Me, I used to think I was just a romance writer. Then I discovered after some soul searching that I wasn’t. I was something different. The type of writer you are will actually influence your voice and style. Trying to fit into a genre you might not fit in can cause you grief as you struggle with why you seem to have trouble with flow or that editors reject it. Even those who have the best-laid writing goals with leeway can go awry when that happens. Or in my case, they crash upon you until you’re considering giving up writing. The proverbial light bulb went off when I read a recent article on the various categories for the romance genre decided by the Romance Writers of America (RWA www.rwanational.org). Reading the attributes of that category caused me to ask myself, “What kind of writer am I?”
How do you describe the genre you write? Can you tell me what major characteristics your writing voice has? If you’re looking at the fiction writing market, can you give me an example of other authors in your field? Do you know where your voice is strongest when you write a story? What recurring elements seem to come up in your writing?
These were a few of the questions I asked myself when I felt like I had come to a standstill. You’d think I’d have been riding high as I had sold my first book, had a nice contract with the publisher for a couple more. Yet, for all that success, I felt like I was adrift in my writing. For the first time in my life, I had no idea if I could write anything of value or if I could even produce a second book in the series for my contract. It was a surprise to me that the only thing I was enjoying writing were some semi-technical, nonfiction articles. When I mentioned a bit of my frustration to some fellow writers, they wondered if I was burned out with having written so much over a short time period. All I knew was that I felt lost within the genre where I had started my writing career. There had to be an answer to my problem somewhere.
How we perceive ourselves reflects in how we present ourselves to others. When you tell people that you write romance, what qualifiers do you add? When asked what kind of romance you write, how do you describe it? If you write chick lit, what kind do you write? What about suspense? Are there any special elements that regularly appear in your work that establish why you’re in that specific genre or sub-genre? What perception do others get from reading your work?
When I took the time to ask myself those questions, ask friends, and be honest in reading my work, I finally realized that my designation was wrong. Earlier I referred that the shift in my thinking occurred due to an article about the RWA’s new category in promoting women’s romantic fiction. What it did was open my eyes to a simple truth I had overlooked in having my “master plan,” If you hear the name, Nora Roberts, the recognition is that of mainstream romance. The name, Stephen King, brings forth the horror genre. Yet in both of these cases, they have written outside of those genres, sometimes under a pseudonym. Based upon their voice and success, we know their primary niche. We know that they also pen in other genres like science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction, which means that they expanded their niche to include other aspects. So the question is: What is your niche and how much does it encompass?
Niche finding is comparable to discovering your writing voice. Our voice shifts as we grow in our writing. We should expect that as time goes on that we might also expand in other writing directions. In taking an honest look at our prose, we may find that the genre we want to write in might not be the best place to start. This doesn’t mean that we can’t succeed in that area, just that our voice and style have taken us somewhere else for the time being. It might mean that the genre we need to be writing for is one we might be the one we’re avoiding for various reasons.
To see someone take off in another direction during their writing career should make us all question whether or not we’re ready to branch out or change directions. Evaluating our goals and our accomplishments can help in the task. Ask yourself, “Do I find myself bored or worried I’m not going farther in what I’m currently doing?” Some others are, “If I could write anything I wanted, what all would I write?” “Am I writing what I love and could write it for the rest of my life happily?”
In my case, I found myself facing the questions and not enjoying the truth. Why did I feel that way? The answer was comprised of various aspects, but the main one was in how I felt boxed in with what I compose. I felt that my writing wasn’t as good as I thought it should be. Low self-esteem and a fear of being seen as bragging played a big factor. Two friends of mine whom I’d not told of my dilemma until recently helped me to overcome some of those aspects. One had read my book and pronounced he really enjoyed it though it was normally not his cup of tea. The other has always believed in my writing and forced me to think on what was my niche. Truth be told, I was typing away at a nonfiction article when his words sank into my brain and I wondered, “Why am I just a romance writer?”
Lightning crashed outside and the epiphany music crescendoed. My world shifted as the realization occurred that I was only a romance writer because it’s how I saw myself. That was part of that grand goal of mine; I’d first start off in romance, then branch into other genres. What I hadn’t accepted was that the plan had been changed a while back by editor requests for two fantasy novels I had been working on in my spare time. It was a matter of serendipity on how the editor requested them both, but it was enough to cause a cascading reaction which resulted in me clinging to that path out of fear. During the enlightenment, I realized the editor obviously thought enough of my writing in a genre I felt I wasn’t quite ready to enter. Who am I to doubt an editor’s sincere interest? A friend recently asked me what made me think I was a romance writer. There was no good response I could give him. Once again, the truth was forced out into the open. I’m a writer who has romantic elements in her fiction stories. Once I accepted that lovely niche, I realized that it was the perfect fit for who I am.
So how do you discover what’s your niche? It requires that you be honest with yourself. No matter if the answer is something that you feel incapable of doing, it’s important to acknowledge it. Sometimes in taking that initial step, you see the evidence that you were ready but were in denial. Let’s see how to find your niche. You need to answer the following questions honestly. If you find that you’re not sure, ask others who’ve read your material for some assistance.
1. What genre(s) do you mostly read?
2. In that genre, what subgenre do you lean most towards? (Do you read romantic suspense, paranormal romance, erotic romance, high fantasy, urban fantasy, etc.)
3. When you write, what elements occur most often in your writing? (Ex.- paranormal features, hint of mystery, fantasy elements, romance, etc.)
4. Do you find yourself doodling with various ideas that don’t always fit into the same area you want to write?
5. Have you ever felt you were missing something in the stories you’ve created?
6. Have people commented that you should submit to other publishers or write in other genres?
Don’t try to rationalize your answers. It’s extremely important for your success as a writer to be honest with yourself if you’re planning to succeed. The only way to know where you belong is answering truthfully. After you’re finished, read the questions and your answers out loud. Actually hear your words. You might find that there are many things that you seem to enjoy or might be good at. Do you need to branch out because you’ve limited yourself? Or do you have things you could branch out into, but there seems to be too many of them? Consider that some aspects might be related to a specific genre or area. Taking the time to get to the heart of the matter, discerning what you truly want and what you’re good at, you’ll begin to see your current path.
Let’s take a look at my answers and see how I came up with my niche.
1. Romance, paranormal fiction, nonfiction history books, mysteries, erotic romance, crime thrillers, true crime, fantasy, science fiction.
2. Romance- paranormal and erotic. Nonfiction- crime and history. Mystery- forensic science and cozies. Fantasy- sword and sorcery and urban. Science fiction- futuristics, alternate realities.
3. Paranormal, historical references, and forensics, romance elements.
4. Yes. I find myself always going to various ideas outside of the area I target at times.
6. Yes, they have.
Looking at my list, I asked myself, “What themes repeated?” Consistently there was mention of history, paranormal, fantasy, crime and romance. Those are the basic interests I enjoy constantly. I asked myself what themes come up most often in my writing. The answer was love and knowledge. Checking my stories, I looked at how many of them incorporated those elements either separately or in combination. As I did that, I noticed a pattern among my themes and those aspects. Patterns help show your natural tendencies. Did I have a lot of writing that didn’t fall into these categories? If so, was it work I was happy with or was I forcing myself to fit into a preconceived perception? Making those connections, I began to see where I needed to focus as well as where I had to accept the truth. My answers gave me the tools to discern my tendencies as well as my interests. No longer was I limiting myself, but instead, I was free to go in directions I had feared to try before. There was a moment when I recognized that I had grown as a writer and I was capable of finishing those fantasy novels I’d been terrified about.
So, what kind of writer are you? What makes your heart sing when the words flow from your fingertips? Have you grown in your writing and in your tastes in what you compose? Most of us do as we learn more about writing. By being truthful in assessing our writing and our preferences, we can begin to see where our niche lies. Remember just as a snail outgrows its home and needs a new one, we too can find ourselves needing to move on in our writing.