Sunday, March 7, 2010

Why We Should Diversify

Some of you may know that my first completed manuscript was YA fantasy. It was also REALLY bad.

Just a few days after I "finished" it, I got the idea for a middle grade story. I'd never written middle grade. I hadn't read much middle grade since I was in elementary school and junior high. I had no idea what my middle grade voice should sound like. But I knew I couldn't query my first novel (because it sucked) and this new idea felt exciting and fresh, so I changed genres and transitioned from a world filled of anxsty teens and fairies into a world of happy-go-lucky real world sixth graders.

It was scary at first. I had no idea what I was doing. But as I wrote, I learned. And as I rewrote, I learned more. The voice came easier than it had with my attempt at YA. In the end I had a manuscript I felt confident enough about to start querying agents.

I've been thinking a lot about genre changing recently. I'm not planning a change anytime soon, MG is still a happy place for me, but it seems like a lot of blog friends have been reinventing their writing and several of the agents and editors at SCBWI talked about how it can be beneficial to diversify what we write.

So I wanted to share with you three good reasons to write something different.

1. A different genre may be more salable.

It seems like a lot of people decide to write because they fall in love with a super popular book and they think, "maybe I could do that." I think this is a great reason to start writing--a love of reading spills over into a love of writing. But if you decide to write YA paranormal because you loved TWILIGHT, you are going to have a lot of competition if you decide to pursue publication.

People don't talk about it much, but there are areas of publishing that are super saturated. Getting a book published in one of those genres may be harder than a less popular one. I don't know what the least competitive markets are (I bet agents and editors may have a clue though), but I do know that way fewer people write MG than YA.

That's something to think about.

2. You may be better at writing something else.

I started writing YA fantasy because it was one of my favorite genres to read. Unfortunately, loving to read something doesn't always translate to being good at writing it. I can tell you without a doubt that I am a better MG writer than fantasy writer, but I never would have discovered that if I hadn't tried to write MG.

3. Changing genres keeps things interesting.

Do you ever feel bogged down with your writing? Does it ever feel boring? Maybe a new genre is just what you need. Writing romance is WAY different than writing picture books, and writing middle grade is a huge departure from writing grown up thrillers, (have you seen the news about John Grisham's latest project?) Switching genres may give your writing new energy and make it exciting again.

So there you have it. There's a lot out there about the need to brand yourself, to stick to your genre and build your reputation on it, but maybe there's some good to be said for occasionally reinventing your writing.

So what do you think? Would you ever consider leaving your genre behind and trying something totally new?

36 comments:

Natalie Murphy said...

I recently had the same thoughts. I started out writing Regency romance, but something wasn't feeling right about it. The writing itself was fine, but I wasn't as interested as I should be. So I switched to Medieval romance (my WIP is set in the Holy Land and England in 1215) and the pages are just flying by. My betas and CP's have commented that my voice just shines through in this genre, whereas before I struggled a bit. So even switching sub-genres within a genre (ie, going from paranormal YA to just regular YA) might make a difference.

Good post =)

Aubrie said...

This is so true! I started out writing fantasy, and now I'm writing science fiction. I've also come aorund to adding in more romance to spice up my plots. Boy, has my writing changed and grew.

Vonna said...

My first book was adult magical realism which meandered forever in a circular plot. I started another adult novel, but my MC was such a whiner I couldn't stand writing about her. Then at my five year old son's urging, I switched to "a story he would like", an MG fantasy, and found my voice.

seeyouupside said...

My first novel, completed this year, was a YA fantasy -- fairy tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I kept wanting to write modern day language into it as I was writing it and I even got bored writing it! I finished it because I wanted to prove to myself I could write a novel. I edited 58 pages of it. I then put it away. Why? Because I was BLOWN AWAY by a YA contemporary idea and I realized my voice was better suited to contemporary. I mean, clearly! I'd written modern day words/slang into the YA fantasy and then taken them out, but I kept doing it and it should've been a sign. And in a way, it was. ;-) That contemporary YA is now 22k in only 12 days and I'm really proud of it. I really, really think its a winner.

So I completely related. I mean maybe its not an age group difference like you, but same story (almost).

:-)

TerryLynnJohnson said...

This is interesting. My first was MG and I've just tried YA. I thought both were fun. It's true - angsty teens vs. happy kids.

Jemi Fraser said...

I like diversity in pretty much everything. My two mss are romantic mystery and YA steampunk :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thank you.

In this era of branding, I sometimes worry about my very varied writing. I'm not sure what's ahead, but I love the challenge and freedom trying something new brings.

Tracy said...

Great post, Natalie. I'm glad to hear that agents are talking more about diversifying. It gives me hope! I have so many different ideas, and have been working on multiple genres over the past year. It's fun to stretch myself, and to have a change of pace once in a while. I think it's helped keep my writing fresh (and kept me from getting bored!).

Marybeth Poppins said...

Choosing a genre is hard. I really enjoy YA, but sometimes I think it would be easier to write adult lit.

storyqueen said...

I am a picture book writer who is writing middle grade....you should write what you want to.

However, there is the whole issue of branding....yuck.

Shelley

L.T. Elliot said...

I have been trying something new but do I ever think I'll leave my genre behind? No. Why? Because every time I come upon a good fantasy, I feel like I've come home. Something in me settles and it feels like falling in love. I'm willing to try new things but I think I'll always be loyal to my true love. ;)

Jessie Oliveros said...

I have a MG idea I keep wanting to start, but won't let myself until I'm done with the book I'm writing now.

Hardygirl said...

Yeah, I switch it up all the time. I guess if I ever have a hit, I'll worry about branding . . .

sf

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm hopelessly addicted to writing whatever I please, and that may not please an agent. I can't help it, I write all over the place as the muse strikes. (Picture book, YA, adult, haiku--just give me a pen or keyboard)

Yaya' s Changing World said...

I've been very fortunate in that I write in several genres and enjoy moving from one to another, when I get stumped in one area.

How are things going? Just thought you might like to know that I have a visitor on my blog, today, who will be sharing her grampa's true-life adventures as a Rider on one of the Orphan Trains! There's room for everyone to gather in close and get to know Donna, while enjoying her wonderful story-telling talents. I look forward to seeing you there.

Yaya
Yaya's Changing World

Jessica said...

Good post, Natalie. I agree that diversifying is a great way to energize writing. I'm not sure I'd ever leave romance, but I love dabbling in its subgenres.

Susan R. Mills said...

This is interesting timing. While I've been working on my rewrites for my YA project, I've had this nagging idea for a MG story. I keep pushing the idea away because I want to stick with YA, but maybe I should go for it. Hmmm???? You've given me something to think about.

Bane of Anubis said...

I've always preferred the plot diversity/expanse MG allows, but writing YA and above gives more structural license, IMO.

Patti said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and wondering where I'm best suited for. Like you I write YA because I love reading it but maybe I might try writing something else and see what happens.

Sarah Skilton said...

Those are three excellent reasons. I've been switching from adult commercial fiction to YA and it's been refreshing and challenging. Like you, I never queried anyone for my first novel -- it was good practice (especially to learn what not to do!), but not even remotely publishable.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I always thought I would write an amazing literary novel for adults, but I've found so much more joy and creativity writing MG fantasy. Guess I'm much more in touch with myself as a 10-12 year old. Hmmm...

Linda Kage said...

Good advice. I like how you think!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

This is a great post. My first attempt was YA paranormal and like yours, mine was bad. After that, I decided to try my hand at something different. When writing the YA, I had the most fun with the romance storyline, so I decided to try an adult romance.

That turned out so much better (according to beta feedback, placing in a contest, etc.) and came easier to me. I'm currently querying that one, and now as another departure, my WIP is a different subgenre of romance, so I think changing it up can be a great idea.

kathrynjankowski said...

Yes, with all the pressure to brand yourself, it's intimidating to consider changing genres. I write fantasy, but who knows what the future will bring?

paulgreci said...

I really enjoyed your post. The YA novel my agent is submitting now is on the older/edgier side. The one I am working on is still YA but is younger and a totally different kind of book. And I'm totally intrigued by MG. I loved hearing how you discovered your MG writing voice--that gives me hope in that genre because I have some ideas I want to pursue but am not as well read in MG as in YA. Thanks, Natalie!

Elana Johnson said...

I would like to switch. I'm solidly in YA, but in a specific genre. It would be nice to be able to move around a bit. Keeps me fresh. Makes writing exciting.

Great post!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Yup. Next book is adult all the way. I've already started writing a few scenes and making notes for it. Still has some paranormal but this one won't be YA.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Great post today! I'm currently writing literary, but would love to work on something in the realm of chic-lit... or maybe even try my hand at YA one of these days!

It's definitely wonderful not to feel boxed in to one genre. Look at Nick Hornby! Look at Judy Blume!

Julie said...

Did you write this post FOR me? Lol! It's like you're reading my mind. I really want to try something new, something exciting.
That's not to say I'm going to give up writing what I feel I'm good at, I just want to branch out because I might be better at something I'm having more fun writing.
Thanks for the advice!

Sandy Shin said...

Awesome post!

I'm one of those writers who finds her niche and, well, clings to it by the skin of her teeth. I'm currently taking a Creative Writing course that teaches me to broaden my writing horizon, even if it's just for writing exercises and short stories. I've really enjoyed it so far. It's definitely exhilarating to try out new genres, etc. :)

Julie Dao said...

I needed to read this so much today, what a terrific post! I still have so much to learn about writing - not being new to it, but because I had taken so much time off from it - and I'm still trying to find my voice and my genre. I haven't found it yet, but I've written stories in about four or five different genres and it gets sort of confusing and frustrating, knowing that I "should" pick one and stick with it. I loved your reasons for being genre flexible!

VR Barkowski said...

Great post, Natalie. Switching out is an excellent way to grow as a writer and oft times a reader. There's nothing wrong with writing to the market if you're writing what you believe in. If you enjoy writing alternative history, paranormal romance and mysteries, and paranormal romance is what's selling - why not write it?

Mary Campbell said...

I haven't been writing long enough to switch genres too much. Both of my WIPs are YA, but one is contemporary and one is a fairytale retelling. I don't do a teenage voice well though so I may have to reconsider the contemporary one.

Tamika: said...

I would consider Romance. Maybe. Yeah, romance.

Ack!I struggle with change even when it's necessary.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

I am not sure how I feel about diversifying. If the change and experimentation seem natural, than I am all for it. But if it is a market move, I have to admit I am wary. It comes back to write what you like to write not what you think will sell - at least for me anyway. But if you have interest in another genre AND it is more salable, then that is just a happy coincidence!

Tiffany Neal said...

I completed my first novel which is a YA paranormal fantasy and now I'm working on a mid-grade realistic fiction. I like change!