Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Write What You Know

We have all heard that expression before. We need to write from what we know. We write from our own experiences. Unfortunately, in this business of publishing, I have seen far too many authors ignoring these rules they tell others to do. Authors are now writing from what they know.

What do I mean? This is the whole issue of trying to write in that newest and hottest trendy genre. Authors are always jumping ship on their current work in progress when they read an article, or hear and editor or agent talk about the hottest new trend. Time and time again, I have heard authors say "I heard Editor X is really looking for a story about [fill in the blank]. I have this great idea for a project that might work so I am going to go and write it." WRONG!!!!

Now there are several problems with this statement. The first is, when we as editors and agents say something like that, we are hoping that someone already has a project along those lines. We aren't looking to wait 3-6 months to find it. That opportunity will be gone and we will have moved on to a new idea. But the second issue, with doing this is the bigger issue. Does the author have any experience in that genre.

I am going to use YA and New Adult as the model for this discussion, but it can really extend to any other genre out there. When these two genres really took off, a ton of authors started diving into writing their versions. For many, however, they had no experience with this age group. Sure, they were this age a while ago, but that was it. Many didn't have kids in the house this age, they weren't working in careers around this age group. They weren't even reading this genre. They were completely isolated from it. But now, they believed they would immerse themselves into this genre.

When authors do this, the stories become too forced and too cliche. The characters say and do things that seem so out of place. All of this stems from the author really lacking a true understanding of the genre. There is much more to a New Adult novel than simply a college student worrying about dating and getting a job. It is a mindset.

I have always found it interesting how many authors submit stories for me for lines within Harlequin because the genre and word count fit, but when you ask the author how much they read of the line, you find they haven't really read it before. They read other genres or they read single title. This tells me a lot.

You might be wondering if you can learn to write in a different genre and the answer is a resounding yes. You certainly can, but it takes time to really learn the genre well. It takes time to figure out the little nuances that make it special and unique. When you spend the time reading the genre, you do see those common phrases and patterns, but more importantly, you start to see WHY the author used those techniques and WHY that technique had an impact on the story.

When editors and agents tell you to "read what we produce" there is a reason to it. Despite what some of the authors think out there that this is just a subversive ploy to increase sale, the reality is they are trying to help you. They want you to find that perfect match to the publisher.

Maybe, just maybe, if you start listening to that suggestion and write what you read, you might find those rejection letters decreasing and maybe get "the call" you have been hoping for.

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