Framing a Career

I'll admit it; I've been tempted to cheat lately. Whenever I read a great historical (such as T.J. Bennett's The Legacy), my mind gravitates toward the stories and characters I once wrote with such love and care and the Klondike Gold Rush proposal I've allowed to gather dust without submitting. After enjoying a friend's YA debut (the delightful Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs) I start thinking of the two (unpublished) young adult manuscripts I wrote while teaching and wondering how much fun it would be to whip them into shape and send them out again. [After reviewing these old manuscripts, I came to the conclusion: not much. I may enjoy a good YA, but my voice is all wrong for it.] And then last fall, after reading Alexis Glynn Latner's captivating Hurricane Moon, I heard the siren call of speculative fiction, where I first cut my teeth reading-and-writing-wise.

So what keeps me from flitting around from genre to subgenre? It's partly an act of self-discipline borne of the idea of framing a career. I want readers looking for a Colleen Thompson novel to come to it with the understanding that they can count on a well-defined reading experience. When I switched to writing romantic suspense, I decided to write what I thought was missing in the genre, well-balanced stories of fast-paced, highly-suspenseful mystery and romance featuring "real people" (as opposed to flatter, kickass, superhero/secret agent types who seem to exist in a vacuum) who've stumbled into the most dangerous trouble of their lives. I don't want to or need to paint by numbers -- rehashing the same story and characters time and time again -- but I have to paint consistently inside the frame to keep attracting and growing the same readership.

Fortunately, the frame's a large, complex one, incorporating elements from suspense, mystery, and romance, three of my favorite genres. Weaving all of these together in 100,000 words has been an incredibly-satisfying challenge. And since I read all over the board, I haven't been afraid to draw on techniques I've gleaned from literary or mainstream writers I admire. If I'd started out with very narrow parameters, I think this I would have bored quickly -- and I imagine readers, too, would do so.

I know there are quite successful writers who are all over the board, working in a number of different genres. If you're a super-fast, very energetic writer who's able to focus on multiple projects at once and promote two or more personas at once, more power to you. But I can only give my best thought and effort to one frame at a time.

So how about you? Do you have a framework constructed for the career you envision? Or are you dallying with several areas, to see which best suits you? Have you adapted your vision over time (as I have) to fit the necessities of the marketplace or your own expanding tastes?


Bonnie Vanak said…
Hi Colleen,

Great blog post. It's refreshing to read an honest account about an author who is finding a niche. I think you found yours in RS, and I do believe you are well on your way to shaping your career and your name so that any genre you write in will be recognized and appreciated by readers.

Me, I'm ... guess I'm like a ping pong ball on acid. Love writing the Egyptian historicals, wrote some erotic romance for EC, and paranormals for Nocturne...oh, those werewolves, I just love my shapeshifting "guys"

I don't see myself as having a real career, mainly because I don't do this fulltime and can't see ever breaking out of midlist, getting to the point where I could support myself solely through writing romance. Just being totally honest.

I do enjoy writing stories and creating characters, and hope readers like what I write. It was gratifying when one did tell me, after reading The Empath, my werewolf book for Nocturne, that she enjoyed it, despite not liking paranormals that much, and she could see my style just as she had in the Egyptian historicals. That was very gratifying to hear.

Good luck!
Thanks so much for the kind words, Bonnie.

I think flexibility and experimenting are good things. I did a lot before I published, and I happily wrote the deep-end-of-the-midlist American-set/Civil War romances until the shifting market forced me to try my hand at something new. After a period of floundering, I found something else I enjoyed even more and offered a better chance at reaching a bigger audience. If you're enjoying what you do, making readers happy, and staying sane, you're well ahead of most, but at some point, you may find that magical spot where you feel ready to devote all your energies.

And by then, you'll have built up a readership and serious good Karma with the wonderful work you do in the day job!

All the best!
Robin said…
This is a great topic, Colleen. I think discipline and focus help a writer build a career. Like you, I've decided to focus on the kind of books I'd like to read but lack elements I think have a place. It would be fun to switch gears and try something new, but I agree that sticking within a genre helps strengthen our writing and builds solid readership. I know my voice is fantasy romance and that's where I intend to stay.
Raz Steel said…
A very interesting blog, Colleen, and allows us an insight into Colleen the writer. Thank you for that.

Building readership is important. Writers accomplish that today by branding themselves, so that readers know what to expect when they pick up a Colleen Thompson book, or soon, a Raz Steel book. When my first book comes out in December, readers will get an idea of what to expect, certainly from my next paranormal.

My interest in writing extends into several genres, and I'll have to work on branding myself so that readers will understand that something will remain constant whether I'm writing paranormal or romantic comedy or women's fiction or urban fantasy or Y/A, yet each voice will have to be distinctive.

Branding ourselves, in one genre or many, is no easy task in today's market. Competition is fierce, publishers react to the numbers, and there's a limited amount of space on the front tables and near the check-out lines of the book stores. Marketing means time and energy beyond writing; we have to find forums to put our names out there so readers can establish brand identification.

I love writing. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I'm excited to have been given the opportunity by Dorchester to establish a career. I'll certainly take advantage of this time.

This is sooooo hard, Colleen! I have those unfaithful tendencies, too. I love writing YA, but when I read a great Regency historical or dark paranormal romance or a gritty romantic suspense set in West Texas, I start getting that itch. Maybe that's a tribute to the author whose work inspires you?

Like you said, if you have time to write (and promote!) both, then why not (thinking Meg Cabot). Or if you've gotten to a point where your fan base in one subgenre is so large that you can afford to tinker in another (thinking Nora).

Great post, Colleen!

Also, I saw a woman in my Starbucks yesterday reading Joni's The Secret Sisters! I was like, "I know her!"

I am an author who dabbles in many genres, and it can be done--BUT I think it's best done at the beginning of your career when no one knows who you are.

In all honesty, I wrote several genres because I had no idea what I would be good at. My "plan" was to submit books in multiple genres, and let the editors and the market decide what I was good at. I figured I'd sell where I had the strongest voice.

Color me amazed when several genres sold at once. So, while I did start out with a plan (half-assed as it was), it didn't work, and there I was with three pseudonyms at three publishers.

Now, I don't really *mind* having all those books published (LOL), but it did catch me out. I'm only just now figuring out how to focus on the best of what I do and stop going every which way.

But then again, I'm glad I did so many things because it gave me the chance to find out what worked, which I might not have if I'd stubbornly clung to one subgenre that my voice was wrong for (and I could have, believe me).

I have, fortunately, stopped saying "I want to write that too!" whenever I read a fantastic book. Writing a novel is a lot of labor anyway--I'm perfectly happy to enjoy other people's work! :-)
Have to leave another comment to say--the exact reason I love Colleen Thompson books is that they are about "real people." I can imagine people I know or even myself having to deal with the nightmares your characters face. It makes the experience that much more intense and personal.

So keep writing 'em, Colleen, and I'll keep reading 'em. :-)
Thanks so much for stopping by, Robin, Raz, Tera, and Jenn!

I don't think there's any one right way to attack (if that's the right word) this business, but it's interesting to consider everyone's strategies and glean what we may. I'm a big believer in stealing what resonates. :)

Thanks for the kind words about my books, Jenn, and Tera, Joni will be glad to hear of a book sighting in the wild! One of my dorky little author fantasies is to run across someone I don't know who's reading one of my books poolside or at the airport. I can't imagine I'd say anything to the person (maybe for fear of the reader flipping to my author photo and yelping, "Wow! You must've had that taking a long, *long* time back!") but I'd sure savor the moment.
Joni Rodgers said…
Ah, Starbuckaroos. These are my people! Thanks for sharing that, Tera Lynn.

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