Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

When You Are A Beginning Writer, The Keyword is Focus

STATUS: Snowy day in Denver so I definitely felt like working.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? OUT OF TOUCH by Hall & Oates

It occasionally happens that when we request sample pages, read it, and then send a rejection letter, the writer will often approach us with another project. Nothing wrong with that!

But here’s what surprises me. Sometimes it’s a story in the same vein (as in the same genre or it’s also a young adult or what have you) but a lot of times it’s not. I’m constantly amazed at how often the next project pitched is wildly different. Not even in the same ball park as the submission we just read.

When you are beginning as a writer, by all means, explore a few genres. Find out what seems the most fun to write, the best fit for your writing skills, what you are passionate about. Then focus.

If you write a young adult contemporary and then the next book you pitch to us is for an adult, dark literary thriller, you are going to get an eyebrow raise.

Now don’t get me wrong. The writer might be fully capable of writing both with impressive skill. But more likely not.

We also often get queries where the writer offers us a whole potpourri of choices of their work to review. Couple thoughts on that. One, it”s overwhelming; two, it comes across as unfocused; three, I’m going doubt the writer’s ability to master all these formats.

Just another tidbit to keep in mind while querying and writing.

And to add one more thing here, a writer might believe her strength is in one genre, might get a lot of rejections, gives up on that genre, and then tries something else and that is what works. That’s smart.

And that’s not what I’m talking about here. *grin*


17 Responses

  1. Amber Lockhart said:

    Excellent post for new writers! You’re doing a fantastic job keeping that New Year’s resolution. It’s so much fun signing on to find a new post. Thank you!

  2. LorelieLong said:

    I’ve published two historical romances, but have written 3 more that haven’t found homes. And I have six co-written contemporary erotic romances coming from Samhain over the next year.

    But the next book I’ll be trying to pitch to agents (to hopefully finally get one) is a PNR romance. Too much? I’m suddenly biting my nails.

  3. Wendy Tyler Ryan said:

    Interesting post. As a writer, I must beg to differ to some degree. I do agree, not every writer can, or should, write in multiple genres. Having said that, I don’t doubt that there are a lot who can do just that.

    An over simplistic analogy would be to say that Daniel Craig should never play any other role other than that of James Bond. Why be an actor?

    Why be a writer if you never aspire to stretch, test, or otherwise use your vast imagination?

    I do understand that this is the way traditional publishing works – to pigeon-hole for fear the reading public won’t be intelligent enough to follow a writer because – “Oh my goodness what will I do? My favorite author of contemporary romance just wrote a fantasy. I don’t know what to do, should I read it? How can this be? How can they possibly have the skills to do both?”

    I have a lot more faith in the reading public than that. A good book is a good book, and ten different people will have ten different opinions on the same book anyway.

    Sadly, it’s just another stereotype that we need to break free from. Let authors write intelligent and entertaining books in whatever genre they like and let the intelligent reading world decide for themselves.

    – Wendy Tyler ryan
    Fire’s Daughter

  4. Neurotic Workaholic said:

    Great advice, especially the part about trying a new genre if a writer gets a lot of rejections in one genre. I’ve heard of many writers who keep working on one book for years, no matter how many rejections they get for it, because they just can’t seem to let it go and work on a new one. (But I’ll be the first to admit that letting go of a book you’ve worked on for a long time is really hard.)
    I’ve always just focused on the genres that I like reading most, which are chick lit and creative nonfiction. It’s also easiest for me to write in those genres, because I’m more familiar with them than other genres where I haven’t read a lot of their books.

  5. Jane | @janelebak said:

    A beginning writer is still working on the basic skills and developing her voice. She can develop her voice in any genre, any format (except maybe writing HTML code). Locking into one genre too soon is going to stifle the writer’s natural explorations.

    Once the writer begins writing for publication, she probably does need to buckle down and stay in one genre. But until then, who cares? If you didn’t remember the first query, you wouldn’t raise your eyebrows at the second query. And I guarantee those two books, even though in different genres, are still exploring similar themes and still are presenting similar views of the world and asking similar questions. A writer can explore the meaning of sacrifice just as well in a romance as in a historical fantasy.

  6. Keisha Martin said:

    Recently my editor suggested to stick with one genre especially since my voice is better for YA, and I understand why. To excel in other genres one must first understand the rules, now saying that someone will contradict me and say many authors have broken the rules, however, me personally as an aspiring author (I believe everyone is writers if they put effort to write daily) I want to learn the rules, and the structure of writing a solid manuscript so that in the future I am an effective storyteller.
    Great post.

  7. Anonymous said:

    I think the key word in this post is “beginning.” In other words, new writers without publishing credits who are just starting out should try to make it simple. That’s not to say you can’t hop genres later, or at any time. I’ve written in more than one genre with other names and never had any problems. Publishers even suggest it.

  8. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I also agree the key word here is “beginning”, and the definition of that word is going to be important. If by “beginning”, we mean someone who is just starting to write, then by all means experiment with genre and audience! That’s how a writer finds out what they’re good at.

    By the time writers gets to the querying stage, though, they should have been writing long enough to find that focus.

  9. Cara M. said:

    I think a lot of time beginning writers don’t have any idea what they’re writing. My first book was probably supposed to be a thriller, but I had never read a thriller, and I hadn’t really had it suggested that there was any type of fiction besides FICTION (i.e. literary), and I had no idea what I was doing.

    My last two (3?) projects were me trying to hone my YA fantasy skillz, and that requires reading and analyzing and critical thinking as well as writing. I have an awesome plan for an adult sci-fi on the backburner, but right now I’m just starting the process of reading up on the genre and doing the research. I don’t know if I’ll be ready to actually write it for a while.

    But YA fantasy, I got that. And once I finish this revision, I’ll totally be ready to prove it. 😀

  10. Filigree said:

    In my case, I carefully pulled most of the erotic elements from a large mms before I sent it to a NY publisher’s contest last year. But between the time I entered the contest and found out I’d won third place, I realized that mainstream-tamed science fantasy wasn’t what I wanted to write at the moment.

    Could I sell that mms? Possibly. Would it complicate my sales of fantasy erotica? Probably. Right now, that novel is trunked and I’m working on pieces that actually sell in my new genre.

  11. Sam Dark said:

    What if you write different subgenres within the same overall “genre” — AKA, books that, say, YA, but have a totally different feel? If one was literary and one was more action-based?

  12. Karen Cioffi said:

    Great advice, especially if an author is rejected and submits a very similar work.

    I do agree somewhat with Wendy’s comment; writers can be multi-faceted. But, I also think that when starting out a writer does need to be focused.

  13. Mindy Ross said:

    Many editors and agents are dealing with beginners. In my experience, most writers need to get there feet wet by getting short stories or articles published and then jump into novel writing.

    Amateurs think it’s all about the writing when there is so much more involved. I did a lot of blogging, studying and figuring out what to do before I even attempted a book and I’m quite please with the results. Can’t wait to get the proof back from Createspace and then it will be on its way.

  14. Mario said:

    A movie produced by Disney was only sold on VHS tapes, and it was quite awhlie ago. I had to pay $40.00 to get an old used copy of the VHS tape of that movie. There are no DVDs made. I’d like to find out from Disney how I could go about copying this movie to DVD and selling the copies, if they even would allow that. Does anyone know where I’d contact someone at Disney? And address, email address, or phone number would be great.

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