Vicki's Book News and Articles

Career Path: Knowers, Fallers and Dabblers

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 26, 2010

Some people, it seems, come out of the womb knowing what they want to be and how they’re going to become it.

Others have no clue what they want but fall into something that for one reason or another enchants them, and they make a life’s work of it.

Still others dabble in this then that and then something else and either dabble their entire lives or eventually light on something that intrigues them enough to stick around.

It doesn’t matter which you are.  Any–the knowers, the fallers, or the dabblers–can make good writers.

I address this because a very upset writer emailed me recently on this topic.  She was told she wouldn’t be a good writer because all of her experience was in one thing.

That comment just begs to be challenged, doesn’t it?

First of all, no one over a year old is experienced in only one thing.  Ask a 2-year old to turn off the TV.  Most know which button to push.  One of my angels is 18 months and loves Dora movies.  She knows how to load them into the player and which button to push to make them run.  The four year old taught me that rewinding the VCR isn’t necessary.  It’ll do it on its own.  She also taught me how to play her Leapster–an educational game at which I was a novice, but she’s a pro.  (Beat me on every game, too.)

Kids interact with other kids.
They learn language skills:  “Don’t, no, stop, please and thank you.”  They learn tones–and react to them appropriately.  They learn expressions.  I’ll never forget the day my eldest angel learned to frown.  And, boy, do they read body language.

I used very, very young children to illustrate my point because learning many things begins very, very early.  We get the basic skills then (all of which translate to writing, by the way) and then as we grow and mature, we add to them.  We build on what’s there–the foundation.

So, in my humble opinion, no one has experience in only one thing–unless you dump everything under the “life” umbrella.

Secondly, even one whose primary area of expertise is in one field is not left void in all other fields.  On the way from novice to expert, we develop other skills through related incidentals and experiences that fall outside our specific area of expertise.  Most fields incorporates skill sets from other fields.

For years, John Grisham wrote legal thrillers.  He is an attorney; that’s his one field.  But good attorneys are usually good orators.  They have a good grasp on body language, on human emotion, on values and judgments.  On reasoning and clear communication.  Quick on the uptake and flexible in mind.  Those are essential skills to being a good attorney.

But John is also a writer:  a related skill set.  But does that mean he can only write legal thrillers?  No, of course not.  Because many of his skills transcend those perimeters and life has added many more.  Hobbies and other interests, other experiences have added even more to that more.

So while some might have thought he had one area of expertise, and that imposed limits.  We know from experience that his abilities and skills, many of which are directly related to that area of expertise, have exceeded it.

Skills acquired can be adapted and altered to fit the needs of other areas of expertise.  That’s my point.  You learn to balance to ride a bike.  But you also use balance for a thousand other things.  Your skill isn’t restricted to that for which you learned it.  It translates.  And that’s worth remembering.

As writers, we can draw on anything and everything, and we do.  Regardless of what your personal experience is now, within the confines of logic, you can use it all and gain what you need along the way to write what you want to write.

The beauty of our flexibility in this is that we don’t have to gain this experience or skill firsthand to be able to write convincingly about it.  For example:  how many mystery authors have murdered?  Not many, if any at all.  Yet they convincingly portray the act in books regularly.  How?  Observation of others acquired skills and expertise.  Not firsthand experience.  See my point?

Knower, Faller or Dabbler:  any can make good writers.

Another recent question has to do with career-building.  An author specifically asked about Career Tracks and wisdom.  Which way of going about building a career is best?


1.STRAIGHT AND NARROW:  Develop a course that is straight and narrow, meaning write one kind of book and focus intently on building a reputation and a reader base for it.
2.SCENIC ROUTE:  Write different kinds of books through a career.
3.DIVERGENT PATHS:  Write two types of books and divide effort and interest between them.

Each of those choices has advantages and disadvantages.

The straight and narrow is probably the most preferred path because it naturally places the author in a position to build an easily identifiable reader base that knows what to expect from the author and his/her books.  Focus is the key word in this type career.  Name recognition, reader identification and expectation, and bookseller identification and expectation are all pluses.  The negative?  The author can get really weary of writing the same type of book over and again.  Most who do find creative ways to keep the work fresh and to stay enthused.  Those who don’t, run into long-term trouble.

The scenic route.  As an agent once said, “When I get a book from you, I never know what to expect, but I know I’m going to love it.”  That sounds like a big bonus, doesn’t it?  And it can be.  The market cycles and if you’re a flexible writer, then you can flex with it.  That’s a perk on the longevity table.  However, it’s not easy to build a career that rises to the stratosphere on the scenic route.  Readers don’t know what to expect.  Booksellers don’t know what to expect.  Your books can be shelved in different areas in bookstores and that all makes finding the books more difficult–and it much more likely the author will get lost in the shuffle.  Still, some authors choose this path and some have successful careers.  Promotion is, in my humble opinion, essential to cue everyone other than the author (and that includes those in the publishing house) what is at the core of each book.  Remember, we are creatures of association.  We associate this author with this type book.  That’s natural to us.  So if you’re writing multiple types of books, you need to find an effective way to let others know it and know what you’ve written–every time.

Divergent paths.  More and more authors are choosing the divergent path career strategy.  They’ll write two types of books, essentially building two separate careers, which at some point usually merge on the marketing front.  For example.  Nora Roberts build a career in series romance.  Then she expanded her romance books into the single title market.  Still romance, but now reaching a broader base of readers.  She continued her series romances and added her single title romances.  Staying well established in series, she became well established in single title romance, and then took the divergent path.  Under J.D. Robb, she began a separate career for futuristic mysteries.
After a number of J.D. Robb books were out and she was established in that career path, she marketed that Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb were one and the same.  Crossover sales ensued.  And her divergent path career strategy was an enormous success.  So much so that she’s commonly considered her own brand.

For some authors, one path takes off and the other stills.  A year or two later, they can reverse.  The still one becomes hot and the hot one cools.  Again, markets cycle.  So this can be a perk for the author, too.  Provided the author writes fast enough to get a book a year out in both careers, this can be a good choice with a lot of advantages and not so many challenges as the other two paths.

Of course, it really depends on the author and what s/he means to achieve.  Purpose and personal goals are paramount and whatever yours are, they lend themselves best to one of the chosen paths.  So before choosing your career path, it’s imperative (and you increase the odds of not disappointing yourself) by addressing specifically what you want from your career.

Take into consideration your production rates and promotion investments and skills, too.  Look at the big picture of you, the author, and you, the person.  These are not small things when it comes to deciding where you want to be a year from now or five or twenty-five years from now.  Consider it all.

Make a three column list.  Ask every question you can think of to ask–about you, about writing, about goals and dreams and desires and abilities.  Compare each question to each path.  See where the weight adds up.

Then you’ll be building not only a career, but one that has a better chance of working successfully for you.

And remember, you can change paths at any time.  If you’re on one and it just isn’t working for you, do the above exercise.  Find another.  When a door closes, a window opens, right?

Right.  And miraculously it does so repeatedly!





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