Vicki Hinze © 2000-2011
As of 10.30.07
What follows is a question and my response from the Aids4Writers Program. I’m including this exchange in the Writers’ Aids Library because it is a question frequently asked.
The Question: I’ve been told from the start of my writing career that you should target your stories to the line you most enjoy reading. So, what if you write a novel
aimed at, say, Duets. It’s got the humor and you’ve stuck religiously to their required word count. For one reason or another, they reject it. Now you have a novel with a word count that doesn’t fit any of the other lines, or if it does, the plot doesn’t work for any of the other lines. What do you do with it? It’s irritating to spend all that time writing then realize it only has one shot at being published. Is it better to just write however you want and hope it fits in somewhere? Do you target a specific line when you write?
My Response: Unfortunately, this is one of the realities of writing category novels. Particularly in the romance genre, (you mentioned Duets), there is an
incredible challenge for writers due to the lack of competition–not for writers, but for publishing houses.
That leaves you with a huge decision to make that only you should make because you are ultimately the one affected by that decision. You study the line–all of them, as you’ve noted, do carry distinct differences–and do your best to craft a novel that fits nicely within the line’s perimeters. If accepted, great. If rejected, then again you have to make a decision: do you attempt to rewrite the book to make it fit? Or do you expand the book so that the market potential for it broadens? Or do you set the book aside and wait for a market cycle later in your career that this book will fit?
There is no wrong or right answer, only different answers. It’s a judgment call, no more or less, and what might work for Author A could prove totally wrong for Author B. The reason is in the work itself. Creative subjectivity is a fact, and part and parcel of marketing. So do your homework, make your decision, and be at peace with it.
Personally, I have always had trouble “coloring between the lines.” I studied the lines intensely. I knew the perimeters. I started writing a novel, determined to write between them, and I consistently blew it.
Things happened in the story. I don’t know why, but they did, and I had to follow them. So I was a poor category writer. I also write longer books than are acceptable to category, which is why I published only one of them. Even that one was long for the line and originally written as a mystery, though we managed to squeak it through by adjusting the font and revising to add a stronger romance.
The point is that each writer has a natural pace that is an intricate part of his/her voice. Some gifted writers–and it does take a special gift to write category because it’s darned difficult to write consistently good books within the perimeters and not all writers can do it–write excellent short novels. Others tend to end up with a ton of subplots and complications in plot and character that just take up space to resolve logically and in a credible manner.
I accepted that and focused my efforts on single title and mainstream novels: places where my natural tendencies were assets and not handicaps. Now I’m writing suspense, and those complications and subplots and twists are welcome. The length isn’t a challenge, provided the suspense is maintained and strong enough to hold interest.
What’s important there is that I studied my own writing and started working with myself rather than trying to do what didn’t come naturally. I’m a much happier writer now, having adopted this method of working in harmony with me, and I have had greater marketing success.
You asked if it’s better to write what you want and hope it fits somewhere. Well, that is an option, but I prefer hanging my hopes on some method with a little better odds since supporting myself and my family depends on me selling what I write.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my philosophy: Write only books you love. I don’t mean like, I mean love, from the heart out. Study the market and see if what you’re doing has a place in an existing niche, or if what you’re writing is strong enough to carve a niche. Pour everything you’ve got to give into every single book. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth only the very best you’ve got to give it.
Note the study the market remark. Now repeatedly I’ve chosen to be a risk-taker, but one with identified and anticipated challenges that I’ve taken to steps to resolve before they’ve arisen. The bottom line is that no matter how much an editor loves a book, she’s got to be able to sell the book. So it would be really arrogant of me to think that I could write to sell and not weigh in market considerations.
The best advice I have to offer on this is to know the market and know your work. Blend the two and you have a ton of room within which to write and find a happy medium.
If you choose to write a book for which you’ll have to carve a niche, fine. Just do it understanding that it’s going to probably take longer to sell it. I’ve done this and waited six years for the market to catch up and be ready to receive a work. I knew the risks and took them because I loved the book. It was worth the wait. So to me, what’s important is that you do what you do knowing what to expect.
Now, I always write with a higher purpose in mind and that does inspire me to
work harder and longer than I could work on my own. This goes back to the
individual writer and author theme. I writing healing books. I believe that if I write them well, for the purpose of giving readers who need them an opportunity to see that there are constructive solutions to universal challenges, then I have fulfilled my personal purpose in writing the book.
To some writers that wouldn’t be a great motivator. To me, it gives me the drive and discipline to work until 2 A.M. and get back to work at 6 A.M. and then put in a full day. It gives me this desire that runs soul-deep to really strive to do the very best I can because it’s potentially important to whoever needs to read it. And I know from experience that those who do need to read it will find it.
I don’t know your personal motivator. I do know the power of finding out what it is. So I can wholeheartedly recommend that you seek and find it.
Author, know thyself. There’s a world of potential in those three words. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your motivation, your fulfillment.
Do I target a specific line? No, I don’t. But I’m not writing category, nor am I writing genre-specific novels these days. When I was, yes, I did try to target my work, insofar as when writing category, I tried to aim at a specific line. I didn’t hit it, I hit another line, but it was a category line. (I was aiming for Shadows and hit IMs. Remember, I write long with complicated plots.)
When writing romance, I didn’t target a line because I was writing single title, but I did write mostly within the confines of the genre. I say mostly because even then I had a penchant for focusing more on plot and suspense than romance. Yet I found an editor and a house that liked that slant and it fit their list so they went with it. This was long before the current romantic suspense trend.
Even in single title, I found complications. Frankly, I’d forget the romance. You can’t really forget the romance in a romance novel and get away with it. There, the focus of the novel must be on the development of the relationship between the characters. I was more interested in getting them into trouble with global consequences and testing their character through outside-the-relationship influences. And often the subjects and topics I wanted to write about–biological, chemical, nuclear warfare, alcoholism, abuse, child endangerment–well, those aren’t topics that are typically conducive to romance and they tend to take up a lot of novel space. So I no longer fit well there, though I love the genre and have great admiration for those who write well in it.
I had to go mainstream to do what I most wanted to do. So that’s what I’ve done. One thing that’s been consistent is that in my books there’s mystery, suspense, and romance. Every single one, regardless of genre or type or anything else. That’s a big clue for you, because every writer has themes they tend to find fascinating and love and they repeat aspects or facets of them consistently in their body of work.
Now you might focus more intently on one aspect in one book and another aspect in another book, but the beloved, fascinating elements are still there. Take a look at your work and pinpoint those elements. That’ll guide you to your niche.
The floundering on what to write and where you fit is hard. Been there and done that. Hated it. But looking back, it had merit and frankly a lot of value. I learned to respect my gift and myself and my readers by developing a philosophy toward my work that I do not violate. Because it’s in harmony with me on all levels, and heeding it, I’m more content.
I still go too far for the current market at times, and I still have challenges, but I’m not frustrated all the time and I always have that underlying sense of purpose to keep me going full-steam ahead.
The sooner you examine yourself, your work, and what it means to you, the sooner you’ll develop your philosophy and be able to drawn on it for inner strength, then you’ll be more content, too.
I remember what it was it like before discovering the harmony and it wasn’t a walk in the park. More like trudging through hell. Know that you’re not the only writer to go through this, and you aren’t alone. Many have walked this path, often crawled it on their knees, and made it through to the other side and found peace.
Also know that this evaluation isn’t a one-time thing. As you write and gain experience, you grow and change. If you encourage it, that growth includes flexibility and a willingness to always be open to trying new and different things. Because something didn’t work for you at one point in your career, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever work for you.
For example. For years, I knew I didn’t fit writing category novels. But a new line has been announced recently, and it’s an action/suspense line with a romantic subplot. That appealed to me. So while I didn’t fit into category, now I just might have found a category niche. I was intrigued enough to write the proposal—and I loved it.
Evaluate and reevaluate. Always been willing to take another look, to reconsider, to watch the market change and the changes in you. Ultimately, you want to write work that you must write and craft it to a specific market target.*