I can’t believe we’ve already reached the end of Thriller Extravaganza! Thank you so much to all my WANA supporters as well as my other social media friends for doing such an awesome job of getting the word out. The BIG CONTEST ends at the end of the month,s o make sure you enter!
I’m excited to have award winning author Vicki Hinze for our grand finale. She’s a talented genre-buster, and I wanted to get the inside scoop on how she does it.
Vicki has a great giveaway for you, too: digital or print copy of SURVIVE THE NIGHT (inspirational romantic suspense) or NOT THIS TIME (faith-affirming thriller) or digital copy of DUPLICITY (military romantic thriller) or MIND READER (paranormal romantic suspense).
Vicki is currently bracing for Hurricane Isaac, so she may be slow in answering your comments, but please give her time and keep her in your thoughts. And don’t forget to leave a comment so you’ve got a shot at the giveaway!
Changing Genres and Genre-Blending
Often writers set out on a course for their career and they develop the mindset to stay the course regardless of current market conditions or other career developments until such time as outside factors insist they alter their course.
This is a very human thing to do, but it is also carving a tough path for the writer to walk.
Let’s discuss why in practical, no-frills terms.
You write x type books. You embark on the path to become a great author of x type books. You’ve written a few and met with moderate success, and then:
1. The market for that type of novel collapses.
This happens. The market cycles. A few years ago, historical romances were in high demand. Then suddenly even the historical superstar authors saw sales drop significantly. Many changed to write romantic suspense and/or small-town contemporary romance. Why? The market’s appetite became more favorable for those types of books. Then still later, historical romance novels again found favor with readers. Some authors changed back, some didn’t, and new opportunities opened.
Regardless of what type of novel (sub-genre novels, too) an author writes, there are times when outside factors impact readers’ appetites. Market cycles are driven by reader demand, by interest. Reader demand and interest are driven by events and all of the usual people, places, things that shape public opinions.
a. The bottom line is authors can stay the course in what will for a time be a difficult-to-sell type book (a down cycle) and continue writing type x books and wait to sell or publish when conditions improve or
b. publish anyway, knowing that demand is low and sales will be also or
c. write something else that has better odds of finding favor with readers at that given point in time or
d. ignore the market and write what the author wants to write anyway, hoping the market will eventually catch up.
It’s really the author’s call. The choices are evident and the results of any decision are predictable. Some authors simply aren’t interested in writing a different type of novel. That’s their choices and calls, but it makes for a rough career path.
Some authors have broad interests and enjoy variety; they prefer to be flexible and cycle with the market. That makes for a smoother path in ways yet unless the author prepares his or her readers for the transition, the author can face challenges on not meeting reader expectations.
For example, if your readers know you to be a thriller author and you switch to write cozy mysteries or romantic suspense, you need to prepare your readers for this change or they’ll pick up that first cozy or romantic suspense expecting it to be a thriller. When it isn’t, they’ll be disappointed.
Even prepared, some readers will make the transition with the author and some won’t, because readers have preferences and they might love thrillers but not care for cozy mysteries or romantic suspense novels. Now, readers who don’t read thrillers but love cozy mysteries or love romantic suspense can become new-to-the-author readers. The better foundation the author makes for the transition, the greater the odds of success. Still, no guarantees.
The thing to keep in mind is that markets cycle and authors should be aware of it and make deliberate choices on their reactions to the cycles. They can only do that if they assess their careers or reassess them at points in time where reassessment is warranted.
2. Some authors are determined to hold on to the bitter end.
Authors often resist change. They love to write what they love to write and keep writing it regardless of what the market does or where reader demand is at a given time. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided the author does so deliberately for the reasons given in #1 above.
There is wisdom in writing what you love and if all you love is one type of book, then that pretty much says all that needs saying. It does mean that the author is in for a career of peaks and valleys, and some would say, those peaks and valleys are coming anyway, so one might as well stick with what one loves. There’s merit in that, to be sure, and some authors have the fiscal luxury of following that path. Some authors are also astute businesspeople who prepare for famine during periods of feast so that when sales are down, their fiscal needs are met and covered.
I hope you’re seeing the pattern: whatever you decide to do is great. Authors aren’t one-size fits all and their careers aren’t either. The key pattern is to understand the writer and the market, prepare for shifts, and have reasonable expectations of performance at various cycle stages during them.
Too often what I see are authors who hang on to the bitter end when they’re forced to change or can no longer sell because they fear change. Many don’t dub this as the root cause, but many do. They feel they’re established in a certain genre or type of novel and they should stick with it. Perhaps they have had moderate success and wish to build on it. That’s a good strategy. But if the author is lacking publisher support, or if indie, a successful marketing strategy, more often than not what happens is the author gets caught in a downward spiral. Let me explain in a practical example.
Author writes x. Publisher has a decent track record for selling x type novels. They agree to terms and form a strategic alliance. Author publishes three books and sales are less than expected for whatever reason. So say that bookseller A ordered 20,000 copies of Author’s first novel and sold 12,000. Book 2, Bookseller isn’t going to order 20,000 copies. S/he is going to order 12,000. Let’s say author sells 85% (sell-thru), which is a very respectable sell-thru. That’s 10,200 copies. How many books does Bookseller order on book 3? Exactly. Simply put, orders are based on sales of the last book, so the downward spiral becomes evident.
Now it isn’t just a lack of publisher support that can toss an author into a downward spiral. As we saw in #1, it can be reader demand, market conditions, preferences. All sorts of outside influences impact sales.
What happens often and is extremely difficult for the author is when to say whoa, time to make a change. Knowing that specific point in time is only clear if the author is watching. And too often, authors are so tied up with writing, marketing, promoting, social networking and doing the many other tasks that are significant to authors, they don’t notice the beginning of the downward spiral. Often, they don’t see the spiral until they’re entrenched deep in it.
Publishers hesitate to address the matter until contract time because frankly it is to their benefit to work with an author who has a positive mindset during the writing. There are other reasons, too, but nothing impacts creativity as much as the author’s mindset.
So you have an author steeped in the work who might ask but is given obscure information on numbers until it’s time to go back to contract. Many are stunned to discover then that the publisher doesn’t want to go back to contract, or that an offer will be coming but at a greatly reduced rate. Here again, you see the challenges that come to the author who is unaware of his/her status and support and sales. I receive notes frequently from authors who are blindsided by the news that the publisher is no longer interested in seeing future works.
That’s business, pure and simple. It’s about the bottom line. Before you bash the publisher for that, ask yourself if you really want to form or keep a strategic alliance with a publisher who isn’t fiscally sound. You want your publisher to be wise and prudent and responsible. If not, the publisher won’t stay in business. That’s the real bottom line.
So how do you recognize the downward spiral? Look at the example. If you’re seeing shrinking numbers and you’re told that the market is shrinking, that’s a sign. The market is changing and fast. But it is reshaping. A few years ago, digital sales barely impacted overall sales. Then they exploded. And in many areas, our collective tipping point has been reached and we’re selling more digital than print books.
The author who willingly remains in the dark on the market and on how his/her books are doing relative to the market risks finding him or herself deep in the spiral. It takes time and effort, but it’s a good investment in your career to assess and reassess.
3. Authors, not just their books, grow and change.
You’re not the person you were when you started writing, or the person you were twenty, ten, or five years ago. You’re not the person you were yesterday. You are the person you are now, today, and your interests and desires and purpose for writing changes.
If you don’t assess yourself and reassess on a regular basis and not just when necessity gives you no choice, are you best serving yourself?
That might seem like an odd question, but it’s at the very heart of you, the human being, and that makes it critical. Not important, not a suggestion that would be beneficial to follow (though it is), it’s critical. Why?
As we experience and age, what most matters to us changes. If we don’t assess, we miss the opportunities afforded us by the wisdom gained in our personal journey through life. We might start our career writing x type books but something happens and we feel driven to write about it even though it’s very different than anything we’ve written thus far.
The key word is driven. That’s a signal that we’re passionate about this new type of book. And that passion and drive are signals that we’re hitting upon purpose. While purpose can be physical, emotional or spiritual–and certainly can be all three–we might not make the connection between writing to our purpose and our personal sense of fulfillment and accomplishment–to success.
I’ve known many authors. Some define success by money. But for most, money isn’t enough. It takes more to reach the contentment zone–a sense of purpose and worth in what you’re doing. The earlier you recognize this and factor it into your decisions, the fewer regrets you have later on.
Some experts recommend you assess your career once a year. Others suggest you have a five year plan. I say, assess it as frequently as you must to stay confident you’re doing what you need to be doing to reach your vision of success.
I’ve always had a five-year plan that includes writing goals and publishing goals. But I have to tell you that the market is changing so quickly, five years ago it was hard to imagine that the market and landscape in publishing would look as it does today.
More changes are on the horizon, and a lot closer. That makes a five-year plan still valuable and the annual plan valuable, but it also offers the author the insight that even more frequent assessments are in the author’s best interests.
Understand that when I speak of a five-year plan, or an annual plan, I speak of a plan that addresses me on all levels–physical, emotional and spiritual. While some things change at the speed of light, some remain steadfast, but one’s approach to them requires modification. Things happen that impact methods and means everyday.
The benefit of staying in touch with yourself and aware of who you are and what you want and how you plan to get it is I hope clear. Will things always work out as planned? No. Actually, rarely. But because you’re focused and aware, more of what you’re after will be accomplished, and for real life, that’s pretty good.
PRACTICAL TIPS ON SHIFTING GENRES
Genre-Blending. I’m a huge fan of genre-blending. Combining common elements from two or three different but compatible genres. My favorites are suspense, mystery and romance—and in all my novels, regardless of how they’re classified by publishers, you’ll find those three elements.
It all starts at author theme. Every author has a theme. The type of story that the author is naturally drawn to write. Example. Maybe you like small town, redemption stories. Other world fantasies where the kingdom, planet, galaxy is spared. Look at your body of work and you’ll recognize certain common bonds. My common bonds: suspense, mystery, and a little romance—healing themes.
It takes all of that for me to love a book enough to write it, and that holds true regardless of genre. I’ve written everything from books classified as science fiction, fantasy, military, suspense, psycho-thrillers, romance, romantic suspense—well, just about everything but horror, and no matter which book is it, those four things are in it.
So first identify your author theme. Then look at your common elements.
The important thing to remember isn’t that you can’t combine elements from different genres. You can. I’ve done it my whole career. The important thing is to combine the elements from the different genres in the way that best serves the story you want to tell.
You don’t give each element the same story weight. If you do, you end up with a book that is not. In my case, that’d be a book that is not a romance, is not a suspense novel, is not a mystery. Books that are not are hard sells because they give a bit to all and not enough to none.
So look at the story you want to sell, determine which element best serves it, and give that element dominate focus. Then bring in your other elements (genres) in a subordinate position. One that mirrors or echoes the main element and reinforces it but doesn’t compete with it for more attention.
That’s the scoop on genre-blending, and the most effective method I know on doing it successfully.
Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly 30 novels, four nonfiction books, and hundreds of articles published in as many as 63 countries. She’s recognized by Who’s Who in the World as an author and as an educator. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.
I think genre blending is a great idea. Taking elements from different genres can make a story very interesting. It’s not like you’re writing children’s books, then suddenly writing erotica. LOL. I write mostly paranormal romance, but decided I would write a light horror story. I had so much fun writing that book. And it also had an element of romance to it, so I was still sort of within my romance genre. I think we need to expand and try new things. It helps us grow. Great post, Vicki!
I’m sorry you’re having to deal with the hurricane. I’m sending out good thoughts to you!
Thanks, Lauralynn. Appreciate the good thoughts on the hurricane. We’re spared, save tornado watches, which we’re under now, and rain, but my extended family isn’t so lucky this time.
Writing should be fun and interesting and entertaining–definitely. And wholeheartedly agree on expanding and trying new things. We put it in so readers can get it out, you know? So we need to be eager!
Vicki, thank you so much for such an informative post, and for taking the time to come in and comment today when things are crazy. I learned as much from your well-thought out answers as I did the post!
Great post! Susie sent me!
Genre blending is a great description. I write sexy contemporary romances with alpha males set in fabulous settings – nothing like real life – except – the issues my protagonists need to overcome on the road to happiness are very relevant to today’s women. My heroine is always financially independent, career oriented and not looking for lurve. She’s not promiscuous, but is happy to have a physical relationship with the hero. However, she isn’t looking for ‘the one’ so when the hero is dreaming of ever after, she’s not having it.
I also write a futuristic vampyre saga set in an urban future. The heroine is, yep, a career oriented, highly successful woman who happens to be a witch. The hero is, yep, an alpha vampyre who runs the world’s largest pharmaceutical company manufacturing blood products. When they come together it’s fusion of the nuclear variety. At the moment, I’m in the middle of the Vampyre Legal Chronicles, novellas set in the present day to set up the main futuristic series when it comes out next year. I’m having the time of my life and hope the reader will too. On my blog/author page and in my books it’s made clear I write in both genres. It feels like a busman’s holiday when I switch from one to the other and keeps my writing fresh.
I hope the hurricane hasn’t caused too much hassle for you, Vicki!
It does keep the writing fresh and that keeps us interested and readers, too. Some want the same story over and again, but others come to expect we’ll be pushing the boundaries on something.
Years ago, my agent phoned and said, “When I open an envelope from you, I never know what’s going to be inside, but I know it’s going to be good.”
For a writer, can it get any better than that? She trusted me to give my best and was wide open to whatever I wanted to explore. That’s special. We need to have that kind of attitude about ourselves and our work, IMHO. Sounds as if you do, and I’m glad to hear it. 🙂
CC – love the description of your books/characters, and I love how you write in two different genres. I didn’t realize you wrote about vampires as well. The plot you’ve come up with sounds very cool, and if you love it, readers will too. Thanks for stopping by!
Lauralynn – I agree. Crossing genres is a great way to build and audience, and Vicki does a great job of explaining how to do it.
Those are great points. I had written a bunch of short stories before deciding which one to expand into a book. The one that I picked was based on gut instinct and nothing else. Afterward, I heard that there was an author that had gone gang busters with paranormal fiction.
My plan is to get it out there while the topic is hot. In the meantime I just keep plowing (plodding?) through the rewrite. It has to be good or it won’t matter what genre it is in. Right? 🙂
Thanks for coming to the blog party today! I hope you make a lot of new friends!
Susie, I firmly believe that a book will find its audience no matter what, no matter when. If we dare to write it, those it’s intended for, those who need it–nothing will keep it from them. I had an experience years ago, where I wrote what we’d now call a paranormal (time travel) novel. Then there weren’t paranormals and that book was delayed for years in selling and then in being published. But when it was, an incident occurred with a woman who had lost a pseudo-child to suicide and couldn’t find her way back to life. She did in reading that book and got in touch. From that moment until this one, I haven’t given a thought to missing the window or the market being dry or glutted. I believe with every fiber of my being that those who need the book will find it. So you just write what matters to you. It’ll work out exactly when it’s supposed to work out and in the way it’s supposed to work out. Just make sure you write with purpose and you’re covered. I’ve experienced proof of it. 🙂
Wow! How cool is that!
Thanks so much Vicki! It is still in the ever evolving rewrite stage…
You’re welcome, Susie. I’ve gotten quite a few visits but have been busy all day. Need to start reciprocating:)
Wonderful post Vicki. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of experience and knowledge. So helpful when going forward. I love the idea of genre-blending because there are so many different aspects that I love by a variety of genres. You open up the world of infinite possibility. Here’s to your continued success!
Thank you, Natalie. 🙂 I’m so glad you see something of value in this. We are limited only by our imagination–and our courage. It helps if we don’t fear failure, or success. I have a feeling you’ve already discovered that there is value in both and neither is lethal–or permanent! LOL! Natalie, dream huge. Seriously.
Allan G. Smorra
Thank you for this insightful post. I found it on Susie’s site.
My privilege and pleasure, Allan. And my gratitude to Susie. 🙂
Hi Allen! Thank you for stopping by!
Natalie, thanks as always. So glad you enjoyed.
Fantastic insight, Vicki. I love your point about authors growing and changing. I’d rather continue to develop as a writer than stay within a particular niche out of stubbornness or ignorance. I also think variety spices things up, and can keep our writing fresh. And you’re so right about recognizing what genre our book’s in early on. Doing so would’ve saved me lots of effort and struggle early on.
August, thank you. We get caught up in what we’re doing and what’s expected from us and forget that we’re not the same people we were ten years ago–or even yesterday. We’re who we’ve become, and naturally that carries over into the work. How could it not? I hear you on the effort and struggle. It’s why I share, trying to spare others those specific mud puddles. We don’t all have to trudge through the same one, right?
Thanks for the illuminating post, Vicki and Stacy. Too often we’re told what we can’t do, but this post is telling that we can. We can blend genres, we can have control over our career, we can be flexible in an ever-changing industry. Gives me hope.
You’re very welcome, Tameri. And I agree with Vicki – always have hope and BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. That is a constant challenge but it goes a long way. Thanks!
August – love your comment. If we can’t grow as writers then there is really no point. Thanks.
I’m glad, Tameri, because you should have hope. Lots of hope. Authors have more opportunities and more choice now than ever before. We just have to be gutsy enough to seize them. Go for it!
Vicki, this is great advice. So often new authors are told to “know their genre” and yes, that’s helpful. But it also can be like putting on a straight jacket that makes it impossible to write outside the boundaries.
I love thrillers. Pets are my life. And medical issues fascinate me as well as psychology and relationships (people AND pets) so my fiction reflects all of that. Basically I wrote the book I wanted to read. Hopefully others will, too. Thanks for your post “giving us permission” to take off the straight jacket.
Hey Vicki, great post and spot on!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Debra!
Amy – I love your analogy of the genre being like a straight jacket at times. It’s easy to feel trapped on occasion. So glad to hear you wrote the book YOU wanted to read. That’s still the best writing advice I’ve ever received!
Regan Black (@ReganBlack)
Excellent article, Vicki! You are so right about authors needing to know themselves, and the goals that matter most as they make career decisions. All the best!
“It takes more to reach the contentment zone–a sense of purpose and worth in what you’re doing.” This is so true, Vicki. There has to be some other fulfillment beside mere money, or it’s hardly worth doing.
” Look at your body of work and you’ll recognize certain common bonds.” I think this is great advice! Most of what I write does have some common themes, regardless of what genre. But it never occured to me that this could be a sort of brand. Brillant!
Hi Cynthia – so glad you liked the post. I loved the part about the contentment zone as well as the common bonds. Vicki’s post came at a great time for me. Thanks!
Regan – Thanks so much for stopping by!
Susie – I have to thank Piper for connecting me with Vicki. I’ve had a lot of help from my WANA friends with this:)
what a good interview, ladies. Vicki I hope you’re safe now that Isaac is blowing itself out. as usual this has your high level of quality, practical information. thx.
Hi Louise! So glad you enjoyed the guest post. Vicki has a lot of great info. Thanks!
Fantastic end to this series, Stacy!! Love the post, Vicki…but then I’m a huge fan. 🙂
Thank you! I loved the post as well. Glad you enjoyed:)
Really enjoyed your post, Vicki. Loved your points about knowing yourself and your goals 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathy!
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