction authors.
When writing the blog I try to appeal to as many readers as possible, but as you as writers know, pleasing everyone is just not possible. So this is a good time to send a reminder to all. If you have a specific question for BookEnds (relating to anything writing, publishing, etc., in any genre) please send us an email using the link to the right and ask us. We’re more than happy to get your emails and reply as soon as we have a chance. In the same vein, if you have seen some hot publishing news or talk on other blogs, please let us know. I would never have been able to write the Jennifer Crusie piece of a few months back if it weren’t for the heads-up from a wonderful client.
And for those hoping to hear from more BookEnds clients, let us know what you’d like to hear about. Post in the comments section what you would like the BookEnds clients to reveal in a blog post. If you have questions for a specific author, post a comment. We’ll pass it along, although I know many are already readers.
At Barnes & Noble I see that holiday offerings are already on display - and in the grocery store, holiday paperbacks on the kiosk near customer service. Does Bookends have an opinion on "holiday lit" as a genre, or wanna-be-genre?
Ah, yes, it’s that most wonderful time of the year and holiday books abound. I actually have my own personal collection of holiday books—titles that get packed away each season with the Christmas lights and come out to sit on the coffee table when the tree goes up. Books like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Book of Christmas Questions, and My Treasury of Christmas Stories. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Book of Thanksgiving, one of the books Jacky and I wrote in our packaging days. I don’t, however, usually look for holiday-centered novels, especially since I don’t have much time until after Christmas to actually sit down and read.
But do I have an opinion on holiday books, or I guess, more specifically, holiday novels? Well, surprise, surprise. I do. I think holiday lit (as you call it) is a great marketing opportunity for an already established author. You often get special holiday placement at bookstores, where you’ll be picked up by your regular readers and also by those looking for the perfect gift for Mom, Dad, or Grandma. For those who have not yet been published, or who are early on in your career, I will often recommend against writing a book that’s too targeted to a certain time of year. Holiday lit is great in November and December, when everyone seems to be in the spirit and can’t get enough mistletoe, nog, and good cheer, but the rest of the year most of us, including bookstores, want to avoid something that so obviously screams Christmas. Which means that often you won’t find those books (unless they are written by very-well-established authors) on the shelves at all.
I don’t think it’s a wanna-be genre. In fact, I never thought of it as a genre. Instead I think it’s a way for publishers and authors, like everyone else, to jump on the holiday bandwagon and find new opportunities to market and sell books.
But what about the readers? Do you find yourself buying books because they are holiday books or do you simply buy them because they are another book by an author you love?
STATUS: My hand is tired but the holiday cards are done!
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN by Chris Isaak
Two years ago I didn’t even represent anything in the world of Children’s publishing. Now it’s what I’m starting to be known for.
I should have realized this. I love high school movies with a passion (as my husband can attest). I would say that half my DVD collection is high school movies so why it didn’t occur to me that repping young adult and middle grade would be a natural fit is a mystery. I’m just glad that Ally Carter and Jennifer O’Connell insisted on writing for that market and forced me to get savvy. Now I love it.
So genres for the 8 new clients (and funny enough, quite the leaning toward children’s!). If they’ve sold already, I used their name.
Brooke Taylor—young adult Sarah Rees Brennan—young adult fantasy Jamie Ford—literary fiction Helen Stringer—middle grade fantasy Client 5—young adult Client 6—young adult fantasy Client 7—young adult Client 8—women’s fiction
And you guys know what I want more of, don’t you? Adult science fiction and fantasy. I’d love to take on more romance. I’d love to take on more literary fiction like Jamie.
I don’t suggest querying now (because we close on the 19th) but come Jan. 2nd, bring it on!
We did a post last year defining different sub-genres, and not surprisingly I got a lot of flack. Interestingly enough, the questions keep coming.
The first is what qualifies a book to be a thriller or suspense versus a traditional mystery, and what differentiates a thriller from suspense? I consulted Jacky and Kim on this and here’s what we came up with . . .
I think that in the most basic sense a suspense story is one in which a reader is waiting for something to happen. In my mind, the most obvious suspense is done as romantic suspense. In this case we’re always waiting for that threat to finally come to fruition. We know someone is after our heroine and we’re just frightened that she will in fact be next. Often we even have a sense of who the killer might be (we may see or hear his voice) and we have an idea of what exactly is happening.
A thriller is a mystery with fear. There’s usually no fear in mysteries. Mysteries are about the reveal of clues and the methodical solving of the crime. Thrillers include the clues and solving the crime, but also the fear that it’s starting to hit close to home. That someone else will be next. A thriller is usually more about the fear of not solving the crime fast enough. The threat that if you don’t find out who, worse things will happen. A mystery is simpler than that. It’s really about the hunt and deduction.
The other question I received was about the difference between erotic romance and hot romances. Unfortunately, this is even tougher to answer since it differs from publisher to publisher. What one might publish as an erotic romance another would merely consider a highly sensual romance. And of course rules will and have changed on this.
In general, though, it’s not about the amount of sex or when the sex happens, at least not in my mind. I think it’s more about the type of sex and/or its placement and importance to a story. Usually hot romance focuses primarily on the hero and heroine, whereas erotic romance might also include other characters or toys. Of course that’s not always the case either.
Maybe someone else can help me out here. Erotic romance tends to have more sex in it, more dreams, self-pleasure, that sort of thing. In hot romance the sex is usually not as much or as frequent, but it's just as steamy and sexy.
If you have a better definition of any of these I’d love to hear it. I’ve never been good at defining things. I usually say I just know. Which is of no help to you.
It’s been a quiet week for me here at BookEnds, and by that I mean I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off staring at 150 fresh emails and 8 new voice mails. No, I actually feel on top of things this week. I’ve gotten to all of my clients proposals, they’ve gotten their feedback and are busy at work. I’ve gone through my handy little notebook and made notes on where all my clients are with their projects and followed up with editors and clients where necessary. I’ve reviewed and negotiated contracts, I’ve touched base with a number of editors I haven’t talked to in a while, and I even read some queries and proposals.
And I hate it. I hate peace and quiet and I hate having time to do things. I suppose some would say that makes me a type A personality. I have no idea what personality type I am, but I do know that I thrive on at least a little bit of chaos. I like to have things hanging over my head. I like to feel needed and wanted and I like to be running around like a chicken with at least half my head severed (sorry).
When I have downtime, though, it makes me think. It makes me think that right now, at this very moment, I’m looking for something. I want something fresh and new to add to my client list, something that will keep me up all night reading and make me pop open the computer at 3 a.m. to let the author know I need to talk to her asap. Obviously that something has to be different, it has to be well-written. and it has to grab me by the throat. But beyond that. what else am I looking for? What do I want to add to my 2008 client list? Here’s a rundown in no particular order. . . .
Thrillers: I really want a good thriller. I want a tough but soft character. Someone I want to be or be around. I’ve been reading Karin Slaughter and Barry Eisler. I really love Barry Eisler. I would love to see something that hasn’t been done before. One of the things I love about Barry Eisler is his ability to make a seemingly unsympathetic character sympathetic, but of course I love more traditional forensic or criminal investigation-type books as well. I like the darkness of a thriller, and of course I love that thrillers are thrilling. If comparing books to TV, I love The Closer, Criminal Minds, and Cold Case. I especially love Cold Case. Brilliant!
Romantic Suspense: I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic suspense, so it’s surprising I have so few on my list. I think part of it is that I’m incredibly picky; I don’t think it’s an easy genre to write. I do want to add more romantic suspense to my list, though. I want the huge sexy men and I love the women-in-jeopardy stories. There are few things more exciting to me than stalkers and serial killers, but I also like the team approach, the man and woman who can work together to save the day, and keep me at the edge of my seat while doing it. And I refer above to some of my favorite TV shows, which are also great romantic suspense ideas—especially Criminal Minds. Just plain creepy.
Contemporary Romance: Lately I’ve been reading a good deal more contemporary romance and I’ve been surprised (I don’t know why) by how difficult it is to find these days. With the glut of paranormals, it seems that this is the latest genre to be neglected. The trick with contemporary romance is that it still has to have some sort of hook to make it stand out. I’m on the hunt, though. I believe it’s not going to be long before editors are begging me for a good contemporary romance, and I plan to be ready.
Historical Romance: I like big, lofty, sexy historicals. Of course I like any historical. I’ve been doing well with my historical romances lately, or I suppose I should say my authors are doing well, and I’m enjoying reading them, so I’m always looking for something new. As you might know, Elizabeth Hoyt was one of my new favorites of last season, but I also discovered Samantha James and loved her. I like historicals with an interesting hook, and I tend to think a high level of sensuality plays well in the historical market, so I like that too.
Commercial Women’s Fiction: I tend not to be a reader of much “literary fiction.” I like more commercial stories, books that I’ve heard a lot of writers refer to as mainstream. Often there’s a romance involved, but not always. I love stories of friendship and I love stories of a woman overcoming hardship. I’m always a fan of the abused woman who is able to escape, the abandoned woman who is able to discover that she can, in fact, survive on her own, and I love stories about the mother-daughter relationship. I love TV shows like Brothers and Sisters and Army Wives, and these are the types of stories I would like translated into women’s fiction (not literally, of course).
Nonfiction: It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a new nonfiction author, and I think it’s time for something fresh. Of course the author is going to need to have a platform, both personally and with the subject she is writing about. I’m most interested these days in career, health, parenting, and current events titles. But wow me. I’d love to see some truly funny humor (we just sold a hilarious pop culture humor book), some brilliant business book, or a self-help book that really stands out.
And of course don’t forget that I’m always looking for mysteries, erotic romances, paranormal romances, and fantasy romances. The only reason I didn’t go into detail on any of these particular subjects is that I’m seeing a lot of them cross my desk. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get at least ten paranormal or fantasy queries and three cozy mysteries. The problem is that none of them have stood out. The vampires all sound the same and every cozy protagonist works in academia. I definitely want to see more of these genres, but you’ve got to push yourselves in these flooded markets to stand out. To really show me what you’re doing that hasn’t yet been thought of and to write it in such a way that your writing takes my breath away from the first sentence.
So there you go, a public admission that I am looking for new clients. A little scary on my part, maybe, but that’s what happens when your clients are all busy writing away.
“Write what you know.” In my fifteen years of publishing experience, I must have heard that phrase millions of times. I can’t imagine how many times you authors have heard it. But what does it really mean? Does that mean that all mystery writers must have stumbled on a dead body and all romance writers have experienced happily ever after? Nope, not at all. It also doesn’t mean that fantasy writers have relationships with vampires, shape shifters, or demons. What it does mean is that you need to have experience with at least some aspects of your book. You need to know and understand your characters; in other words, often the characteristics of a character aren’t too far outside the author’s own experiences or personality (at least in some ways), and often we find that authors set books in their hometowns or home states (Tom Perrotta). Some authors give their characters a profession that matches their own (think Kathy Reichs), while others focus on writing nonfiction—memoirs, or self-help books that they have the platform to defend.
There is one aspect of writing what you know that seems to be frequently ignored, and interestingly enough this is probably the single most important piece of knowledge that every writer should have. And that’s genre. Whether you are writing memoir, literary fiction, romance, SF, or whatever, you need to know, understand, and like the genre to truly be successful. As an agent of commercial fiction I am very lucky that people like to regularly diminish what I do and the books I represent. I suspect anyone who’s not writing literary fiction understands what I’m talking about, and I suspect that even those writing literary fiction have experienced this a few times.
I regularly receive submissions from authors who tell me sheepishly that in a different time in life they were reading such-and-such genre and thought that they could easily write that genre, so here’s the book. And years ago I was attending a small writing conference where it seemed every attendee was working on their memoir. It wasn’t long before I developed one easy question to establish whether or not I felt that memoir might be worth considering, and that was whether the author read memoirs. Do you know that not one single writer was reading or had read memoirs? Sure, some had read one or two, haven’t we all? But no one was reading them to learn what a memoir really was.
Does this mean that because you have spent the last ten years reading historical romances you can only write historical romance? Not at all. I think it’s important for all authors to stretch their creativity and explore new genres and new directions. We wouldn’t be seeing some of the exciting things we’re seeing in publishing these days, like the merging of genres, if it weren’t for authors expanding what they know and taking it in new directions, but I do think all of these authors are students of the genres they are writing in. In other words, they read the genre. Maybe you thought you were writing a fantasy only to discover it reads more like a romance. If you haven’t been reading romance, you need to do that. You need to understand what the genre offers and, most important, what the agents, editors, and readers expect. That doesn’t mean you need to copy another’s work, and it certainly doesn’t mean any of these genres are formulaic, but readers gravitate toward a genre for a reason, and as a writer it’s your job to figure out why and what you will offer them that stretches that.