About Wanda Thibodeaux

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and consultant with over 3,000 bylines to her credit. She has six years of professional experience and prides herself in producing print-ready copy. Her work has appeared on well-known sites such as Inc., The Motley Fool, TypeF and Bankaroo.

Current Writing Markets Are Polarized. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t Be

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In a previous blog post, I lamented the fact that genre labels can be limiting for writers, both creatively and when it comes to publishing. But as I’ve thought more about the issue, I’ve also realized that there’s a related problem–clear larger market distinctions.

The book I’m currently querying stands as an example. It has strong themes of faith, but also of violence. So who do I send it to? The secular market will take the violence but not the faith, and the Christian market seems to want the faith but not the violence. Because multiple agents have told me they like the story, praised the proposal and told me it has a lovely feel for its historical period, I do not question my writing. Instead, I suspect an uncertainty about which market to classify it in as the problem. I cannot “fix” that without fundamentally changing the story.

So, should I? Should I conform to fit a specific market, similar to how I might try to hit all the tropes of a specific genre, just to be more sellable?

If I really want to be true to my own voice as a writer, then I have to say no.

The reality is, life is messy. Stories can be, too. They are, in many ways, a reflection of real people and experiences, even if they contain fantastic, imaginative elements. And just like there are many people who are in the center on the political spectrum, there are stories that don’t sit right or left. They can contain gray moral ground, complex beliefs and caveats.

So why? Why assume that this middle ground does not exist, that there are not people who can see both sides of the coin or who are able to see the world in nuance instead of black and white?

My argument here is less for the elimination of poles, which have their place, and more for the acknowledgment of the center of the curve. Books that could be marketed in either direction, in my view, can get ignored, simply because they do not meet all the requirements of one side or the other. Again, it’s not unlike the situation Republicans face right now–many are leaving the party and want to form a new political group that’s more in line with what they believe. They’re not saying eliminate the GOP, but rather that they want to have their own party that reflects who they really are and that offers an alternative to so-called Trumpism.

People by nature want to categorize and label. It helps them feel more in control and make some sense of the world so they’re not overwhelmed and anxious all the time. I totally get that. And I understand the practical efficiency of classification. But sometimes there is no neat box to put something in and it’s impossible to take sides. Acknowledging this bigger picture will let the writing industry bring a much larger number of great authors and diversity of content to readers and ultimately, make money. So let’s see the whole spectrum. We all deserve a choice about where we want to sit on it and read.

3 Practical Ways to Cope with Rejection as a Writer

Locked inside my head are multiple famous stories of writers who got rejected, only to become famous and make it big. J.K. Rowling, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Jack Canfield, John Grisham, Stephen King are just a few people, for example, who heard “no” from publishers and agents. Their tales remind me not to give up and should offer the same encouragement to you. But is there any way to strategically cope with constant rejection and make it bearable until you join their ranks?

Why is rejection so agonizing in the first place?

Rejection as a writer is can be hard on a logistical level. You have to figure out which publisher/agent to target next, for example, and find the time to try again. That alone can be stressful. But what makes rejection truly so gut-wrenching as a writer is that it feels so personal, as though because you poured your heart into the work, they’re rejecting you instead of a manuscript. It makes you question not just your talent, but your entire sense of self-worth. And it’s these kinds of overwhelming feelings you need a plan for.

Strategies to dull the hurt

Real truth moment here: You’ll probably never eliminate the pain of rejection totally. But you can manage it in a few ways.

1. Focus on process, not numbers.

It’s tempting when you’re submitting to quantify how many submissions are out and how many times publishers/agents have rejected each one. And part of the reason for this is that writers often want to know when to pivot and perhaps self-publish. But too often, instead of seeing the number as a way to draw a line, writers see their rejections add up and take it as collective proof that they’re not cut out for the job.

So if you truly believe in the work and understand just how subjective the publishing industry is, then don’t numerically keep track. Instead, develop a sequence you can immediately engage once a rejection hits your inbox.

For example, the first thing I do when a rejection comes in is update my spreadsheet to avoid accidentally resubmitting to the same house twice.

When you know exactly what comes next, you can shift your thinking toward a task and actually do something, rather than ruminating. You can get a better sense that you’re taking control of what will happen, because you’re taking action to move forward. Because most people like familiarity, the predictability of a sequence can offer even more comfort, too. Clear sequencing also smooths out many of the logistical issues you might run into, which can mean you end up submitting more. And at the end of the day, you end up with a verifiable list of things you can look back at and say you accomplished.

Process thinking in your writing is critical when you view your writing as your career or business. No entrepreneur goes to work without a game plan. And if you are serious about your writing, then you shouldn’t, either. Know what to do and just execute, tweaking as necessary as you learn.

2. Limit social media.

Social media can be an amazing way to find beta readers, connect with others in the industry and get everyday support and empathy. It’s also a great venue in which market when you do it right. So I’m certainly not going to say don’t get online.

But researchers also know that people tend to compare themselves to others, and that browsing social media sometimes can leave you feeling “less than”.

My personal experience is that, every time I saw someone online announcing that they found representation or launched something, my heart just tanked. I was happy for them because I know the struggle of the work, of course, but underneath all that, the overwhelming thought in my head was, “How come they’re having success and I’m not? I must not be any good.” It all just shoved all the rejections I’d gotten back in my face.

So now, if I get onto Twitter or other platforms, I do so with a specific purpose, such as intentionally responding to others to develop new relationships, or to share something interesting related to writing I’ve come across.

Instead of aimlessly scrolling through your feeds, know what you’re looking for or can offer to others. Once you’ve taken care of that or spent a designated number of daily minutes on a platform, log off.

3. Work on something else.

The point here isn’t to distract yourself, although that kind of is a natural consequence. Rather, by having multiple projects going at once, you know you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you get a rejection on something, then you know you’ve still got a lot of work in play or that you can offer later, and that the rejection isn’t the whole or final story for you.

Another big reason to do other writing when you’re submitting is that it’s additional practice. Even if you never see the work you sent out in print, you can be more confident knowing that your honing your skills over time so that future work does get a yes. This relates to point #1 above — if you take real action in a reliable sequence, then you’re more likely to feel like you’re still in the driver’s seat.

Additionally, writing more helps remind you that publication/representation isn’t really the main goal. Enjoying and expressing yourself is. You must write first and foremost because you love to do so. If you don’t stay in touch with that, then it’s all too easy to lose motivation and quit.

Now, can your “something else” be work or a hobby other than writing? Of course. Stepping back and taking a break can give you a bigger perspective of who you are and what you can do so that when a rejection comes in, you understand that it’s not a mark against everything you are.

Building your rejection tolerance starts now

What separates successful writers from the ones that don’t make it is that the successful writers intentionally build rejection tolerance. They find techniques that make rejection seem more like getting poked by a thorn, rather than like a vicious stab to the heart from a knife. That’s what allows them to keep submitting day after day, over and over, and that eventually gets them noticed or working with the right people.

The tips above are just three rejection-tolerance techniques that could work for you. If you focus on the task at hand with a business oriented way of thinking, and if you make sure that your interactions have clear purpose, rejections can lose their teeth and draw less blood. Weave the above strategies into your personal approach in a customized way, be patient, and don’t give up.

Adult Books Should Have Pictures, Too. Here’s Why

The progression is a familiar one–as you move up in years, you move down in the number of pictures your books have.

Right?!

This is the way it is, but it isn’t the way it should be.

Reading as a multi-sensory experience

Part of the fun of reading is that your brain can take whatever is on the page and make its own movie for it. You can picture the characters and events as you go along in your own personalized way.

But as any marketer will tell you, experiences are not based on just one sense. We see, taste, smell, touch and taste in incredibly integrated ways, all of which influence our perception and memory. And there is a strong bi-directional connection between linguistics and visual perception–that is, what we see influences our language, and language influences how we view the world.

What’s more, we process visual images incredibly fast–up to 60,000 times faster than text! And 90 percent of all information that comes into the brain is images. So we’re visual by nature and are primed to work with images more than anything else.

By giving at least a small number of images to your reader, you can provide a more complete experience. You can confirm and clarify what you had intended in a way that might make what you write easier to remember and enjoy.

Think about book covers. We all know we’re not supposed to judge a story by those things, but let’s face it. We do. The image conveys something. It often summarizes the entire mood or plot of the story. It can allow us to see at a glance who the main characters are, where they are set and how they interact. In the ever-increasing sea of books on physical and digital shelves, it’s an image that initially catches our eye and prompts us to read back-cover summaries and reviews.

Another great example is movie novelizations. These often do include images from the film. When we see those images, we end up replaying the scene we’ve seen. We hear the music and dialogue again and remember the taste of the popcorn we ate.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every book become a like a preschooler’s picture book. You want to leave room for the reader to still imagine. And graphic novels are a category all their own. There’s also the practical fact that images take up more digital space and are more expensive to print. I’m simply saying that images can enhance what you write and give you another, incredibly efficient way to create a more memorable, connected experience for your reader. That generally will appeal to most people, but it might be especially important for certain groups, such as those with different types of processing disorders.

Real life examples of putting in the pictures

So how might you actually use this in your work?

One option might be to use an image as a header for each section or chapter. Like the book cover, this approach could summarize what the reader is about to encounter.

You also could sprinkle images throughout the book based on key plot points you want to stress. These plot points should be easy to identify within your outline (if you use one) or summary pitch.

But…but…no one is doing this, you say.

Oh, ho, ho, yes they are. 

For starters, consider the scrapbook. These aren’t necessarily published, but they’re collections intended to integrate text, photos and even 3D mementos (e.g., the feather found on a hike) to help people remember what they loved or went through.

Cookbooks also have leaned on visual representations for decades. And there are a growing number of books in this category that aren’t simply recipes. Labeled as “story cookbooks“, they have personal or cultural accounts, and the recipes are simply highlights. 

Another great example of how images can enhance a book is the Bible. An edition from Alabaster takes each book of scripture (e.g., Psalms) and presents them as an individual volume. The volumes feature beautiful, full-page images that are intended to complement the text. This is different than editions of the Bible told in graphic novel form. It’s notable because people consistently identify this mammoth text as hard to stomach. The images are an intentional way to make the text more accessible and break it up so that people are more willing to engage with the scriptures.

Your story, your unique image approach

So books for adults that have pictures absolutely have a market and can do exceptionally well. But there’s no “formula”. Depending on your format or intent, you might have a very different style or number of pictures compared to someone else.

So just think about what you’re trying to get across. If an image is going to enhance that, pop one in. If it’s not, skip it. But at least consider that the modern book can be a multi-sensory experience where images serve multiple functions, and that letters don’t have to be the only way you communicate.

 

How Sunk Cost Keeps You Reading (and Writing) Bad Books

 

For a lot of jobs, once you reach a certain point, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to stop. Whatever you’ve already invested demands that you keep going, or else you’ll probably end up taking some kind of loss.

This is known as sunk cost. And unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to work. It applies to your reading list, too. It easily can keep bad books in your hands.

What basically happens is, you pick up a book, get a little way into it, and realize that it’s just not lighting any fireworks for you. But whatever the issue might be (e.g., poorly developed characters), you look at how many pages you’ve finished or the amount of time you’ve already committed, and you think that you’ll somehow be in the hole if you don’t keep going until the last page.

Or, let me rephrase–sunk cost just keeps you reading bad books.

Of course, sunk cost applies to writers as they create, too. You might feel so invested in a concept, for example, that you keep trying to finish it no matter how many truly unfixable flaws the book has. This issue can get worse over time, because the book can get wrapped up in your entire identity and self-concept as a writer–if you don’t finish, you think, then you’re not serious enough or have to let go of something meaningful for you.

3 horrible consequences of sunk cost in reading and writing

It’s bad enough that sunk cost related to reading robs you of your immediate joy. But an equally insufferable problem is that, because you commit your time to the bad book, you’re locked out of other good ones. And that’s an incredible disservice to the writers who really deserve to be discovered and enjoyed.

This issue has been around practically since books first became mainstream. But I think it’s gotten worse with the growth of self-publishing. Don’t misunderstand here–I think self-publishing can be a beautiful thing and put power back in the hands of writers where it belongs. But because it is so easy, there also are plenty of people putting out content that’s mediocre at best. So readers have more opportunities and options, but the noise is louder, and it can be harder to figure out which writers are worth a risk.

On the writer side, if you can’t let go of a bad concept that you’ve transferred onto your sense of skill or who you are, then you might never move forward to ideas that honestly are better and have more potential of bringing income and fame. You can deliver an inaccurate representation of what your best is, and as a result, struggle to be taken seriously.

How readers and writers both work against the problem

If you’re a reader, then combat sunk cost with three basic strategies:

  • Read reviews–lots of them. No matter what you’ve been hearing about the book through the grapevine overall, get a balance of the 5 and 1 star ratings. This will help you feel like it’s OK to go against the grain of the popular opinion if needed.
  • Scan the table of contents to make sure that the entire book truly covers what you need or are interested in, or scan a few pages or paragraphs from different spots within the text to get a basic sense of the writer’s voice and delivery.
  • Set a test boundary you can apply consistently to any text. For example, if you’re not sucked into the book in x pages or minutes, then you’ll put it back on the shelf.

And if you’re a writer, lean on these tips to improve your manuscripts:

  • Use beta readers through your entire writing process. There always will be outlier opinions, sure, but feedback can help eliminate most of the issues that disappoint readers long before your final copy is available, and you often can apply what you learn to your next book.
  • Advertise transparently. It’s tempting to try to pigeonhole your work into a neat box you know buyers respond to, but if you are absolutely clear what the book is for or about, readers are more likely to feel confident in the selection. Bait and switches don’t earn you any long-term loyalty or referrals.
  • Throw quantity out the window. This means that a book takes however long it takes to get right, and that you don’t try to quantify success by how many titles you’re cranking out. Being prolific is not necessarily synonymous with being a truly great storyteller.
  • Hone your elevator pitch. Regardless of whether you like to outline everything down to the paragraph or fly by the seat of your pants, if you can’t pinpoint the key message of your book in one to three sentences, then you’re just not ready to write it. Period. And remember, the pitch is a summary. It is NOT a wistful or idealistic expression of your intent for the text (e.g., “I want readers to feel”; “I want to create a book that…”).

As a reader, you have more books at your disposal than you ever could finish in a lifetime. But life is too short to spend it committed to bad ones. Don’t let sunk cost make the experience of reading suck. And if you’re a writer, work hard to make sure that readers are sticking with you because you’ve done something exceptional, not because they feel like it’s too late to turn back. The easier it is for you to toss ho-hum or unworkable ideas in the trash, the more you’ll create work that’s truly awe-inspiring.

2 Reasons I Can’t Stand Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’

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A few weeks ago, like so many others who are trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, I turned to Netflix. And because I have an affinity for period books and films (minus the uncomfortable stupidity of corsets, of course), I thought Netflix’s Bridgerton would be a good choice.

Did I binge watch it?

Yes.

Did I enjoy it?

Not so much.

I realize that, in this opinion, I’m perhaps an outlier. In an article for Bloomberg, for example, Martin Ivens gushed over the series for its escapism, dramatic impact, rich costuming, diverse casting. It proved, Ivens wrote, that “as long as audiences are entertained, they will welcome innovation, too.”

But I am hardly alone. And the first reason I feel annoyance at the show is simply that it takes such license with Julia Quinn’s books.

I am not opposed entirely to the idea of creative shifts in productions. I did lots of theater and I understand that artistic interpretation has value. And there are lots of examples where an interpretation actually benefitted the original in terms of helping it seem relevant and resonate with audiences. I get that showing current relevancy ensures that any art doesn’t die.

But when that interpretation entirely changes core elements of a work, I question it. Quality of the acting aside, as one reviewer on IMDB put it:

As a writer, I wouldn’t expect a producer to take one of my books from page to film without a tweak here or there. But I would want them to respect the work I put my heart and soul into enough to at least maintain characterizations and portray the bulk of my world as I had envisioned it. Because if the goal is escapism, juxtaposing issues from this world on top of the fictitious one that’s meant to be different, even with the positive intent of showing us how we might make our world better, bursts the bubble. Instead of being transported in our minds to an entirely new place, we stay chained to the realities of where we are and are forced to swallow them. We never truly get free.

Adaptation does not mean that you entirely throw away the original creativity or vision just because you want to explore or stress cultural points. Don’t destroy something because you’re so egotistical that you think your message about “current issues” supersedes the author’s.

So in this sense, Bridgerton is a failure.

*deep breath*

The second reason I ended up cringing is the script.

Anyone who has read any modern romance novels understands that the genre has all kinds of linguistical and plot-based tropes. “Creamy white thigh”, for example. “Strong line of his jaw” and “heaving bosom” are two other favorites that I good-naturedly laugh at.

But I can guarantee that, while a period romance might gush about touch and describe the feeling or action of it in all manner of ways, it’s a rarity for a character to come right out and say something so blunt like “You can touch yourself” (a much-quoted line from the duke). Half the fun of a “trashy” romance is the poetic way they convey a concept without being blunt, the way they find a way to say what everybody aches for them to say without actually using “improper” or “impolite” phrasing. This isn’t to say characters wouldn’t talk face to face about things like sex as their passions get hotter. But if they really wanted to capture the flavor of the period’s language, then they’d just use a ton more eloquence. They might say something like “You can caress the soft diamond, that most intimate place…” for example.

And this to me is the glaring irritation that blinds me. So many times when I was watching, I could not get past the feeling as though all the flowers of 1800s language had wilted, replaced with lazy modern expression. Sure, you can find lots of analogy. But the dialogue didn’t cut as it might have, and the romance didn’t sizzle at it might have, and characters didn’t seem as individual as they might have, because the way those analogies were put to the screen had such little rhythm or specific connotation.

Let’s take an example.

Here’s a quote from the series:

“Why must our only options be to squawk and settle or to never leave the nest? What if I want to fly?”

Here’s how I personally would rewrite it:

“The whole damn family demands in all its infernal propriety that we must either resign ourselves to fight and command a new position like predestined peacocks, or to stay in the familiar stuffiness of last season’s worn-down nest. What if all I want to do is to escape to the air and soar above all that?”

In the first version (in my opinion), all you get is a very basic presentation of the two choices. There’s an acknowledgement that those choices might not be suitable.

But in the rewrite, you get the character’s deeper opinion and judgment of the family. The image of the peacock, which is known as a territorial bird, gives clearer picture, and “predestined” says something about whether people had a right to assert themselves. “Familiar stuffiness” suggests that there’s drudgery and monotony in sticking with the setting and life you’re used to, and that there’s something that makes society think that that’s OK and struggle to break away from it. “Infernal propriety” shows that the family sticks to the rules for the sake of appearance and reputation, but also that the character doesn’t agree that they should. And “escape” and “soar” show some desperation to get away, not just a questioning of whether one should. So now we are painting a much more nuanced, full picture of the world the character is in and what they think of it.

Does including those nuances mean that the characters sometimes have to use more words? Yep. But I would argue that the increase in verbosity is worth the added flavor and the ability to better see who is on the page and where/how they live and think.

So to summarize,

  1. Dismantling and interpreting someone else’s work are two different things. You don’t have to stick to the original to the letter, but there shouldn’t be a question of what the original is like overall, and the new world should let us really be free from the real one.
  2. How you say something is just as important as the base concept. Don’t be lazy. Offer the nuance, even if it takes a little more carefully distributed ink.

Now to scroll through my Netflix options and find something else…

Should You Outline or Just Fly By the Seat of Your Pants When Writing?

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Pop quiz: Is improvising or outlining better when writing?

Initially, I fell into the winging it camp. That approach allowed me to write freely with very little constraint whenever I had the opportunity. I’m still very much a proponent of writing anywhere, anytime. And philosophically, there’s something incredibly beautiful in allowing the story to have that kind of control. I like the idea that the story can become what it should be, rather than what I initially wanted.

But I’ve also come to see the practicality of outlining. With a clear roadmap, it can be very easy to flesh out scenes or sections of content. The writing can happen incredibly fast as a result. So outlining is a logistical positive.

So right now, I’m falling somewhere in the middle. For my current work in progress, for instance, I outlined the plot, chapter by chapter. But the meat of the scenes, all the descriptions and dialogue, I left to spontaneity. I knew where I needed to go, but I allowed myself the freedom to take any path in that direction. And that felt perfect.

I also still believe that you don’t have to work chronologically, even if you have an outline. In fact, some of the best authors assert that it’s almost impossible to introduce a book you haven’t written yet. They recommend leaving the intro chapters for last or planning to rewrite them, so that they make more sense after the rest of the book is in place.

I’m pretty sure that this evolution has happened for me largely because I’m simply getting older with more responsibilities and goals in my lap. Those changes have meant I need to put some safeguards in place to get things to happen. But I’ve also done a ton of writing oriented to business. That’s helped me to view my career as a writer with much more of a CEO mindset. And if you consider a novel, article or anything else you are writing as an assigned project, then it’s pretty hard to imagine any boss allowing you to have zero structure for the work. A good leader is going to step back and not micromanage it, but they’re still going to want to know what your game plan is. So in that sense, as your own boss, it makes a lot of sense to give yourself a basic framework that offers both flexibility and accountability for the goal you have.

So although you absolutely can adjust the balance to fit your circumstances and preferences, my advice is to outline and improvise, rather than to go completely in one direction or the other. You’ll have a greater guarantee of getting a decent amount of pages out consistently without losing the creative spark that comes from reduced constraint.

 

Where New Writers Should Write for Free (and Where They Shouldn’t)

Like so many other artists, writers have operated under the belief that they might need to work for free for a while to establish some credibility and earn bylines. But is this still the case? Should you, in fact, put words on the page without being compensated?

Bylines do still count. But what they really do is show new editors that previous editors have liked your writing, which can go a long way in convincing the new editors to look at you seriously. And these days, anyone can publish anything anywhere. So lots of editors simply want to know whether you can communicate something of interest to their readers while following their specific editorial tone and guidelines. And because clips from other publications or that you’ve self-published can be drastically different from what they’d like to see, they often put much more weight on whether you can hook them in a query and submit a well-constructed draft of the actual piece you’re proposing.

In this context, my basic philosophy is that any writing you do for free needs to promote you, rather than others. And the point of the writing is to allow others to see that you are active, involved and educated, to build credibility and visibility first with readers. For example, you can write articles on LinkedIn, Medium or other free platforms. Even social media posts and blogs can serve to demonstrate your ability to analyze, find sources or command a topic. But you always have complete control over this writing. No one else gets to profit from it. And once you have a following, it’s something you can mention in any query letter/submission, even if you don’t submit specific clips.

Now, to be successful and become visible to readers so that you can mention your following instead of or in addition to sending clips, you absolutely have to be strategic. That means writing about trending topics, understanding SEO and page ranking tools, carefully selecting the right hashtags, backlinking, and asking others to share your work on purpose. You can’t just hit publish and hope eyeballs will connect with your words. You have to take proactive steps to ensure that they do. Remember, if writing is your business, then you’re the CEO, and you have to make sure customers come through the door. There’s very little reason you can’t learn and execute the technicalities of content marketing.

All this said, if someone asks you, say, to write some free product descriptions, sure, maybe you can put that on a resume. But it’s not going to do much to have others know who you are. And that’s what you really want to be working for if you aren’t compensated.

So recognize the value of public sway in addition to the value of a work history that shows you’ve connected with others. If you’re not going at least to improve your reach, reputation and influence with the free work, then you need to insist that a client cough up real money for your effort.

Why Classifying Books According to Genre Needs to Die

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If you go to agent or publisher websites, a common call is for writers to create something entirely fresh, something that doesn’t fit the usual molds. But even with those statements, I’m not entirely convinced that the publishing world or general public has abandoned genre classifications as much as agencies and houses would have people believe.

For starters, bookstores, websites and libraries still label books based on traditional genres to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. And if you query as an author through tools like QueryTracker or other online forms, the tool almost always require you to smoosh your book into a category. Agents and publishers also want to know what genre you’re working with and show that you understand how your book fits that target niche or compares to previously published works. They expect a summary for that in query letters and proposals, and most of them are very clear on the site which genres they do or do not work with.

I absolutely understand the need for a system of organization. But what if, for example, I have a mystery set in an earlier period, something a la Enola Holmes? Is that a mystery or a historical? What if I have a love story set in outer space? Is that science fiction or romance? Or what about books that challenge social conceptions or time? The recently released “Bridgerton” on Netflix, for example, is based on Julia Quinn’s novels, but since it is an intentionally contemporary spin on the 1800s era, is it too inaccurate to be a regency anymore?

Some books do fit very neatly into categories. But many do not. They are like sporks in a utensil drawer, simultaneously belonging and not belonging for their “oddity”. And as a writer, I see the current mode of labeling as being truly problematic. If my book does bend genres, it can be very difficult to present it according to the tools and expectations agents, publishers and book stores all have. It even can be hard to determine whether certain agents or houses would want to accept a query, which then can create additional work for authors who submit a preliminary inquiry before formally introducing the manuscript.

But perhaps even more concerning than presentation or organization is the conflicting message of creativity and adherence to group. Writers who are continually forced to slap labels on their work for the sake of the label might mentally limit themselves regarding what their books can be. They might start to think of themselves as this type of writer or that, when in fact a good writer isn’t a “type” of anything–they can write whatever they da-n well please.

We perhaps could solve the issue simply by creating tools that allow writers and others to select an “Uncategorized” or “Genre-Bending” classification. Explaining the mashup with references rather than a label, such as X Book + Y Book, could work in queries, store placement and promotional materials. But such a shift requires people to let go of the knee-jerk desire to mentally classify to a high degree. The freedom we could gain, however, could be truly transformative in terms of what ends up on the page.

7 Must-Follow Writing Resolutions

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Whether you’re pondering the end of the year or just want a fresh start in any season, having some ground rules for how you’ll behave with your writing can make a huge difference in the productivity and quality you get with your drafts. These are some of the writing resolutions I recommend to anyone who is serious about the craft.

1. Set yourself up with proper tools.

The goal here is simply to be able to respond wherever and whenever concepts come to you. That can be as simple as jotting down a single word for later, but the tools should be something you can share and backup easily, and that get you into a good state of creative flow. Decide what feels good to you and finally invest in what you actually need, rather than making do.

2. Get organized.

This doesn’t necessarily mean outlining everything, creating a strict writing schedule or eliminating desk clutter, although those efforts can be helpful for certain people. I’m talking more about not having 20 different digital files for the same story, folders for each work in progress or market, and having formal systems for tracking queries, submissions or general drafting progress.

Commit to sorting what you have and create new customized-for-your-own-goals methods for streamlining and preventing future messes. The more streamlined you are and the more cleanly you can work, the more efficient you’ll get overall in the long run. Efficiency can give you both more content and more enjoyable drafting time, so be patient and follow through on this point, even if it takes you a few days, weeks or even months to get yourself together.

One notable point here: As you submit, you’ll likely find that you create a bunch of documents based on specific requirements editors/agencies have. One might want a document with four chapters and a synopsis, for instance, whereas another might want 10 pages and your bio. If the requirements are outside your templates (#5), then save the documents in a separate folder. They generally end up never used again because they’re specific to one house/business/professional, so don’t put them where they will confuse you compared to your final materials/drafts, and have a regular time to empty the folder into the trash.

3. Stop judging.

I understand that everyone has a history. I get that people want something that is “sellable” to the popular market. And there is merit to critiquing yourself to make sure that you’re giving your best, to analyzing for the sake of the story. But what truly makes a great writer is their ability to find their own voice, to choose topics, words and structure that feel like home. You do not do that by censoring yourself on the fly based on what you think others will think or want. Judging your drafts too deeply as you write will either make the job feel weighted down or create cliches, and neither will help your career.

4. Actually study the market.

You should end up with something pretty unique if you follow #3. Even so, you need to know where your piece sits. What pieces are most like yours? How and where are they marketed? What specifically makes them different from yours? What’s your genre worth nationally and globally, and what’s typical for sales and revenue?

All of this information is essential for creating stand-out queries and proposals. Agents, editors and publishers want to know that you’ve got a grasp of the potential for the work, and you need to convince them that you’ve found the balance between sellability and freshness.

But studying the market also allows you to identify gaps, too. And if you see an area that writers aren’t filling, then you can create what is missing and have direction for future projects that aren’t like anything else anybody else is doing.

As you study the trends and needs, keep track of editorial changes and mergers/acquisitions of publishing companies/agencies. Most professionals in industry expect a formal salutation, and your chances of getting a query/submission read seriously go up if you take the time to verify who should be getting it in the first place. Also stay updated on standards such as whether to submit in-text or via attachment. Technology is shifting requirements fast, but if you organize well enough (#2), then you should be able to adjust quickly and flexibly based on individual requirements.

5. Create some templates.

I cannot stress this enough. Templates save you time, which you then can convert to real, creative writing. So where you can, create some boilerplates. For instance, even though you need to personalize your queries, you can create a template that at least has your contact information, bio paragraph, closing paragraph and clips/reference URLs. I have several of these tweaked to different markets, with each one holding different clips. This means that all I really have to do is create the hook and summary paragraphs for new works and I’m good to go. So think about what you will need to have on file to avoid doing the same work twice (or more). Take the time to prepare a bit to save hassle later.

6. Get out of your reading rut.

Some people swear by reading goals, but I’m not all about reading a certain number of books or words each day–I’d much rather that you worry more about whether you learn. So challenge yourself in your choices. Pick a few books out of your normal genre or even that you think at first glance you’ll despise. Some of it is just market research (#4 above). You need perspective about the industry as a whole. But it’s also about exposure to different voices and information, identifying what your own preferences are or why you think something does or does not work. Those points of clarity can lead you not only to develop your own style, but to find mentors and other authors who can support you.

7. Figure out social media.

You should be on social media to engage with other writers, editors and others, and to let readers know you’re there. Agents and publishers want you to have platforms, and social media can be a great way to stay on top of the market and present your writing. But always worry more about being genuine and contribute something of value than about technicals. There’s no substitute for seeming human and empathetic.

Lots of writers want to hurry through and won’t put the time or money into their career that they need to. These resolutions, however, are reminders that you should treat the craft like a real business, and that you have a great deal of say about how productive and enjoyable it can be. Keep them close and use them as your foundation for great everyday writing.

5 Rules for Creating a Killer First Draft

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Writing is a process, meaning that it’s not a great idea to expect to crank out a perfect manuscript on the first try. But I’m a sucker for efficiency and quality, too, and I also believe in creating first drafts that don’t leave you with a quite such bad taste in your mouth. So if you’re aiming for just moldy cheese instead of moldy cheese on a bed of sour tuna and limp pickle, here’s what you do.

1. Don’t write just to write.

Forced writing–the writing you do just to meet your mental deadline or because you “should” as a writer–is like the annoying thread on the edge of your hem. It typically doesn’t hold together during the final editing process, and the flow you usually get when you are responding to concepts in addition to trying to create them in an active way often is missing.

If you sit down during your scheduled writing time and it’s just not working, then don’t sweat it. Walk away. You’ll probably make up the word count on a “good” day later, so don’t buy into the idea that by waiting, you get behind.

2. Separate the writing and the editing.

Yes, it’s fine to rethink a comma or specific word choice on the fly, or to quickly move a paragraph with copy and paste to improve cohesion. It’s natural to think a little about the mechanics of it all as you work, and doing a little as you go means that there are fewer rough edges to sand down later.

But editing is like the sensible older sister who walks behind the wild younger sibling for both duty and love’s sake. It is analytic, concerned with how and why and all manner of things the younger sibling is too free to be bothered with. It is necessary to keep the story from dancing off a cliff. But it easily can disrupt your writing flow and cause you to question what you’re doing with your overall creativity.

So don’t let your editor and writer hats get confused in the wardrobe. Give yourself permission to write without judgment, no dramatic level of censorship allowed. Then trust that you can do the analysis and conscious decision making for the heavy trimming and refining later.

3. Identify the goals.

I’m not talking about word or chapter quotas. I’m talking about getting in tune with the clear attitude/intention you want for the text. Know what you want a scene to do for the reader and where it fits in the larger plot arch. This is as much emotional and empathetic as it is technical. Knowing what you want to accomplish will keep you on track in terms of length, word choice and even specific mannerisms a character shows off in the moment. The editor’s cousin, attitude/intention lets you visualize the story within a predefined rule set that keeps everything from getting too wild and irrelevant.

4. Let the story direct itself.

Genres do have a certain degree of formula to them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that some publishers won’t accept manuscripts that deviate from the formulaic expectations, despite their calls for work that is “fresh”. Books also can’t survive without readers, so you can’t ignore their preferences completely. This is the delicate balance between originality and sellability.

But on the whole, great stories honestly don’t care two pittance about the reader. (A shock, I know.) In truth, great stories often challenge the reader and go in directions that make them question everything. They take on a life of their own. Characters are who they are. The ending is what it is–what it needs to be. And this is much more reflective of real life, in which we don’t always get what we want, situations are unfair and there’s not a quick, easy line to the next chapter.

So let the draft have its own life. Don’t do it the disservice of confining it to preconstructed rules of this time or society. The more you follow Rule #3 and connect with purpose, the more likely it is that you will create something that, for its novelty and ability to wake up the spirit, is truly memorable beyond short-term “bestseller” trends.

5. Have people read as you go.

The purpose here is not to let the readers direct the story and take you out of the driver’s seat. The purpose, keeping Rule #3 in mind, is to check that you actually are achieving the goals you defined for the paragraph, chapter or entire manuscript.

If your feedback aligns with the goals you set, then you know you’ve hit the mark. If the feedback shows that you’re communicating something other than what you intended, though, then you know you’ve got to rework.

Try not to get hung up on the “flaws” as they are pointed out to you. Just let them run around in your brain as you do dishes or take a shower and take a few notes–they can shape what you write going forward, but you’re just highlighting things at this point so you don’t forget to come back to them later. Give those areas your full attention when it’s time to do a true edit.

Every writer has their own method of working–there is no one-size-fits-all for how to write. But certain concepts can apply regardless of personality, schedule or tools. All of the “rules” above are in this vein and are meant to get you to a point of greater initial freedom on the page. The balance of freedom and conscious awareness is always the foundation for creating a killer draft every time.