Should You Write in More Than One Genre?

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Relatively recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference (virtually, thanks to COVID-19). In one of the panels, another writer asked a relatively innocent question: 

Is it okay to write in more than one genre as an author?

The host of the panel had a clear answer. If you are a new author just starting out and you want to pursue traditional publishing, stick to one genre. Doing so helps your publisher to market you well until you have a real following. After that, you can write whatever you like.

It’s not horrible advice. It makes logical sense, and people do choose books with an understanding of the expectations that an author has set. The trust you build with readers counts.

But I think it also is a little too simplistic. Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling, have used pen names quite successfully to write in more than one genre. You have to be willing to build separate (potentially smaller) followings and distinct brands if you take this route, but it is a viable way to explore and avoid feeling stagnant or too pigeonholed as a writer.

Secondly, readers like all kinds of stories. And if they don’t already know who you are, then it’s the story that is going to compel them to pick up the book, not your reputation. When you are first starting out, there aren’t any preconceived ideas about what your writing should be like. That makes it a great time to dabble and convince multiple audiences you are worth a shot.

The third point is, what if what you have been writing and selling is doing well but really isn’t what you really prefer (hey, if it pays the bills…). Gaining a following or selling x copies is not the only reason to write something. If it fills a need you have and grows you, nothing says you cannot put it to the page, even if no one else ever reads a word. In fact, some of the most well-known writers have done this–John Steinbeck, for example, who wrote the masterpiece Of Mice and Men, wrote a werewolf novel that only came to light a few months ago.

So in my mind, you don’t necessarily have to stick to one thing, even for a little while at the beginning. You just have to be careful how you market, if you choose to show the writing to anyone at all. That said, be honest with yourself. Know where you shine, what you want, and the purpose the writing is going to serve. Then just make a plan and go after it.

7 Ways to Build Your Writing Confidence

Writing can be an incredibly rewarding job, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes patience and tough skin, so you have to be confident in what you’re doing to be successful. That confidence isn’t necessarily automatic. But you can develop it with real intention.

1. Go bite-sized.

Don’t worry about how long your session goes or how many words come out. Just write until you don’t feel inspired or natural anymore. At the end, identify a section or sentence you’re really proud of. If you only wrote a single sentence, identify your best word. There is always something to celebrate.

2. Revisit your work.

Once you have some bite-sized text pieces to work with, start your session by rereading them. Remind yourself why you felt good about that work. Alternately, start reading a few pages before the end of your manuscript. This will give you a sense of flow so you don’t feel like you’re starting cold.

3. Get some feedback.

This could be from a mentor, an online community, or even a group hosted at your library. In any case, you’ll get clarity about what you do well as a writer, and that those providing the group can help you develop a plan to improve your weaknesses. Seeing your draft change and get better can prove to you that you are learning, growing, and making progress.

4. Write where the stakes are low.

This doesn’t mean that you never submit work to your dream publications or competitions. It means that you write regularly in low-pressure platforms just to help the process of writing and publicizing your words feel natural. Normalizing the writing process in this way can make taking the next step and submitting to a slightly higher tier feel doable. You also can use those platforms to do more experimenting with your writing and see what readers really respond to.

5. Know the purpose.

Any time you have a real motivation for writing a piece, you’ll feel less compelled to bail. Ask yourself what the message really is and what you want to achieve. Take the time to connect and become emotionally invested in what you’re doing.

6. Use some facts.

Even if you’re writing fiction, you can use facts as a foundation for what you put on the page. Facts do not lie and can’t be argued with. Let them give you a foothold so you know your scene or thesis is solid from the start.

7. Celebrate!

So often, because we compare ourselves to other writers, we always stay in learning mode. We assume that we can’t celebrate because we’re not on their level yet. But celebrating ensures that you give your brain a healthy dose of dopamine so you can feel good about what you’re doing and stay motivated to keep going. Treat yourself, share your work and why you’re happy about the milestone, and shout it from the rooftops any time you get a byline or an award.

Traditional Publishing, Independent Publishing, and Self-Publishing: What’s the Difference?

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If you’ve written a book of any sort, you’ve got three big options when it comes to putting your pages into the hands of readers–traditional, independent, and self-publishing. These three options are very different animals and will suit different authors in different ways.

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing usually involves the so-called Big Four publishers (Penguin Random House/Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan) or any of their imprints. You typically need an agent to editors seriously consider your work, and you query the agent in much the same way you would any publisher/editor. Work is extremely competitive, with houses publishing just 1-2 percent of submissions.

Working with a traditional publisher can be ideal in that large houses generally are expert marketers. They know how to get your book into all the major retailers and can help you set up all kinds of publicity events. You can sell a larger number of books as a result. A big downside, however, is that the publisher often takes quite a bit of control over the production of the book, which can take years. You might be asked to do significant rewrites and typically don’t have too much say over elements like cover art.

Pay from a traditional publisher typically includes a small advance ($2,000-$20,000). Royalties can be on either gross or net sales and generally are between 5 to 15 percent and max out around 25 percent. But remember, you need an agent! They’ll take another 10 to 15 percent of your earnings. However, going with traditional publishing requires zero upfront investment.

Independent publishing

Independent publishing tends to combine elements of traditional and self-publishing. You still submit to houses, but the houses are much smaller and typically are more willing to take some risks in terms of what they publish. They tend to offer their authors more flexibility and a more collaborative relationship through the publication process. They can handle the printing and warehousing of physical books, which often would be too expensive for authors to do alone. They also can set their own royalty structures and usually provide larger advances than traditional publishers do. Many independent publishers are open to writers who do not have an agent.

Self-publishing

With self-publishing, you have to cover all upfront costs, including marketing and distribution. You use a service like CreateSpace to format your manuscript and get a formal ISBN. Then you use a service like Amazon to take the prepared manuscript and distribute it. Distribution can be purely digital or include print-on-demand (POD). You can get your book into bookstores with the POD option, but because the distribution is so expensive, you likely won’t make any money. If you opt not to distribute into bookstores, however, you can earn royalties of 40 to 60 percent, and you don’t need to worry about finding an agent or paying them additional fees. Payments also usually happen faster.

Most writers who self-publish do so because they want to maintain control over the creative aspects of their work. But successful self-publishing requires considerable marketing work and business savvy.

The bottom line

If you don’t mind losing some of your artistic control to have an experienced publisher do the heavy lifting for you, and if you don’t have a lot of money to put up upfront, traditional publishers likely would be a good fit for you. Independent publishers might be the best option if you need some guidance but want more of a say in publication. Self-publishing can be the easiest path to producing your book and usually offers the biggest royalties, but you’ll need to invest upfront. It’s a good choice if you want maximum artistic control.

All this said, as an author, you don’t have to stay in one camp or another. Some writers self-publish some projects and use independent or traditional publishers for others. Simply consider your preferences and the goals for specific work when deciding which path is best for you.

 

Why Every Writer Should Keep a Gratitude Journal (and How to Make One Work)

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You’ve heard the buzz, right? About gratitude journals? Keep one and your fairy godmother will magically appear, boop you with her wand *boop!* and make all of your woes go poof.

At least, that’s the impression I get from reading a lot of articles online. To a big degree, I think some of the claims about gratitude journals are a little overrated. But I don’t think they’re useless. In fact, I think everyone who writes should keep one.

Writing is by nature a lonely affair. Most writers I know spend most of the day, if not all of it, in front of their screens with only a beverage or snack for company. (The lucky ones might have a cat, but still.) Rejections can come into the inbox in an endless stream that chip, chip, chips away at confidence. And pay isn’t always predictable, either.

A gratitude journal lets you go back and capture all the good stuff that happens with your writing so you keep perspective. For example, maybe you can note how free you felt with your laptop in the park. Or maybe you can note that, even though you got another rejection, you conquered your fear of sending it out in the first place and are getting better at your query process. Maybe you only wrote 200 words today, but within them is a sentence you are wildly proud of. Or maybe you just found the PEFECT pen and got to enjoy its glide over the page.

Without this focus on the positives, it’s all too easy to lose motivation to write. It can feel too much like the hamster wheel is spinning without taking you anywhere. And you can lose sight of just how much you really are improving and getting done. So if you don’t have one, it’s time to start.

To make your gratitude journal work,

  • Set aside a specific time of day to make journal entries so you know you’ll have a chance to reflect and record your thoughts.
  • Be flexible to ensure you’re genuine. If you’re not in the mindset to journal at the time you’ve set aside, it’s OK to use that time toward self-care that will support your writing instead. It’s overall consistency that matters. Don’t make an entry just to keep up appearances.
  • Find a medium you love. Some people are old-school pen and paper. I’m a keyboard gal. You can even voice-to-text on Google Docs if you want. It just has to feel comfortable so you don’t resist the journal practice.
  • Summarize your journal point on social media if you feel comfortable doing so. Seeing your positives will encourage other writers, and you can attract other writers who will support you if you show a positive mindset yourself. Knowing you’ll use your entry to interact with others can be a great motivator to keep the entries coming and not quit.
  • Connect your entries to other areas of your life. For example, if your significant other took the kids so you would have an hour of quiet to write, you can be as thankful for that relationship as you are for the pages you wrote in those 60 minutes. Seeing how writing touches other points will help you see it as more valuable or as a more natural part of your identity.

Gratitude journals won’t make your life perfect. But they can help you see the positives you have in your life as a writer in a way that encourages you to keep up the craft. Try it out and let me know if it makes a difference for you in the comments!