Tweet chat 12th February 2021 Choosing your writing genre

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Participants: Gerald Hornsby, Elizabeth Holland, Maria Johnson, Anita Belli, Bradley Galimore, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Mordecai P. Martin, JD Sanderson, Rik Lonsdale, Angela Nurse, Kirsten Hesketh, Deborah Klée


Maria: I’m based in NW England. My main genre is historical fiction with two Celtic era novels published. I also have a fantasy/mystery novel for older children and adults

Gerald: I write one-off thrillers and crime series novels. I also write dark short fiction (horror / supernatural / crime / whatever).

Bradley: I write narrative poetry that genre bends. I have written fantasy, romance, sci-fi, philosophical and lyrical poetry (just to name some from the top of my head). All of which maintain being narrative poetry. 

Elizabeth: I’m Elizabeth from Kent, England. I write romance

Anita: I write both Contemporary and Historical Romance.

Kathleen: Kathleen Marple Kalb. I’m published in cozy historical mystery, but I also write contemporary mysteries…none sold so far. I also have a series on @chanillo featuring a nice suburban mom who’s also a hired killer. Not sure what to call that!

Deborah: I write contemporary women’s fiction although I argue that it is relationship drama and do not know why this gets labelled women’s fiction if written by a woman but not when it’s written by a man.

Mordecai: I work largely in a magical realist vein, trying to find connections and productive overlap between the fantastical or impossible and the ordinary. I dabble in Science Fiction or “The New Weird”

Kirsten: Hi I write contemporary uplit as Kirsten Hesketh and historical saga as Poppy Cooper

What influenced your choice of genre? The market, your story, your preferred reading and did you know what genre you were writing in when you started out?

Anita: I learned to write at Film School in London back in the 80’s. My first novel was a rewrite of a film script which had intrigued me for a while and had success as a short film. It became The Art Forger’s Daughter and I had no idea what genre it was. I followed The Art Forger with an epic love story of the Spanish Civil War – I was living in Andalucia at the time. Then I re-found my romcom voice. The lightness of touch and humour suits me better at the moment.

Deborah: That is a good point. What is happening in our life can affect the genre we choose to write in.

Maria: My story. I’ve had the MC of my first 3 #histfic books in my head since I was 7 so I when I started writing I knew it would be this genre, I just had to pick when. I also love historical fiction in general, bringing the past to life and interweaving it with your story.

Gerald: Preferred reading. I started out writing horror, but I wasn’t very good at it. I read a lot of horror (King, Koontz, Laymon, F Paul Wilson). I also read a lot of crime, and I felt more at home writing it. Same with political thrillers.

Rik: I agree with this. Our early reading must have an impact on us.

Kathleen: I’ve always been a series mystery fan. I love the way solving the crime is the “episode,” and the characters and their romances and relationships have longer arcs. Ended up in the “cozy” side because of content…I’m not the blood or clothes on the floor girl.

Angela: That makes sense I like the middle road crime – procedural and series stuff as well as cosy crime

Maria: For my fantasy novel #lottieslocket, I just really wanted to give fantasy a go. It started out as a #nanowrimo project which I use to give different genres a go. I loved writing it

Elizabeth: My preference influenced me. I’ve loved romances for as long as I can remember and whenever I’m reading a book I’m always looking (and hoping) for a romance to occur.

Rik: It’s a difficult story to write that has no romance in it. Even the dystopia I’m writing has some

Bradley: In all honesty, the genre chose itself. When I started writing (seriously), I found myself questioning reality in a philosophical way. The free verse I was approaching this in was too broken for prose and the discussion avoided the fluff prose usually carries.

Mordecai: I would say I’m primarily influenced by the type of writing that flows out of me most naturally. That is, I take the path of least resistance and say “What is the story that’s inside me today” as opposed to writing something in line with a particular market or genre

Deborah: I think that is the way to get a good story but sometimes the commercial world works against this freedom.

Mordecai: Absolutely, and I have the fortune for this early moment in my writing career of not needing to market my writing in a particular way, of not needing to fit into a saleable box. I don’t think that makes my writing better, just different.

Rik: My dreadful, dark and unspeakable imaginings. Otherwise, I’m quite a nice bloke!

JD I grew up on Star Trek and classic sci-fi books. But then I saw The OA on Netflix. I saw the first season and said “That. I want to do THAT in a book.” An earnest look at character-driven sci-fi that wasn’t reliant on the world ending. I knew it was for me.

Bradley: Preparing “publishable” poetry collections are a ridiculously complicated conundrum that I’d love to discuss in full one day. 

Mordecai: I’ve never entirely understood working toward Genre goals, as in hoping to hit specific notes. How can you know what a story is before you write it? But of course, there are other approaches, that I’m hoping to learn from.

Rik: It’s not about hitting goals as hitting reader expectations. Worth checking out Story Grid about this.

Mordecai: I must admit, I get very wary of writing advice that markets itself like Story Grid. While I understand that there is value in abstracting reader’s expectations into general guidelines, I worry about the advice becoming an orthodoxy that can’t be strayed from.

Rik: That’s not how it works. It’s not a list of rules, but a collection of observations about what happens in books which are successful.

Kirsten: I wrote my first contemporary novel and then @HodderBooks offered my a deal to write two histfic novels set in WW1 – a period I find so fascinating that how could I say no?!

What do you need to take into consideration when writing for a specific genre? Are there different rules for different genres and how do you get this right?

Gerald: Oh God, yes. There are such stringent rules, especially within popular genres. You can write what you like, and what you feel you need to create, but if you’re looking for commercial success in a popular genre, you need to know ALL about that genre.

Mordecai: For me, I think the most productive question when writing in a particular genre, the one that generates, not rules, but writing, is “What is the tradition you’re working in? What is the conversation among these books that you’re joining?”

Deborah: That is a good point. There is a tradition for each genre and an expectation of the reader. If we fail to meet that expectation as an author we can lose readers.

JD: Science fiction to me, is the best way to explore the human condition. I explore how we deal with progress as well as adversity in smaller-scale stories. I don’t think there are any rules – except to keep it real. Real characters. Avoid tropes. My rules, I guess.

Maria: I think there aren’t too many rules, just the obvious for that genre eg historical fiction being based on history somehow there might be typical styles and features (eg HEA being synonymous with romance) to consider.

Mordecai: for readers/editors/buyers, it lets you know, “is this book anything like the last book that I quite liked?” and for writers it’s a much more complicated conversation about who you’re writing for, WHY you’re writing, What you want to accomplish

What are the pros and cons of writing in more than one genre?

Elizabeth: I think challenging yourself to write in more than one genre can only improve your skills and overall lead to better stories! I really like the idea of writing under a pen name! Perhaps one day.

Deborah: Interesting point about using a different name if you publish in a different genre. It could mean twice the amount of work marketing though.

Kirsten: It can be tricky but i use the same twitter account for both and say ‘Kirsten Hesketh writing as Poppy Cooper’ where necessary. I hope it’s not too confusing for the reader. 

Maria: Yes, I just posted about this! ‘Maria Johnson’ is my pen name & couldn’t face the idea of having to start again lol. Plus unless it’s a genre that really wouldn’t appeal to both your audience keeping the same brand can help growth as your readers may try the other stuff.

Elizabeth: That’s definitely another option! I think we’ll find that with social media presence being such a big part of writing these days that more authors will publish different genres but under the same name. At least I hope they do

Kirsten: That would be much easier, wouldn’t it?! Still, I quite like being Poppy as well as Kirsten – it’s fun!

Gerald: I think it depends on how ‘separate’ you wanted them to be. I market my Jack Warwick thrillers under my accounts. I don’t know if people know it’s me or not, but I do say in the front of the books that Jack Warwick is my pseudonym.

Kathleen: I think we’re back to reader expectations. What do yours expect of you? If it’s fairly close, they’ll probably follow…if not, you may want a pen name. But it’s good to grow and stretch, as @EHollandAuthor said!

Bradley: Pros: Wider audience reach. You have a larger range of readers because your work CAN (not always) appeal to more people. Cons: Smaller BASE audience. Your work can lack fundamental properties of one genre (or the other) that readers love. That can be a turn off. 

Is there a genre you would like to try writing? What is your plan/strategy for the genre of future publications and why?

Gerald: This is a good question! I’ve tried long-form horror, I’ve tried fantasy, I’ve tried romance and I’ve tried humour. None of them were any good. I keep coming back to the genres I know and understand. I would like to take a year or two ‘off’ to write literary fiction.

Anita: This would be great! I would love to write that epic LitFic which lurks in the hidden corners of my mind!

Deborah: I had an idea for a historical novel set in Marrakesh many years ago. I would love to write it someday.

Elizabeth: I’m interested in supernatural. As a teen I loved writing short supernatural stories. When I eventually try it I’ll focus on a romance and build the supernatural world around it. Hopefully, that will encourage my romance readers to take a chance on it!

Mordecai: I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at just about anything, if the story is there in my mind! I plan to keep writing the work that comes to me, and doing my best to carve out a space for that writing.

Maria: I’d love to try a classic whodunnit/murder mystery. I really enjoyed incorporating a mystery plotline like this into my fantasy novel but I’d love to try an old school murder in a mansion type thing. Might do it as my next #nanowrimo project

Gerald: That sounds great, @MariaJauthor. One of my biggest problems when writing crime is tying up loose ends, and the red herrings – trying to imagine the reader, and giving them just enough to suspect the wrong character without making it implausible.

Anita: I am keen to get back to writing something historical and fairly epic. I have a few ideas. At the moment I am doing creative writing programmes for children in junior school. I would also love to write history for this age group.

Bradley: Screenwriting. #LENNY is a genre bend of poetry into screenwriting. There is always the issue of is it too much emotionally for a drawn-out period of time. My plan is to continue reading/studying experimental approaches and continue pushing the genre!

Kathleen: I love the relationships and romance and drama of book club or women’s fiction…sometime, I will probably try one, just for fun! But I’m really happy in series mystery. My dream is to have two or three going someday.

While you are here you might like to browse my blogs or find out about my books.