Monday, August 03, 2009

Be True to You

As a young editorial assistant I had the luxury of exploration. I was just starting to get my feet wet in the acquisition waters and could request everything and anything that came my way. I had the opportunity to find my niche in the publishing world and see what really fit for me. One of the things I so strongly remember about those days was trying to fit that square peg into the round hole; in other words, I tried over and over to do the kinds of books that weren’t true to me, but that I felt were “cooler” than the kinds of books I really had a knack for. I’m not sure where this mentality comes from, but I can tell you that at some point in our lives every single one of us does this. Whether it’s wearing an armload of rubber bracelets, styling our hair in the latest Flock of Seagulls ‘do or trying to impress the boss in a manner that doesn’t fit any better than a pair of blue suede shoes, part of life is exploration and we all make mistakes along the way. What I’m asking is that you be very, very careful of not letting those mistakes torpedo a rising career.

As an unpublished author you get the luxury of freedom. You can write whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. Once that first publishing contract is signed and sent off, things change. Now you have deadlines, readers, sales expectations, and a brand to build. While you certainly still have creative freedom, you are no longer as free as you used to be. Sure, authors explore new genres and new directions all the time; the difference is those who are able to do it while remaining true to themselves versus those who do it because they feel it gives them a certain credibility or respect they don’t think they’re currently receiving.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a long time and the reason it’s taken me so long to write is that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to clearly get my point across, and even when rereading what I’ve written I’m still not sure that readers will really grasp what I’m trying to say, so let me try with this. We all have our strengths in this world. My strengths as a literary agent lie in commercial fiction and nonfiction. I’m not a literary reader and don’t have a natural inclination to understand what makes a literary novel marketable and appealing to the public. I do however have a knack for commercial fiction. Not only can I read a book and get a sense of whether editors and the buying public will find it appealing, but I can also read that book and help guide the author to make it stronger in both plot and character. I’m not going to say it’s easy and I’m not going to say I don’t struggle at times, but it’s where my strengths lie. And boy have I been abused for it over the years. Let’s face it, any of you who write commercial fiction have faced, at some point, the stigma of someone who is not writing “real books.” Whether it’s that you should be writing something more literary and more “meaningful” (whatever that means) or that you should be writing in a genre that’s more respected (whatever that means), someone, somewhere had to make a snarky comment that made you feel bad about doing what you love. Do not let that person or those people take control of your writing career. Be True to You.

Not everyone can write women’s fiction, not everyone can write romantic suspense, not everyone can write literary fiction, and not everyone can write epic fantasy, and that’s a good thing. I’m not saying you can’t explore new genres or you shouldn’t take your books to that next level. I’m saying that before you call your agent and tell her that you're abandoning your romantic comedy*** career for something “more respectable” like romantic suspense, you should try on that romantic suspense first, stand in front of the three-way mirror and really, honestly tell yourself if it fits. It might not and that’s okay, because not everyone can get away with wearing a fedora either.

Be proud of the person and the writer you are, take ownership of your strengths. Stand up now, out of your chair, and say it, out loud, what you write. Say it, “I write cozy mysteries” or “category romance” or “horror” or “literary fiction” or “poetry.” Are you proud? Is your head held up high or are you apologetic and meek? If your answer is the latter, then do it again and again and again until you can say, with all the pride in the world, loud and clear, what you write.

Be true to yourself, toss out that ill-fitting cowboy hat that was never you anyway and put back on the bunny ears. Write to your strengths and you will find the success you crave, and don’t go asking for people to respect you and your writing, demand it.

***I apologize to all romantic comedy writers; you were the first sub-genre that popped into my head and in no way do I mean to imply that you are not respectable, so please don’t go jumping ship to start writing horror about blogging literary agents.



Sheila Connolly said...

I should forward this to my literature-major daughter, who keeps asking why I'm not writing a "real" book. I tell her, I like what I'm doing. Other people like reading what I write. You want a real book, you write it.

Dan Holloway said...

Jessica, what a wise post. Er, first off I spent years trying to get my hair to go Flock of Seagulls but it just didn't want to know.

An agent recently said in a blog on the Harper Collins site Authonomy that when an author gets their first deal, the first bit of advice she gives them is "write more of the same". I'm nearly finishing my fourth full-length book. My first two were, respectively, a travelogue and a thriller. Both taught me an incredible amount about writing, but they were both attempts to "write something commercial" taht I thought I could do but my hert wasn't in. I nearly got a deal with both of them.

If I HAD made it with either two things would have happened. I'd have stopped learning, and I'd have been stuck doing something that wasn't "me".

I now write what I love writing, magic realist literary fiction. It's not particularly commercial, but it IS me. I still don't think I've stopped learning, though - I KNOW my nexct project will be women's fiction, and the one after that will either be SF or a manga collaboration before I go back to litereray fiction. That's one reason why I am now self-publishing and ONLY querying the one or two agents I would kill to work with (fortunately one of the two has said she wants to see my next projects). I do have the confidence I'll "make it" one day, maybe even write the kind of books that win little prizes, and that for me would be success. But if I "make it" and get a publisher for my current book, there's a very grave danger - for me, maybe because I'ma slow learner - that my writing will never get the chance to develop in the areas I want it to

Of course, self-publishing is no way for everyone - probably only for a very few. But before you sub that script, you reallyshould ask yourself, "Do I really want to make it with this novel?" Of course the aswer seems to eb yes, but what I mean is, see yourself in 20 years' time, having made it with the novel you're subbing. If the answer's yes, then go watch Misery, and if the answer's still yes, great, sub it. If not, get as uch feedback as you can, learn everything you can from it, and move on.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for a much-needed reminder. I wrote three so-so novels before finding my niche in medical suspense. Now, when I find myself itching to "do something different," I think about the non-reception those works received.
Once you're contracted and published, the approach to writing does--or at least, should--change. Of course, the biggest hurdle is getting published in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I don't get this -- the supposed bashing of commercial fiction and the authors who write it. I don't see it.

In fact, on most agent blogs and at most writers conferences everyone DOES write commercial fiction.

Who exactly is looking down on it? If anything, I see the opposite -- genre writers calling lit fiction writers' work "boring," "pointless," and "navel-gazing," as if people that don't need a huge plot, murder, or car chase banging them over the head are less of a reader/writer.

God forbid anyone should want to write a quiet or thoughtful novel nowadays. They immediately get pegged as someone who is pretentious or trying to write The Great American Novel. I've had "quiet" novels get passed over again and again, by editors that praised my writing but said that in todays market they need something "big."

Unknown said...

Thanks for a terrific entry, Jessica. I started writing and went to an advice website - where you can ask a real live professional something about writing/the publishing world/agents - whatever.

The question I asked was if vampire books were still selling. The industry professional that responded told me no. That it was hot two years ago but that no one was buying it now. I was crushed.

Did I stop writing my book? No. I had a moment of clarity. I read these books all the time. It's all I buy. Everything paranormal with an edge. At the time I wrote to the 'professional' I was reading two to three a week (this was this past winter).

I realized I was the market audience and the books were still making the bestseller lists. I ignored the expert and finished my book. I'm proud (okay, almost) to hold my head up and say, "Yes, I write Erotic Urban Fantasy."

And, yes, you guessed it - it's the 'erotic' part that makes me stumble when I answer ; )

MAGolla said...

Excellent post, Jessica!

It took me a few years to figure out who I was as a writer. The learning curve is freakin' steep!

Once my confidence in my writing ability grew, I had to explore various genres to pinpoint my areas of strength, because as much as I love reading historical romance, I couldn't write it if my life depended on it!

Trying to write a genre because it's hot, or everyone else is doing it, or your writing group will dump you if you don't write a particular genre will stifle your writing voice.

Each writer must follow his/her own path. You will be happier as a writer and your voice will shine if you discover a genre that you enjoy writing.

I may never sell a story, but I'll have fun writing them!

Kristan said...

"I tried over and over to do the kinds of books that weren’t true to me, but that I felt were “cooler” than the kinds of books I really had a knack for."

That was SO me! Is so me? No, I've at least realized that, right now, I'm not a literary writer, even if I really love literary books. Don't get me wrong, I love genre books too. In fact, they're what got me reading in the first place! So even though I don't put a stigma on genre books, I know other people do, and I'm working through my irrational annoyance and fear of that. {sigh}

Great post, though. I think writers (young/new ones especially) need to hear this from industry peeps.

Kristan said...

One great example of this is Jeff Abbott, who (somewhere in his blog explained that) for years he tried to write literary novels -- like the ones he loved and people respected -- but he could never make things come together until he realized he just was NOT a literary writer. Now he's a successful thriller writer!


This is awesome. You should put some inspirational theme playing in the background when this post is opened.

Like Eye of the Tiger.

Yeah. That would work.

Now, off to throw out that cowboy hat ... :)

Bella Andre said...

Jessica, This is a FABULOUS post. Love it! All so true. And *very* well said.
;-) Bella

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I couldn't love this post anymore if I tried. I enjoy what I write and I'm damn proud of it! To me, making people laugh and bringing them along for a good mystery at the same time, is a true gift.

I'm writing the second in a mystery series right now, and I'm dabbling in changing the POV from first person to third. I've been having a similar conversation with myself: "Do I naturally write better in first person? It's easier, but does that mean I shouldn't give third person a go?" It's not exactly should I change genres, but it feels similar. Hmmm....

CKHB said...

I posted a short series of rants on my blog about "chick lit" for exactly this reason. Just because a genre is popular, or commercial, or lighthearted, or fast-paced, or WHATEVER, does not mean it is crap.

A good story is a good story, and most of us write best when we write the story that calls to us, not the one someone else tells us we "should" be writing.

Stephanie Faris said...

I got a VERY small taste of this in the blogging world. I built a huge readership on another site based on blogs I wrote while I was single. They were very Sex and the City. Soon they came to expect this was how my blogs were going to be. The problem was, once I was in a relationship, I couldn't write about the difficulties of dating in your 30s and my readership dropped. So I began writing about the difficulties within relationships and built my readership up again. It became exhausting, though, because any time I veered off to do something different, people would lose interest. It definitely takes away your freedom.

Mira said...

Great post! Thank you, Jessica.

It was clearly important to you to convey your idea here, and I thought you did so splendidly.

PurpleClover said...

It's been a long while since I've been truly inspired or impressed by a blog post. I've been amused, entertained, and so forth. But this was phenomenal and I think I know exactly what you mean.

We are who we are. We can change if it fits us to change and is part of our metamorphosis, but if we force the change it can be detrimental.

I'm pretty certain I've tried wearing others' hats and found they were too big, too small, or made me look funny or uncomfortable. In the end you gotta put on the one that fits.

Bravo! This post deserves 5 stars! .

Mame said...

You hit me with this on the perfect day. I can't even tell you how much I've been struggling with this in the last month, there's not enough comment space.

Thank you for the reality smack.

Mark Terry said...

I've long suspected that for most of us there are certain types of books and/or writing that works best for us. Some of it's a matter of style but some of it's a matter of who we are and how our brains work. I'm good at a certain kind of thriller with a propulsive plot. When I try to write slower things I often run into trouble (which makes sense, because I often have problems reading those books, too). I'm also good (perhaps very, very good) at a certain type of nonfiction writing, which is probably why I'm so successful at it.

I think it's worthwhile for a writer to ask themselves what they value in writing. Is it lyrical prose? Evocative description? Fast pace? Complicated plotting. Lengthy characterization?

I value clarity and efficiency over lyrical and poet prose, fast pace (which often has to do with efficiency). In fiction I also want a generally high level of incidence and an approach to characterization that's more of a lightning rod to the character than a textural backstory. Depending on the writer I value all the other things, too, but I find that what I like in other's writing is what I value in my own.

Rick Daley said...

Excellent advice. I look at genres as a classification of the elements of the story, not the writing itself. Each genre has its own good, bad, and ugly. Strive to avoid the latter two and you can retain your pride whatever genre you choose.

Chris Stovell said...

I was once given the very wise advice to 'choose your rut carefully' which came back to me as I read your excellent post. The only problem I have is that I'm torn between something I'm having fun with and something a bit darker which is also calling. Hmm, hearing two voices? That can't be good!

Terri Osburn said...

I usually just lurk here but I had to come out of lurkdom to say thanks for this one.

Marilynn Byerly said...

As a person with a literary and academic background who writes genre, I've had to deal with this my whole career.

I wrote an article, now a blog entry, on what to say to people when they ask you "why don't you write a real book?"

Here's a link:

Jeanne Ryan said...

My husband thinks I'm selling myself short because I'm writing paranormal romance. I told him about Eloisa James who in near tears told us how she pours her life into what she writes. I told him about the workshops I took at RWA's Annual Conference where the room was full of anywhere from a few dozen to over a hundred women all trying to better our craft. That is real writing. He's lucky I didn't go into the role sexism plays in denigrating the romance genre.

I had a first draft done of a book that was good. I put it in the closet and realized a better direction to take it in. It involves more research, writing 50% from scratch and reworking the other 50%. I could edit and start pitching the first book, but I don't remember where I read it, but that first book is the first impression I make. Do I want to make that with something that is good or something that is me?

I chose to go with what is me, so now I'm enduring "when are you going to be finished?"

Valerie Geary said...

Great post today! Full of inspiration!

Unknown said...

I add my voice to the chorus of praise... I'm a big advocate for being yourself. I envy writers who are natural commercial writers, but I don't want to BE them. I'm just hoping that one day I will discover I absolutely love writing something that just happens to be very sellable. In the meanwhile, I'm still having fun.

storyqueen said...

Thank you, Jessica. This post means a lot.


Sabina E. said...

such very good sound advice. I agree with Dan's comment here. I'll write what I know, I'll gladly stick to my "niche" writing style.

I don't care, just as long as I'm lucky enough to land a publishing deal and build myself a brand!

Becke Davis said...

A friend of mine who is a best-selling author has a completed novel that she is sure will never be published because it's not what her readers have come to expect, and her publishing company thinks it would just draw readers away from her established market. How sad is that?

I tend to be a Pollyanna and it shows in my stories and on my website. But every so often I have the urge to write a whole lot darker, and I know that sooner or later, I'm going to devote a couple stories to the dark side.

I've created a pen name in preparation for that day, and have a MySpace page for that alter ego. No website yet, but I'm thinking about it. I may never get published in either form, but I want to make room for the possibility.

Stephanie said...

Thank you thank you thank you!!!! Several times I've felt like my genre is not 'real' writing...just fluff. Well women spend billions of dollars a year on this 'fluff' so who's not 'real' now??? LOL!!!

And my fav stories to write (and read) are romantic fiction, but offense taken what so ever!!

Stephanie Feagan said...

After I was orphaned by Bombshell, I wrote a paranormal that didn't sell. That was painful because I'd never written a book I loved quite that much. I still do, but it's never going to be published and I have to live with that.
I wrote a women's fiction that rocked my world, but my agent didn't like - it's now on it's 3rd rewrite and I'm shopping for a new agent.
My current project is a dark, edgy very romantic YA, which is out with several agents.
It's like I have ADD, except I don't.

I was successful with what I wrote for Bombshell, once called 'brainiac Stephanie Plum' by a reviewer. I won a RITA for my 1st book. But after the line closed, I began a long process of finding something new to write.

I'm still in the process, but had a Eureka moment when I heard Janet Evanovich speak at the RWA conference. She began in romance, but was never uber successful because she kept adding elements to her stories that didn't quite jive with the romance market. (Been there, done that.) Frustrated, she eventually stopped writing and reassessed her career. She decided to write mysteries, never looked back and now has a brand recognizable to countless readers.
Her advice - be true to your voice and your strengths.
Pretty much what Jessica says in today's post.

In genre fiction, especially romance, it's tempting to follow the market, to write to trends, but unless your voice fits, you're wasting your time. I believe you have to find your strengths, and write to that.

As for me, I'm reviving the protagonist from my Bombshells and breathing new life into her story. Will it sell? I don't know, but I'm having a lot of fun revisiting her world, and it feels right, so maybe.

Marsha Sigman said...

I love this and I think you explained it perfectly.

Sometimes my husband gets overly enthusiastic about an idea and tells me "You could write about that!" and I have to reply no, no I really couldn't.

Stephen King has said that he has taken criticism for his writing and been asked why he does not write real books. His reply is he writes whats in his head and has stated that he thinks he is the Big Mac of the literary world. In other words, he writes cheap fast food compared to the succulent steak dinners of more literary works.

I would love to be the small order of fries next to his Big Mac.

Dara said...

A "real" book? I wonder why commercial fiction is marketed as not being real or meaningful. Just like I don't get why some commerical fiction writers think literary fiction is pointless and boring.

Perhaps I just don't understand why there seems to be such animosity between lit fiction and commercial fiction writers.

Anyway, thanks for the post! :)

Aimlesswriter said...

Great post!
I write like I (Did I spell that right?)
I've written a thriller that's in drafts, a paranormal romance that I think I love and that has spawned ideas for two others, and I have a manuscript where I ended the world with visions of the Virgin Mary and aliens. However I'm unpublished at this point. So this means if I sell something I'm going to have to stick with that until I'm so established it won't matter any more?
If Stephen King switched genres right now wouldn't we still read?
Is this why some authors like J.D. Rob are pen names for there other-genre counterpart?

Dawn Maria said...

Thanks for the Jessica. I've struggled with feeling "less than" with my work. The commercial vs. literary argument is about as pointless as the Mommy wars. There are enough books and genres for all readers. I like to read several genres, but currently only write in one. It doesn't have to be either or.

Wes said...

Great advice!

Linda Banche said...

I have an historical romance that doesn't contain much sex out with an editor and an agent. Which may be an oxymoron in today's world, because all I hear is "write sex!" I may not be able to sell it to NY.

What my story does contain is comedy, which is the way my mind tends to run. I'm hoping the comedy will make up for the lack of sex, but the world may not be ready for a funny historical that doesn't have lots of sex.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

You're being aggressively reasonable again. :)

ClothDragon said...

Way back when I was in college -- the first time -- I took a creative writing course. Well, I did for a few days. I dropped when the professor said for the third time that he wrote literary fiction, calling everything else 'genre' with derision, or 'dime novels.' Now when people ask what I write, I tell them I write genre fiction. While I know where fantasy fits on the bookshelf, the word fantasy seems to open and I just like taking his word and using it proudly.

Kate Douglas said...

Great post, Jessica, and one that has a lot of meaning for me. I'm very proud of what I do, and that takes some explaining at times, since I write very erotic, "over the top" paranormal romance. The thing is, I know I'm good at what I do and I have no problem telling people what I write. It's not easy to write a story with explicit sex, a strong plot and characters that readers can become emotionally involved in, and I'll be damned if I'm going to feel less than an author because the stories don't fit someone's definition of what a book should be.

As writers we need to learn how to exploit our strengths--I can make jokes about turning my inner slut free, but the truth is, writing any kind of fiction and making it work takes a lot of skill and we should all be proud of what we do. If we're not, it shows in our work--I can tell when an author is uncomfortable writing a sexually explicit scene because it makes ME uncomfortable.

If you don't believe in what you're writing, you can't possibly expect your reader to believe in it. As you said, you have to own your own work. It has to resonate with you as the creator on an entirely visceral level or the reader will know you're a fraud. It's not easy, but damn, you know when you get it right.

Rebecca said...

What a wonderful little therapy session!

Writing has always been one of my first loves, but not something I have allowed myself to indulge in until recently. I am currently handling three different business/IP lawsuits with my husband - and no lawyer. I found I have a gift for legal writing, but the learning curve and research is positively exhausting. To keep my witing fresh, I began to blog about the experience. It was a wonderful outlet and helped to keep me inspired, however before long I was thinking more about my "audience", and what they want to hear. Fact is, my best posts were written when I was completely immersed in the experience and 100% myself. When I forget to "Be True to (me)", it's no longer fun, theraputic, OR good writing!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Sound advice indeed. I hear about other writers dabbling in various genres and I wonder how they manage such versatility. I'm most comfortable writing historical fiction. Immersing myself in research and filling in the blanks to bring the past to life just *feels* right. The couple of times that I attempted another genre - general fiction or YA - it felt more like putting my shoes on the wrong feet. Fortunately, I realized that early on and they never got past the first chapter.

Nayuleska said...

A post for bookmarking when I go 'argh' at writing in more than one genre. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What if being true to you means writing something different each time out? A mystery and then something comtemporary?

A. Hernandez-Burr said...

I feel the pressure to write certain kinds of books, especially since I am an adjunct English instructor at a university. All of my colleagues are writing academic books and nonfiction life stories, while I dabble in fantasy and romance.

Certainly I have felt embarrassed to have to explain what I'm working on. I'll never forget, however, when I was sitting next to the Assistant Provost, who asked me to explain my novel. When I did, and then tried to apologize for the material, he waved me off and said, "Write what you want to write and screw all the others."

Of course, this is the same man who tried to convince to elope with my then-fiance right there, considering we had several ministers present, instead of going through the hassle of a big wedding. So.

Anyway, if you enjoy it, then do it. And if it gets published, I'll read it!

terri said...

Awesome post . . .

::dons bunny ears::

My name is Terri and I write genre fiction. I like stuff that goes boom and things that go bump in the night.

I just got a check today for my first piece of paid writing. I placed in a contest and made it into the anthology and got a $25 check to boot!

It is a short story where the murderer is a literary snob who kills her husband because he hit the big time with a horror story about cannabalistic zombies. She had to kill him - it was to save literature . . .

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay called 'Confessions of a Genre Hack.' I concluded the difference between genre and 'literature' is that literature is what you tell people you read and genre is what you really read.

::ducks thrown rocks::

I still stand by it. A good story is a good story. But, I have to have some plot. Give me "Raiders of the Lost Ark" over "Waiting for Godot" any day.

Terri <----- genre writer

verify word 'tings' - the cool feeling you get when you pick up a book that you really like.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I spent years trying to write what I thought I should be writing (after having been published in what I REALLY should be writing) and I wasted those years and very likely messed up my writing career, because it has now been years since I've submitted anything. I must say I learned a lot during that time and improved my writing overall (it actually helps to write in a different genre just for the experience). My other problem, however, is that my first books didn't sell very well (at least, I don't think they did--how can I know?) so now I worry I'll never be published again if I stay with the same genre. I don't suppose I'm likely to get any answers to these questions/worries today.

Other Lisa said...

I echo everyone's comments - this is a great post! And parts of it feel so much like you're writing them directly to me—HEY—get out of my head!!!

I have a feeling this post will be on a lot of peoples' "saved" lists.

Anonymous said...

Jeanne - I immediately thought about Mary Bly/Eloisa James too and how her mother never did accept James' genre writing. This, along with commentary about the Romance genre getting "smart," can be found in a USA Today article:

Personally, I find this twist of "scholarly writers empower the Romance genre" rather insulting. Does it mean that writers without Ivy League degrees and/or PhDs shouldn't be taken seriously? And what about readers? It's okay to read romance -- or any other genre -- as long as you've proven yourself academically? (And I say this as someone with lots of letters after her name.)

Marilynn, I hopped over to your blog. Thanks - I think. I see a new source of procrastination as I check out your archives.

Thanks for the reminder, Jessica.


Douglas L. Perry said...


Thanks so much for this post. I cannot write literary fiction no matter how hard I try, and so, I don't bother.

I write thrillers with a high technology content, and I am fine with that.

No, my books won't be hailed as the next epic novel. That's OK.

No, my books won't be pointed to as examples of great literary writing. They're not.

Do my readers expect that? No. Are they entertained. Absolutely. And that's what makes me happy.

Genella deGrey said...

Thanks, Jessica. With so much negativity out there aimed at those of us who write women's romantic fiction,
a little validity tossed into the mouth of our writing caves goes a long way.

Melissa Alexander said...

Jessica, in the context of this post -- and your own preferences -- where does upmarket fiction fit?

terri said...

Douglas said:

"I write thrillers with a high technology content, and I am fine with that."

::Flips head around, bunny ears gracefully flopping into place::

Huh? Does stuff go boom? I visited your website, techno-thrillers? WOO-HOO! Will check out your Amazon offering.

We agree almost completely on writers, have you read any Larry Bond?

This post gets a vote to go on the 'gotta read' list!

verify word 'corplad' - a really tacky business suit you wear because your boss has one like it.


Melinda Szymanik said...

Yay - Flock of Seagulls were the soundtrack to my early dates with my husband.

And I totally agree with working to one's strengths although it can be disheartening when ones strengths aren't commercial enough for the publishers, even when my last less-than-commercial effort won a readers choice award. And I write children's fiction which also apparently qualifies as something less than 'real' writing in some peoples opinions.

Julianna Baggott - Bridget Asher said...

Someone told me to take a look at this post -- and as a cross-genre writer who's published literary, commercial, adult novels, kid novels, books of poetry ... I can say that it's not that one type of book is heavier lifting than the other -- as some would have you think. (Or not at least for me.) They're all weighty, the burdens are just different ...

And yes to ANON who talked about every project being different ... I say then yes embrace that too.

Julianna Baggott
aka Bridget Asher
aka N.E. Bode

Carol Doane #pearlofcarol said...

Ah, you've captured it perfectly, write because you love to write, write for career later. Reminds me of my mom's advice, "Marry the first time for love and the second for money." She's still on the first, which I think was the point.

Carmen said...

Thanks for that post. I also believe in being true to yourself, in every aspect of your life, not just writing.

kitty said...

I think it's sad that in response to a lovely post about embracing everyone's individuality, so many people have felt fine about denigrating "literary" writing.

If you don't like when people put down your genre, don't put down other people's genres.


Anonymous said...

Great article, now can you tell me what my strengths are?
That's the hardest part the way I see it.

Fran Caldwell said...

You're "not a literary reader, and you don't know what makes a literary work marketable"?

Why on earth are you in the business? "Literary" agent, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

LOVE this post. I write commercial fiction, and I know I've apologised for that in the past, especially to other writers. Then I read Richard Ford's Pulitzer prize winning novel 'The Sportswriter' and came across this line, which I have stuck to my PC:

"There is a place for literature, but a bigger one for sentences that are meant to be read, not mused over."

That line changed everything for me- thank you Richard. Since reading it right when I started writing I've been signed by a wonderful agent and sold the US rights of my novel (I'm an Australian, hence commenting so late) to the publisher of my dreams- but it was still that line and not those sales that made me own what I do and take joy and pride in it. It bears repeating though, and I really enjoyed this blog- good stuff.
Kylie in Aus

Anonymous said...

The word you're looking for is 'powerful'...real/not real, fiction/nonfiction, genre/non-genre...all are relatively meaningless distinctions.

The most meaningful distinction is that distinction which exists between works of greater/less power...power as the ability to move people, touch people, change the world.

Power...that's what a great artist wants and what an ambitious writer pursues.


Thank you...Scott

PV Lundqvist said...

I feel the same way when someone suggests I try writing for a fad. Vampires, zombies, whatever specter-flavor of the month. I'm sure there are many good authors who can do this genre justice.

I'm just not one of them.

KylieQ said...

Months ago, I read this on a blog somewhere and it has stuck with me: Don't be ashamed of the genre you love. I think it perfectly sums up this post.

Anonymous said...

Hmm thanks for this post. I don't know why, but when I tell people I write fantasy I get the whole shuffle-away-and-give-frightened-side-glances reaction. But me trying to write a mystery or a romance novel would just fly apart. Writing something you're not passionate about is just a waste of time, and it probably won't get anywhere.

Lou said...

...and then there are those who break all the rules and write in several styles they like. There's the writer who made her name in 'how to' books, went on to become a major, major romance writer, and in a final closing of the circle, her book on 'how to write a romance'(an excellent book for any writer regardless of genre)has gone into second edition and stands on its own.

...and the writer who couldn't get her novel accepted and made a big name with non-fic books. She submitted her YA novel again, none of the publishers wanted to read it because she'd already made her name in non-fic. She sent it out under a pen-name and publishers vied to publish it. She became a big name again (her own name again by this time!)in that genre.

Then she finished the novel that had haunted her for many years, in yet another genre. Again, no one wanted to know - and now she has a three-book contract in that genre...

Yes, it can be a battle to change horses, but it can be done, and done very successfully.

Anica Lewis said...

Great post. I had the hardest time with this in applying to MFA programs for creative writing. My first step was to send an e-mail to almost every such program in the country, asking whether they'd seriously consider the application of a dedicated writer whose craft is solid, who wants very much to teach writing at the college level - and whose primary interest is YA fantasy. Many said, "no." Most of the others said, "Weeell, we mostly handle literary fiction and poetry, but of course writers of any genre are welcome if they're reeeally goooood . . ."

A number of people suggested that I just write literary fiction for a couple of years to fit into the MFA community. Um, no thanks. All the respect in the world, but that isn't me.

I'd still like to teach, but in the end, I decided that perhaps the MFA can wait until I have more publishing credentials. I want to be accepted - both by MFA programs and the teaching community - as exactly the kind of writer I am. Better to do the whole thing a little later than to trade my real passion for a faked one.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

I write horror/thrillers!! Yeah!!!

Anonymous said...

i have always been of the opinion that literary writers are trying to create art, whereas genre writers are trying to create entertainment.

...obviously both don't always succeed.

i prefer to read and write literary fiction. not because i like 'art' better than entertainment... i'm not even sure of how to tell the difference usually.

i think that more than anything, when literary fiction adherents put down genre fiction they're complaining about two things in general: craft and emotion. if a genre story writer avoids cliches and writes solid, well-structured sentences, and they avoid the overly maudlin, they tend to get positive 'literary' reviews

actually, i don't know. in the end, i don't think any of us know what we're talking about