Saturday, May 19, 2012

Writing Multiple Genres

Hi there,

Thanks for joining us at iWriteNetwork for Spring on the Ning. This blog post is the information you will need for the class on Writing Multiple Genres. After you're done reading it, come join me in the Chat Room for a discussion of what you've learned and to ask any questions you might have.

Notice anything about these books, besides the fact that they were all written by me? They all belong in different genres. Nothing to Regret is historical fiction. Agent in Old Lace is romantic suspense. Bless Your Heart is a cookbook. Secret Sisters is a cozy mystery. Million Dollar Diva is a financial book. In addition to those genres, I've also written inspirational nonfiction, a how-to for virtual book tours, and I'm releasing my first YA contemporary next month. How did this happen?

When I first started writing and published Nothing to Regret, I thought I'd never write anything but historical fiction. I absolutely, totally loved it. I wrote three historical fiction novels, and then I started getting ideas for other stories, and they were definitely not historical. I didn't know what to do. I believed that the way for me to be successful was to choose a genre and stick with it, and build my brand as a historical fiction author. But these other stories wouldn't leave me alone.

So I wrote Agent in Old Lace, which was my venture outside the familiar waters of historical fiction. It went over really well. Some of my readers said, "We like your historical fiction, but we loved your romantic suspense." That really surprised me - I'd put so much time and effort and energy into the historical fiction that to me, it was only fair that it should be the favorite. Then when I wrote Secret Sisters, which is a cozy mystery, everyone went crazy. "This is your best ever!" they told me. I almost wondered if I'd been wasting my time with historical fiction, and that bothered me because I had really invested myself in it. 

Also in the back of my mind was the question of my brand. I wasn't just a historical fiction author. I wasn't just a romantic suspense author. I wasn't just a cozy mystery author. What was I? How would I create a brand, when I was doing so many different things?  Then one day it hit me. I'm a Tristi Pinkston. And the most wonderful thing about Tristis is I'm the only one. (apologies to Tigger)

What I mean is this: I'm branding myself as a person now, not as a genre. My readers know that I have many different tastes and that I like to write about many different things, and so far, they've been excited to try out the variety. Like I said, some prefer the cozy mysteries while some prefer the historical fiction, but no matter what they are reading, they know they can expect certain things because it's a Tristi Pinkston.

1. They know they can count on it being a clean read.

2. They know I research and ask questions and make each book as realistic as possible.

3. They know I edit and edit and edit and try to make each book as good as it can possibly be. Sure, there's room for improvement, but the consistent drive to do better with each book is something that also goes into my brand.

These are all things that are extensions of me as a person, and are not limited to a genre. This is why I say that I am my brand.

Perhaps right now you feel as though you've found your niche and you can't picture yourself ever leaving it. That's how I felt in 2008 after I released Season of Sacrifice, my third historical fiction. But darn it if these cute little old ladies didn't show up in my head, demanding that I tell their quirky story, and so I had to start writing Secret Sisters. You just never know where the muse is going to take you, and your very best writing will take place when you follow that muse.

So, how do you write multiple genres?

The first piece of advice I have is to write about the things that interest you. I'm sure you've figured out by now that I have a ton of different interests. I'm a little bit "squirrel" when it comes to things I want to learn about and experience. For some reason, I spent fifteen minutes on the Internet last night reading up about Jack the Ripper because I'd heard him mentioned and I wanted to learn more ... while I watched the season finale of Fashion Star. Yeah. So, if you have wide and varied interests, there's no reason why you can't write wide and varied things. But write what you're interested in, because that's where the passion comes into play, and passion makes great writing.

The second thing is that you should learn what the requirements are for each genre. Every genre there is has certain hallmarks, and if you don't meet those hallmarks, your reader will be disappointed. For instance:
Romance - boy meets girl, something happens to keep them apart, they fight through it, they end up together. They must end up together, or it's not a romance.
Drama - terrible things happen, the characters fight against them, they might or might not be successful, and someone might die. Lots of emotion involved here.
Dystopian - people are fighting against a system that has gone horribly awry.
If you write a book and label it as a romance, and yet your characters don't end up together, it won't sell as a romance. Understanding your genre is huge. You might think, "Well, I want to do something totally different and step out of the prescribed formula," and you can do that to a certain extent and be unique, but you must follow the basic outline or you will make your readers unhappy, and it will be a tough sell to a publisher.

The third point is be yourself, no matter what. You might be wondering, "How did Tristi go from writing a really fluffy cozy mystery to a hard-hitting nonfiction inspirational?" I mentioned that I'm a little bit "squirrel." The fact is, we all have many facets to our personalities. If we were just one-dimensional, how boring would that be? Tap into the different facets that are uniquely yours, and bring your own voice to them. I am a very lighthearted and happy person sometimes, and others, I'm deeply introspective and serious. One isn't more "me" than the other. They're both "me." I have my own voice and my own perspective in each of my moods, and I use those as I write about the various different topics.

Should you use pen names?  A lot of authors wonder if they should use different names when they publish in different genres. I didn't for a very simple reason - I'd spent a lot of time building up my name recognition online. I wrote for several websites, blogged, networked, and got my name out there. If I were to change my name for another project, I wouldn't be able to tap into that name recognition - I'd have to start from scratch. In addition, even though my books are wide and varied, they can all be read by the same readers.

If you're thinking about using different names for different projects, think about the nature of those projects. Are you writing middle-grade fiction, and then also erotica? That's a situation in which you would absolutely, definitely use two names. You wouldn't want your middle-grade reader to see a new book by you in the store, pick it up, and suddenly learn more about the birds and the bees than he was ready for. Additionally, let's say you write automotive repair books and you also write chick lit. Those two genres are so different that yes, I would use a different name for each.

The main reason you would use different names would be to differentiate yourself in the minds of your readers so they know what to expect when they pick up your book. If your books aren't necessarily meant for different audiences, you're fine to stick with one name throughout your career.

Will the publisher go along with it?  This is where you'll need a game plan. When you first start out with a publisher, they may want you to stick with one genre. Let them know that you have ideas for other things, and give them a quick synopsis of your ideas so they can see what else you have in mind. Sometimes a publisher will ask you to print all your romance books with them, and then give you leave to take your green living books somewhere else, or to self-publish them on the side. Other times, the publisher will ask you to publish only with them, and you may need to wait to branch out. I feel very blessed - my publisher has not only agreed to print several of my books, but supports me in self-publishing titles they aren't interested in, so I'm able to explore these different genres. I suggest open communication with your publisher. Let them know you have other ideas, and then listen to what they have to say. Some of your ideas may need to wait until later, but that's okay - the great thing about being an author is that there's no shortage of ideas out there, and if you need to keep writing romance for a while, you'll get a ton of great romance ideas.

How will you market it?  I have all my books listed on my site and on blog, but I've also set up sites for some of my other books, like Women of Strength, Virtual Book Tours, and The Secret Sisters Mysteries. (That one hasn't been updated for a while ... need to get on that.) You market your other genres just the same as you do your first genre, except you become a little more targeted. You'd ask gardening blogs to review your gardening book, instead of approaching all the same bloggers as before. You'd talk to gun clubs about your gun books. It's really no different from setting up a marketing campaign for your other books, but with a new focus. (I probably said that twice, but hey, I sometimes repeat myself when I'm teaching in person, too.)

In Summary: Yes, you can absolutely write in different genres. Choose subjects that interest you, focus on the hallmarks of each genre and don't confuse them in your writing, and come up with publishing and marketing plans that will work for you, your publisher, and your schedule.

Questions? Comments? Come join me in the Chat Room right now! I will be there from 10:00 to 11:00 am Mountain Time and you can ask me anything you like.

If Tristi hasn't already conveyed her entire life story and you'd like to know more about her, you can visit her website or blog.


Canda said...

Great ideas--thanks Tristi!

Tristi Pinkston said...

You're welcome!

Carolyn Twede Frank said...

I loved your advice. Thanks.