Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reinventing Yourself

The goal of most writers is to have longevity in this business. We want that career that spans decades and you continually have those followers who are always excited about your latest release. Unfortunately, to have that longevity requires authors to always be looking at ways to adapt and reinvent themselves. In other words, the writers need to evolve over time.

I do find it interesting that when we talk about the idea of reinventing our writing career, bloggers, articles and workshops often speak of taking off in a completely new direction. We're not taking about small changes but complete reversals from what we have been doing. Why would authors have to do this? The answer is simple. They waited too long to make that change. They got to the point that the career was getting ready to completely go over the cliff into oblivion.

I remember early on in the agency, I met a writer who had a kicking career in chick lit. She had a great following and great numbers. She even had a chance to slightly evolve that great voice she had into the paranormal with some great chick lit/vampire series. But then the bottom dropped out. The term chick lit was no longer a term you wanted to be associated with and she was done. Now here is the problem with her situation. We all saw the signs that this genre was going away. She was already heading in the direction of the paranormal with the vampire stories. But she didn't evolve that way. Instead she attempted to "reinvent herself" and she dove into the romantic suspense genres. And she failed.

Her failure came from a lack of understanding this genre well enough. Shifting into something this drastic was just like her starting from scratch. Her readers didn't follow her because these were people who liked that "snarkiness" of the chick lit, or liked the uniqueness of the vampire and the paranormal. They weren't into the romantic suspense.

In reality, there is never a reason to completely reinvent yourself and to take on a new persona, IF, you are paying attention to the market, paying attention to your readers, and finding ways to make the changes slowly.

Let me give you an example from a historical author I work with. She is knee-deep in Regency, but there have been times that the market shifted and people were shying away from that time period (it didn't last long). So what did she do? She shifted her time focus. Moving it ahead a few years and plopping her stories in the Georgian Period or moving it later into the Victorian period. This might not seem like a drastic change, but it was enough to "reinvent" herself long enough to work through the time period. She is doing it once again by moving the stories outside of England. No, it is not a drastic change, but over time, she has been inching her characters bit by bit into other regions. They stay a little longer, they interact with the population a little more. The book she just wrapped up now took place entirely in France - an area normally considered "off limits" in historical writing. Why did that shift work? It was a slow reinvention where she kept one foot in the familiar and one into that new area. I should also say, her readers were loving it and now ask for more of the stories in these different time periods. Instead of starting from scratch, she is picking up a wider range of readers along the way.

I will say, if you do find yourself in the position like that earlier writer I spoke of, not only did you wait too long, but you need to stop and consider what type of reinvention you want to take on. My recommendation is to not go in a completely different direction, but to find what it was your readers liked with that first genre and then find a way to adapt that into something new. Not only will you keep your readers, but learning the new genre will not be such a chore.

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