Sunday, July 24, 2005

Writing & Selling III

Margaret wrote in comments: As far as the business of selling books, I read something somewhere (and no I can't remember where) that said you should establish yourself in a genre with 3-5 books before adding a new genre. Looking at your publication dates, I kind of figure you didn't follow that model. My question is: what do you think of the idea and maybe both what happened in your case with the romance and SF (I know StarDoc was your first, but the Gena Hales followed soon after.) and if you'd change anything given the chance to start again?

I didn't follow any model. If it wasn't in Writer's Digest, my only source of information about the industry (yes, go ahead, snort) then I didn't know about it.

My initial plan was to write what I wanted to, pitch everything I wrote, and sell as many books as possible. That worked fairly well, until I lost two editors and hit a career slump. That was when I added work as a writer-for-hire as needed to pay the bills and pulled out of the slump.

For multi-genre writers who want to publish in more than two genres, the 3-5 book/genre establishment model doesn't work. Even for the two-genre writers it can be hazardous. Establishing slaps a label on you and, whether you're successful or not, may run interference with you moving into the next genre. (See more about this in the comments I made about Alison's reference to the same model here.)

The big problem with actively publishing and achieving success in more than two genres is the production level required. You should write and sell at least one, preferably two novels in that genre per year. Multiply that by the number of genres in which you want to publish. Three genres = three to six books per year. Five genres = five to ten books a year. Aside from the twelve to sixteen hour work days involved in writing that many books, you must also sell them, and keep your numbers healthy enough to keep bringing in the new contracts for several years.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from multi-genre writing, either. I am proof that it can be done. It does demand discipline, commitment and hard work, and even then there are no guarantees.

If given the chance to start over, ugh, I'm no good at what-if scenarios. Aside from my criminal naivete, I doubt I would change anything. I think having a charmed career without any bumps can spoil a writer, so I'd rather keep all my mistakes. I learned a lot from them. Even this one, awful as it was, helped me.

You writers out there, are there any publishing business models you've found that have helped you? Are there any that you think other writers should avoid? Any that you're looking for right now?

8 comments:

  1. Currently, I'm looking to branch into commercial fiction - you already know that - and get my head screwed on straight enough to manage two niches (and about 2 books a year) - you know that, too. I've already discussed this with my agent and editor so we're all on the same page and working toward the same end results.

    My business plan includes establishing the Tambo Brand multi-genre book with a definite narrative style, voice, subject matter, etc. I will use the complete name in the already sprouting fantasy forensic mystery niche, while using a slightly different yet related name for standard fiction. The focus is on establishing a readership base, then growing it (another aspect my agent and editor are also working toward) instead of break out then fade away. I'm willing to self-market as needed and I am consistently easy to work with, flexible, prompt, and precise. I know where many of my weak points as a writer are, as well as my strong ones, and I've focused the direction and content of my stories accordingly. I'm not good at writing sex scenes, for example, so there are likely no romance novels in my future.

    I chose my agent with the genre plus commercial fiction plan in mind, and he, in turn, targeted specific publishers and editors. I accept reasonable advances while courting (and achieving) better percentages and marketing. So far, everything has fallen happily into place. I enjoy my work, and I adore my agent and my editor. They're awesome and a perfect fit for me.

    When I first started the agent-query phase of my writing career, many people told me it couldn't be done. That multi-genre books would not sell, especially by an unknown, unpublished author. I purposely set out to be a cross genre author, purposely set out to have Ghosts marketed as both a fantasy and a mystery, and I did it. Knowing exactly what I wanted and refining the process accordingly helped me tremendously.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I personally don't follow any model. And very few people advice. I learned that the only person that will look out for me is me. So I just write, and submit.

    Part of me knows that I'll write other genres as I write more. I can already feel a shift in my style at times. But It's not a plan really, just a write what I feel type of thing, and follow where it leads me.

    Now that I have an agent that I trust, I'm sure there will be some sort of loose plan, but really, she even says. You write it, I'll sell it. So that works for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Although carving out a career as a novelist is different than whittling one out as a short story writer, I found that writing short stories in multiple genres clearly increases the amount of short fiction I can sell.

    It's tough to earn a steady income writing short fiction in only one genre, but possible by writing in multiple genres.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've considered pulling a Richard Bachman (and some have accused me of doing that already). Science fiction has had a powerful siren call on me, even though I don't have an original idea mapped out yet.

    If I'm writing fulltime, I could easily manage three books a year. The first draft is the hardest. Revisions and rewrites I find easiest because the story, mangled and incoherent as it might be, is already told and I'm working with existing material.

    But while I'm doing the day job, I need to continue to be me and focus on crime. There's been a writer named James Winter out there for about 4 years now, and more and more people (probably more than thirty or so) are expecting him to turn out blue-collar hardboiled tomes. So ripping off OLD MAN'S WAR or revamping STAR TREK in my own image would probably be culture shock.

    Of course, we'd all like to be in Grisham's shoes. Write the standard formula legal thriller one year, then whatever the hell the muse really wants the next. Hell, George Clooney freely admits to this approach. One bad Batman movie pays for O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? OCEAN'S 11 pays for TRAFFIC. (I know, I probably got that backward. You get the point, though.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Sheila, that was very interesting, especially the 2 books per year per genre. Knowing my speed with the whole revision and everything, I'd probably best try for two genres maximum :). Though things change. I had been mentally thinking a 1 book a year per genre with the exception of romance. That's a very tight schedule you keep :). Which I already knew....

    And thanks to you too, Tambo and Sasha. I'll admit to targeting agents who represent a range of genres myself simply because I already have written in multiples and don't intend to stop, but maybe I'll focus on just two to start. Of course then the problem is which two :D. And I like collecting advice. It gives me a more complete picture for my own decision making.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

    ReplyDelete
  6. Most informative! I hadn't considered the multi-genre in terms of how many books per year I'd have to crank out. That makes ya pause and thing. ;-) Considering that, I'll need to seriously consider which genres to focus my publishing attempts in.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I figured since I can write in horror, and sci fi, and maybe fantasy if the mood strikes, my approach would be "write lots, and sell as much of it as I can."

    It's not a highly defined approach, I'm not a prolific writer, so I am going with the reality, both financially and personally, writing will be only part of my income. I would probably go a shade loopy ( loopier) were I to depend on my writing alone.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It is amazing how many folks consider your success in the multi-genre model as the goal to aim for. I'm glad you pointed out the pitfalls.

    ReplyDelete