by Tamela Hancock Murray
Today I’ll give my opinion on a question sent to our blog:
When an author is trying to find the right Genre to write in for a particular subject, is it profitable to listen to only one critique?
The author who posed this question is in the discovery phase. Writers who read lots of books and have developed a love for many types of stories often have trouble deciding what to write. Often I receive proposals from new authors who tell me they have written, for example, romance, women’s fiction, and romantic suspense and want me to market all three. From a statistical perspective, that makes sense. Isn’t it more likely that three proposals going to thirty places will be more likely for at least one to find success than one proposal going to six places? Well, no. This is because authors are better off finding their writing passion and pursuing that with the best book they can write rather than researching and writing across the board. For instance, romantic suspense and contemporary romance have in common the fact that the story’s main plot point is the relationship between a modern hero and heroine. However, a romantic suspense writer must be willing to learn about police procedure and the law, but contemporary romance authors usually don’t because their books focus on different types of conflicts.
My advice to the new author is to pursue the story they most want to see published and to see their name tied to forever. To decide that, think about what story you are most eager to write, and what type of research you enjoy. Though you will still want to write to market considerations, I recommend listening to your heart when choosing genres.
Of course, many successful authors write in several genres. However, most of these authors started in one genre and moved to different types of books as their careers flourished. New authors need to get a foothold before attempting to market several genres. This is one area where a literary agent’s advice is invaluable. Our jobs include offering career advice to authors and helping them not to become overwhelmed with too many contracts. This is a nice problem to have, but one that needs the skill of a good agent to manage.
Critiques are tricky. Finding a match of partners who will work with your schedule and who are also knowledgeable about and have a passion for your genre is one of the most difficult combinations to find. There is nothing wrong with asking your mother or spouse to critique your work. My husband is not a professional author but he critiqued every novel and Bible trivia book I wrote. He was a tremendous help to me. However, when exchanging critiques with other authors, it makes sense to find those who have enough knowledge about your genre to be helpful with what will and will not work in the marketplace. A book about two people living in different countries but who find love in the last two chapters of a book may be a great read, but it won’t work for all genres. Writers of historical fiction would benefit from listening to authors who know their chosen time period to help with tone, voice, and details. Having author friends get behind your work gives you confidence when you first start writing.
So how many critiques is the right number? Popular authors with deadlines usually reach the point of success where critique groups no longer work well. Submitting a chapter a week doesn’t cut it when your deadline is next month. And you don’t have time to critique other people’s work because you are under deadline. So at this point, you may have one devoted critiquer who can drop everything for you, or you may have no one at all. The bottom line is, critiques and critique partners can be a valuable piece of your writing career puzzle, but they should not and cannot be the end-all and be-all of your career. Even the most experienced and well-meaning critiquer is only offering an opinion. Over time you must develop the confidence in yourself and your work to submit your best to your editor.