There’s kind of a bogus controversy out there now whether on not one should wear a face mask, that you’re making a “politically correct” statement by doing so. Huh? So wanting to keep yourself and those in your orbit free from contracting a potentially deadly illness is now a partisan statement? Okay…so what does NOT doing it mean? That you’re fine with sucking off a ventilator? That coughing up a lung should be a group experience? I think not. Call me a snowflake, but I’m just fine with those pesky dents in my face from my N95. My husband up there goes one further. He’s not taking any chances. That’s him back in March, on our still winterized deck. Go and call him a wimp. You’ll still be scraping the burnt flesh off your face long beyond when we’re back packing the bars and sucking down enough likker to forget this whole lovely experience.
Another in our continuing series of “if it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying again.” Okay, so you’ve proofread that manuscript and spiffed it up. Now it’s time to finally pitch it. But to who? And AS what? Sometimes a submission can fit into multiple genres. Sometimes it shouldn’t. Especially if you’re not sure just what it is, because you’re not writing the best book you can–you’re writing to market. And that’s something you shouldn’t EVER do…
The number one thing an emerging writer needs to do is finish the book before they could even think about putting it out for sale. And when I mean finish, I mean the book needs to be the best it can be. Definitely NOT first draft, but all the plot holes worked out, characters real, breathing and transformed at the end, conflict apparent and resolved, and a satisfying conclusion. After that, the book needs to be edited and proofread (edited means all those items I just mentioned worked out, whereas proofread means no grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors). Then and only than can you think about submitting it to an agent or an editor for publication. Sounds logical, right? But there are some authors out there that take that concept and think in the inverse. And that, my dears, is never going to get you what you want.
There are some new writers that troll such sites as Manuscript Wish List or MSWL to see what agents or editors are looking for. Or toss an idea out there to Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad without even having started the manuscript. Often when writers do this they’re testing the waters, looking to see what agents and/or editors are looking for, then writing a book to those specifications. Bad idea! Because then you’re not writing in a genre or sub-genre you’re adept at and interested in –you’re writing to the market. And when you’re good at writing gritty adult detective fiction and write dystopian middle-grade instead well…you just may come out with the literary equivalent of finger painting–a hopelessly amateur attempt.
Now, I’m not saying a writer can’t change genres. Some authors write in several. But writing a different genre to branch out and expand your skills and scope is quite different than simply writing to what you hope will sell. You’re not looking at writing as a craft to be honed and polished. You’re looking at the book you produce as product. Reminds me of an author talk I was at once where they referred to their novels as units. Writing like that is only going to make you one thing — mediocre.
Look, we all want to sell, be a New York Times bestseller reaping accolades and royalties we need a Brinks truck to drive home from the bank. But writing to market is not the way to do it. You do it by writing the best book you can. If you do, the accolades–and the royalty checks–will have to run to catch up with you.
Why am I “revisiting” all these old posts lately? Retreading a glory day gone by? Brain gone to mush? Don’t have an original thought in my head? Right on all three! That and the fact that I’m trying to get a new ms. edited and off to the powers that be. So enjoy this rerun from a few years back, still chock-full of writing wisdom and sage advice!
Recently a friend sent me a manuscript she was reworking after having received a so-called “good rejection” from an editor. In case you’re not familiar with such rejections, that’s when the editor thinks the submission is good enough to warrant another look after some changes are made. Sometimes the changes are suggested, sometimes not, but most editors do include some illuminating commentary, and if you have to receive a rejection, they’re decidedly the best kind. This particular editor didn’t offer anything specific other than she’d like to see some more insight in the beginning, and perhaps something a bit incendiary a little farther along. Well, not only did my friend comply–she did so in spades, injecting enough plot complications this no-longer sagging saga’s got more twists and turns than a whole bag of Twizzlers, and boy-oh-boy does it snap. But this reworking also leaves her with another wholly unintended consequence: she’s created a Genre Cocktail. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
So what am I talking about? Okay, let me use her story as an example. She started out writing Romance, and the story has all the components: meet cute, solid conflict, steamy couplings, de rigueur happy conclusion. Though to keep it interesting, she tossed in a bit of suspense–a medical mystery, an employee theft, a woman on the run. But when the editor found it lacking, she heightened the stakes, adding a red herring, jaw-dropping duplicity, corporate espionage, and a breathless chase that leaves you guessing until the end. Three-quarters of the way through, when I got smacked by yet another twisty-turn, I was nearly certain I was no longer reading a Romance. Or was it a Romantic Suspense? No, it was more like a Thriller. Or howabout a Romantic/Suspense/Thriller? Not quite sure, I told myself as I kept flipping pages. What did it matter anyway? Whatever it was, it was good.
Should it matter? Or should whatever you write be able to be found under a keyword or a specific genre header? Usually it does–when you’re writing in a specific genre: Romance, Mystery, Thriller, SciFi, Fantasy. But these days you have Romantic Suspense, Historical Mystery, SciFi Thrillers and many more cocktails that are less easily identifiable. So how do you categorize them? Which search keyword do you use, under which header sign do you look? Do we create subgenres of subgenres? And moreover, how do we present such a work to the acquiring editor? By lumping together genres, do we confuse the issue–or do we clarify it? Especially if it’s so out there, we fear we may never be able to grab an editor’s eye and get an in.
The first time I had a salt caramel I was in a candy shop in Philadelphia that makes their own confections. The candy itself was a standard cube of buttery caramel dipped in dark chocolate, but centered on top was a delicate pinch of sea salt. In theory, such a combination shouldn’t work–separately, maybe–but together? And then I took a bit and ohhh…what exquisite fusion! the sweet playing off the salt, and visa versa. It shouldn’t work, but it did, as one taste flowed into the other, a mutual appreciation of each other’s attributes that ultimately produced magic. It can be the same with crossing genres, as within the story I read over the weekend, the twists and turns that heightened the stakes ultimately complicated the conflict, and that made surmounting the insurmountable so much more satisfying in the end. The trick, and this is where the execution can be dicey, is when you add Historical and Mystery elements to a Thriller, or Romance and Horror aspects to a SciFi and so on in any direction. Like salt to a caramel, they need to fuse all the elements together and advance the plot, or they’ll just seem gratuitous. And above all, don’t forget your core audience. If you’re mainly writing a Mystery, you’ll still need to have the case solved, or with a Romance, you’ll still need the happily-ever-after. The upside is if you integrate these other elements well, you’ll have the bonus effect of expanding into another genre, which of course, makes for more readers–and buyers–of your book.
In the end, with whatever genre, and however it’s achieved, it all comes down to writing a good story. And there isn’t an editor in the world who’d argue with–or reject–that.
While learning from home is all the rage, I’d like to direct your toward a free online writing workshop from mystery writer and educator Jane Cleland on Saturday May 16 at 1:00 PM EDT. I’ve attended her live workshops and they’re always fabulous. Here’s the skinny from Jane…
If you were able to attend the first workshop, you know we came together as a writing community and covered the nuts and bolts of harnessing isolation and overcoming writer’s block. It was great! So great. I’m doing it again. Let’s come together again—I love hanging out with writers. Want to join me?
Here are the details about this FREE one-hour workshop “Writing With a Through-line Plot (or Storyline)” on May 16th at 1 p.m. Eastern time. We’ll talk about through-line plotting (crucial) and how it relates to creating an opening that kills it (also crucial). If you’re interested, sign up here, and I’ll send you what you need to access the workshop.
You can also view a flyer for the event here. If you have a friend you think might be interesting, I’d love if you could share it with them using social media or email.
For more info about Jane, her books, and her workshops, visit her website. Be safe and well, and happy writing!