How Versatile Should Novelists Be?

My editor usually says if a novelist begins with a category–say, contemporary women’s fiction–then said writer ought to stay in that category and build up the readership. Makes sense. Yet when a genre slumps in sales and nobody’s buying, authors often scramble to reinvent themselves. Question of the day: How versatile should a novelist be?
Writing Tip For Today: I agree that once a writer has name recognition in a category, it makes sense to build on that. But if an author is having trouble selling a book, it may make sense to try another type of story. This is one case where using a pen name may be a good idea, so you can keep your “main” genre audience separated. If you want to dip your toe in another genre’s waters, you might want to do these things:
What do you read? For a few skillful authors, it may not matter. For most, I’d say the writer should read at least ten novels in the genre they want to try, especially if it’s something not usually read. Get a feel for how quickly the story builds. You may want to analyze by jotting down where the key plot points occur. How many viewpoints? At the climax, what does the protagonist do on the inside and on the outside?
Invent Your Story. Do a short sketch or synopsis (say no more than 250 words) of the story you want to write. Include protagonist, setting, main problem and obstacles for starters.
Let your mind go. After you let the plot line from these published examples sink in, sit down and bang out a chapter. Don’t try to edit yourself. See where it goes.
Let it sit. Give your draft a while to cool off. Write on other stories.
Compare. After your draft is cool, get it out and compare your try with the first chapters of a few of the novels you analyzed. Ask yourself these questions: What is the balance between narrative and action (scene)? By the end of the first chapter, what do you know about the story? Is there any back story? If so, how much?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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