I often receive submissions from authors who say something along the lines of, “I have a devotional book, a romance, a fantasy, a collection of poems, a novella, a marriage book, and a screenplay available for representation.”
This sounds great, right? The agent can choose from a variety of projects, perhaps marketing them all! Sheer volume will lead to success!
As a creative, I get that writers want to explore, have fun, and stretch their creative wings. I maintain that writers never waste time when writing. Writers learn with every project. Trying different art forms can help writers decide what type of work they want to pursue.
However, that exploration should happen before you approach an agent or editor. By the time you’re writing a query to us, understand who you want to be as a writer. Know which publishers will be interested in your book and why. Otherwise, you may end up on a merry-go-round of rejections you don’t understand. Don’t waste everyone’s time, especially yours.
Here is one exercise I recommend. Pretend you’re up for an award. What do you want to see listed on the finalists’ page, and what do you want to hear called during the awards ceremony? For instance:
Dystopian: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff
Romantic Suspense: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff
Romance: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff
Fantasy: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff
Self-Help: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff: Rescue Your Marriage Before It Falls
Children’s: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff! Stay Safe with Snuggle Sloth
Nonfiction: Jane Abernathy: The Edge of the Cliff: Avant-Garde Christianity
As you approach the year 2021, discern the dreams of your heart so we can help you make them come true.
What other suggestions can you offer writers to help them decide what to write?
Are you torn between two or more genres or forms? Why?
I could be writing mystery,
or a modern Book of Kells,
but no, I’m doing poetry,
the stuff that never sells.
I could be writing Amish tales
with peg-buttons and bonnets,
barns to raise and milking pails,
but no, I’m writing sonnets,
about four thousand in two years,
don’t know how it began,
and the handle I’ve begun to fear
is “Sonnetary Man”,
while the Bard who inspiration gave
is madly spinning in his grave.
Thanks for bringing a smile to my face today, Andrew!
Kay, I’m so glad you found that smile in my words!
Kristen Joy Wilks
That is so interesting because I was at a small writer’s retreat and during dinner, Kimberley Woodhouse asked us something similar. “If you could only write one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Such a difficult question! I started out writing YA and actually, I’m pretty good at it. Teens are so fabulous, grumpy and sarcastic and real. Who wouldn’t want to write about teens? But then I was dared to write a romance in a month. Why not? It sounded fun and so I did. Of course that romance ended up being a RomCom and I love that genre. So light and funny and a great way to use all of the crazy stories that happen in everyday life. Then there are picture books. Oh, the beautiful picture books! Finally, middle grade adventures. My sons’ friends seemed to think that my RomComs were actually middle grade adventures. I wondered if I was writing in the wrong genre if 12-year-old boys were telling me how much they loved my romances, especially the parts where the heroine was dragged off a pirate ship restaurant by a large dog. After staring back at her like a deer in the headlights for a moment, I finally chose. Middle grade! Why? Because I have several ideas for books in other genres … but I have unending ideas for middle grade novels. Not sure if that is the right way to choose, but with all those ideas piling up, it seemed a good way to go!
I didn’t choose the genre I wanted to write in — the genre chose me. I was out running while listening to one of Harry Kemelman’s mysteries when I found myself constructing my own mystery story in my head. After several outings, the story was so developed that I knew I had to write it down.
I find mystery writing to be very challenging. Not only does the author have to come up with an interesting plot and believable characters, the story has to form a kind of puzzle, and that adds an extra dimension to the effort. In addition, I want to add substance so that the novel is more than just a piece of entertainment. A high bar to get over. But if it wasn’t hard, why do it?
I might want to try my hand at another genre at some point in the future. But for now, the mystery is the thing.
I discovered my niche as I went along. First I wrote humor columns for newspapers, then interviews for a sports magazine, then posted blogs with humor, then posted blogs of little-known facts from history , including short biographies of unusual people. Now a friend tells me I’ve found my voice at last: cultural satire and inspiration (which includes biographies). Whew!
I enjoy reading suspense books that keep me on my toes, so writing romantic suspense fits me. I’ve never considered writing in any of the other genres.
OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU
I began with short stories, the novella and eventually, the novel. Christian Romance fiction is what I enjoy writing and sometimes Biblical fiction as well. I see the point Tamela is making. I think writers can stick with a particular genre while including bits of different genres. I have read some Christian romance where there were elements of crime, fantasy, thriller, etc. However, I would like to be identified as a Christian Romance writer even though I have dabbled into other genres. Thanks for this interesting post, Tamela, and God bless you.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
My all-time favorite teacher, who taught English on the high school level, always recited a poem she had learned as a young woman:
Always heed the ancient law and never write what you ain’t saw.
Figure out what speaks to your heart the most and write that.
Carol R Nicolet Loewen
Good advice from your teacher, Sheri. I think there’s a good deal of value in it. Thanks!
Carol R Nicolet Loewen
Tamela, thanks for the reminder to know our own passion and focus on one genre. I began writing magazine articles about grief and loss after my first husband’s death. Those, and my blogposts, emphasize encouragement with the faithfulness of God in difficult life challenges. I’m now writing historical fiction loosely based on my father’s family’s escape from Russia in 1929. Again, the core message is God’s faithfulness through terror, threat, escape, and relocation to a new country, language, people.
Sydney F. Grey
Being a singer/songwriter in my past, I wasn’t sure what style of music I really wanted to be my main focus until I tried my hand at everything. It helped me so much as I finally found my “home base,” the style of music that fit me like a favorite pair of shoes. I believe I have found my home base with writing as well. Mystery laced with romance is the sweet spot, but I don’t think I would be confident in saying that if I hadn’t tried writing in other genres before finding what came most naturally. I really what Kay DiBianca said above.