Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pick One

As many of you know, I write in different genres. At the beginning of Sept I thought I wouldn’t have to choose a genre until my first book was published (regardless of what others have advised) and then I’d stick with that one for awhile. Well, I’ve changed my mind.

I recently attended the American Christian Fiction Writer’s (ACFW) Conference in Denver, CO. When I registered for the conference back in May, one of the questions asked was what genre I write. I’ve written Historical and was starting a Suspense, but most of my manuscripts (mss) are Contemporary so that’s what I wrote down. At the conference, my name badge said, ‘Contemporary’ under my name. But up to that point, I didn’t consider myself strictly a Contemporary writer and had, in fact, brought one-sheets for my Historical ms as well.

During my first agent appt, I guess I had some idea of showing her that I was adaptable because I told her I wrote, ‘Historical and Contemporary, both Inspirational and Secular’. Her response was, ‘Pick one’.

So, I pulled out a Contemporary and proceeded to tell her about it. I won’t go into our conversation here, but let me say I went to lunch thinking of those words, ‘Pick one’.

At the ACFW conference, we get to sit at a table with either an agent or editor and pitch our ms over the course of the meal. For the first such meal, I had no idea who to sit with since I had appts booked with the agent and editor I really wanted to see. I ended up at a table with an editor unknown to me although I was familiar with her publishing house and knew I owned some of their books in my ‘keep’ pile. I just couldn’t remember what they were. After the meal, the editor asked the person beside her what she was writing. I couldn’t hear her answer. We sat 8 to a table and the room was like a gymnasium. With 540 people clinking crockery and talking, the noise drowned out all words except those 2 or 3 people on either side of you. I felt at a distinct disadvantage. I saw one attendee pass a one-sheet to the editor but couldn’t tell what it was for. By the time the editor questioned the lady beside me, I heard the editor say, ‘Historical’ at some point. That was good enough for me. I dropped my hand down to my conference tote and jimmied up my one-sheet for Emma’s Outlaw. When the editor turned to me, I pulled the one-sheet out and passed it to the person on my left who passed it around etc until it reached the editor. She nodded and smiled and read the complete page. I did hear her say she needed 90,000 words whereas my one-sheet said Emma’s Outlaw is 70,000 but I made a stretching motion and told her I could lengthen it. She nodded, asked if she could keep it, and told me to contact her for their guidelines. This was confirmed later by 2 people who sat closer to her because I was having a hard time believing that I heard right – what with all the noise and all. So, interest had been shown in my Historical.

For my next appt, I followed my plan and pitched my Contemporary. After a discussion, the editor said it wouldn’t work for them and asked what else I had. I told her about my different genres and like an echo she said, ‘Pick one’. (More on this editor appt later.)

That night I attended an agent panel. It was with the same agent I saw last year who had requested a partial but I never did submit because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. When the session ended, I talked with her and yes, she’s still interested in Emma’s Outlaw.

So the score was:
- 2 Professionals say pick one genre
- 2 Professionals interested in my Inspirational Historical

Later that night I met up with friends in the Lounge. During at least 3 different conversations, I told them about my appts and every one of them said, ‘Pick one.’ Sigh.

Now 2 things I’ll add in here: Earlier, when I met with the first agent, after reading my one-sheet and listening to me, she said, ‘You can’t write secular’. She explained it to mean I was too ‘inspirational’ to write for the ‘regular’ market. I bristled at her words because after all, I targeted Marry Me Ma’am for Harlequin American. Yet, when I discussed this with my roomie and crit partner later, she said Marry Me Ma’am did have an inspirational tone to it.

Later, Honorary Prairie Chick and Love Inspired author Margaret Daley grasped my hand, looked in my eyes and said, ‘Anita, you are not a secular writer.’

Still later, talking with Honorary Prairie Chick and Seeker Julie Lessman -- who by the way, won the Book of the Year award for a Debut author for A Passion Most Pure – leaned in close, drilled me with her eyes and said, ‘You have to pick one.’

It seemed like every time I opened my mouth, someone was telling me to pick one genre. And so, based on the events at the conference, I have picked: Inspirational Historical Romance.

What does that mean? It means I’ll be lengthening Emma’s Outlaw and then submitting it to the interested editor and agent. It means working on a series with Emma’s siblings which I’ve already started brainstorming with my crit partner. It means getting serious about working with an agent.

It also means shelving my Contemporary mss and wips for the next several years. How that plays out with the recent contests I’ve entered, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Because we’ve covered many topics in this post previously, I have different questions for you today: How many books do you think should make up a series and why? What type of series do you like: Siblings? Friends? Co-workers? Same community but unknown to each other? Same family but different generations?


Deb H said...

hi anita
great post. i understand your wanting to be multi-faceted - but i would say the Lord was really speaking to you through the people at the conference.
i like Cheryl Wyatt's PJ series types (basically manly occupations and the men who find their true loves; like firefighters. of course i'm a sucker for a man in uniform anytime). i also like the family series books that hit all the siblings as they find love with a bit of different generation thrown in.
hmmm,not helping you much there, am I?
i would still love to see the more contemporary MSs you're working on, but that's because i enjoy your writing so much.
i believe the Lord has given you a focus, so go for it and know i'm in the background cheering you on.

Linda Ford said...

Hi Anita,
It was great to see you face to face and get a hug at ACFW. It sounds like the conference was a great experience for you. (It was for me!!).

I can't say how many books should be in a series. Some series seem to be 3 or 4 books and that's all and sometimes enough. Other series go on for 17 books or more. I suppose it mostly depends on editor and reader response.

Linda Ford

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Deb, did you notice on the sidebar where we announce our upcoming guests... Cheryl Wyatt will be here this Saturday! I'm working on her official announcement post now. :)

You did good with the questions. They weren't supposed to 'help' me but rather give an idea of what people like to read.

I already know the books that follow Emma's story will be about her sister (newly widowed) with a small baby, her brother, and if anyone remembers Emma's story at all, I'll be bringing back the sister that was taken as a young child and no one heard from her again. It will close the circle so to speak.

Always a pleasure when you stop in, Deb. :)

Silver James said...

Congratulations, Anita! The conference sounds like it truly opened some avenues for you. I agree with every one. Pick one. Find your true calling and concentrate on it for the time being. Yeah, yeah...this coming from a writer who brands herself as cross-genre. Even though I might write slightly schizophrenic, there is a continuity to my themes. Every paranormal has suspense. Every suspense has a touch of paranormal. And romance is the rope that binds them all together.

I think your EMMA'S OUTLAW is an amazing bit of storytelling and I'm excited you are putting it on the front burner!

Now, to answer your question, I find most series should never be more than six or seven books. There are notable exceptions, but there are also some glaring examples of why a series should be killed. I've noticed a trend toward a three or four book arc/series so that's something to keep in mind.

Good luck with all of this! Sending you many hopeful thoughts.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Linda, it was a highlight to meet you in Denver. :)

I actually have questions for you based on series: I've read 2 of your Love Inspired Historicals about the depression years and have 2 more on my TBR pile. Are they considered a series? Or are they standa-alone books which share the time and setting of the depression years on the prairies? Is that your 'platform'? Will the 2 'cowboy' books you have coming out in 2010 still be during the depression years on the prairies?

LOL - You dropped in to say 'Hi' and I ply you with questions. But I do appreciate you dropping in. Thanks, Linda.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Gee Silver, you were my last holdout. I always felt good about not picking one because I knew there was someone else out there, too. sigh.

You said, 'I've noticed a trend toward a three or four book arc/series so that's something to keep in mind.'
What do you mean by an arc? I haven't heard that term before. Or is it just a newer word for series?

Thank you for the encouragement. :)

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

Why limit a series?

I like an open-ended series of quirky characters based on a loveable community. Janet Tornstad’s “Dry Creek” series is a good example.

In every family series I’ve read there are weak books. With each family book, your options are reduced as to what can happen next. If you develop a community people like reading about, the series can go on forever. Each new book can actually increase your options for the next book as new people move into the community. You also reap rewards, year after year, from your prior research. Good material that was cut from past novels can often be used in future ones. Then, of course, there are the annual ‘Christmas in’ books.

One good series like this can a ‘career’ make! Just get that first book down perfect!

Good luck.


Karyn Good said...

Glad to hear there's interest for Emma's Outlaw! I'm sure you'll stretch it into a winner. ;)

I love books that are part of a series. And like Vince said, it all comes down to the quality of the writing and doing justice to continued multiple stories and keeping them fresh. If you can do that you've got it made.

I see my wip Common Ground as part of a series of stand alone stories centered around a group of friends living in the small town of Aspen Lake. The idea of a series appeals to me. Now I just need to do the ideas justice. :)

Back to revising!

Anita Mae Draper said...

You know Vince, I was actually thinking of Janet Tronstad's Dry Creek series as well as Debra Clopton's Mule Hollow series when I posed the questions. Both are long-running series based on communities with fascinating people. Usually I'll wait for a series to be complete before I read the books in it, but with those 2 series, I eagerly anticipate each eHarlequin shipment those books are in. Thank goodness, too or I'd be waiting years for their completion, eh. :)

I never thought of familial series as being limited but now I see what you mean. Hmmm... I'll have to think on that.

Excellent points, Vince. Thank you for sharing.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good work, Karyn. Actually, as soon as you mentioned the group of friends living in the small town of Aspen Lake the thought occured that Common Ground would be an ideal title for the series itself. But it's probably too simplified I think.

Let me know if you're going to have a chat/brainstorming session on this one. I'd love to be in on it as the ideas are already churning. LOL

Oh, I have to stop thinking about yours and get back to mine. I didn't realize it until yesterday that when I shortened the name from An Outlaw for the Lady to Emma's Outlaw I made it sound like Vicki Bylin's Abbie's Outlaw. Yikes!

The main difference is that hers is a Harlequin Historical - a secular publication - whereas mine would be Inspy Historical. The editors said last year it was okay like that but I don't want Vicki to think I'm copying her. Oh wait - isn't imitation the best form of flattery or something? Yeah - that's it. :O

Janet C. said...

Great post, Anita. And such good news about the conference. Good luck with Emma's Outlaw - let us know if you change up the title.

Series - I love reading series. I don't like reading a book and then discovering it's a series and then having to find the others and/or waiting 12 years for the next one to come out (Clan of the Cave Bear). Or finding out it's a series and I've read the second last one - but, I still go and find the others and read them anyway.

How many? 3 or 4 works for me although I have read longer series. I find it's hard to continue with the story and keep it fresh and exciting over a long book list.

I love series mostly because I get to catch up with the characters from previous books (kind of spy on their 'happily ever after'). And I love it even more if those previous characters have a small part to play where their happily ever after is in jeopardy.

Helena said...

Sounds like you had to be on your toes to catch all the hints, subtle and definitely not-so-subtle, at the conference. Good job!

I agree that the community type of series allows the most scope, and as long as there are some recurring families or characters (minor in one becoming major in the next) I think readers like them a lot.

Having said that, I have a plan of sorts to extend my story into a short series (three in total) involving the other two girls, friends of Fiona. Right now that seems wa-a-y down the road.

Being a genre-hopper myself (hopping out of romance, and even out of fiction at times), I think I have to take heed from your experience with the "Pick One" mantra.

Very good post today, Anita, with lots to think about.

Molli said...

Good post, Anita. Congrats on the interest in your outlaw, and good on you for being so prepared and quick to ad lib at the table. As for the advice to 'pick one', I can see how that would get you established and move you forward initially in the publishing world, but I wouldn't consider it a long-term limitation. My advice would be go with your heart for the first few, and if it can multi-task once you're on your way, then bonus!

How long should a series be? As long as it takes to tell the story, and no longer. My thoughts on the series approach tend to parallel Vince's comments. The only peeve I have is where one or more characters continue in a protagonist role ad infinitum and each story focuses on major changes in them as individuals rather than weaving them in as a unifying factor in the ongoing action. Like Janet, I enjoy catching up with former characters in some of my favourite ongoing series, but, for me, catch up it should be rather than a prolongued or detailed examination. Just my two cents of course.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, when I read this: How many? 3 or 4 works for me although I have read longer series. I find it's hard to continue with the story and keep it fresh and exciting over a long book list.
LOL - that's because you've got ADHD, maybe? Seriously, I think it depends on how the author's presented it. I've read some trilogies where I had a hard time remembering and I think it's because the characters weren't memorable. I guess they didn't read Karyn's post yesterday. :O

I know what you mean about checking up on characters' lives in the next book. I'm reading a series right now - an inspirational historical pirate series by M.L. Tyndall (Marylu Tyndall) in which Book 2 carries on with the same 2 characters in Book 1. This book starts 3 yrs after the first one. The 2 main characters have married and she's 5 mos pregnant when disaster strikes again. At the end of the 1st chapter, they're separated with each thinking the other is dead. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I like the characters as well as the secondary characters that have continued on from the 1st book but I don't like them thinking the other is dead, you know? But I'm really loving this swashbuckler of a series. I keep looking at the spine and can't believe I'm reading the publishing company right.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hi Helena, your possible series with the friends sounds interesting. I've read some good ones including one by our own Lois Richer who uses friends and a common setting to weave the story. Good luck with it. I'll be looking forward to reading it 'down the road'. :)

Thank you.

Erika said...

Great post Anita. It sounds like you met a lot of interesting people and received a lot of advice.

As far as series go, I like a lot of different types. I like the sibling thing. I like the same community thing. I like it when the characters in a series are thrown together to work out a difficult situation and become friends because of it.

I guess I like to know the character in the next book. I don't like to be thrown into a whole different person who may have only been glanced over in the previous book. I want to have a little insight into each character before diving into "their" book.

Linda Ford said...

You do have questions. I will try to answer. My Depression Era stories are a series only in that they are all in the same era. The cowboy stories are from the 1800s so I will be alternately between the 2 eras. I am working on a series that will all take place on the same ranch so characters will pop up that the reader has met before.

One thing I dislike about some series is when the 3rd or 4th or whatever number of book I am reading spends half the pages bringing me up to speed on characters from previous books. I will not be doing that in my series.

It was my pleasure to meet you at Denver.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Molli, yes, I understand what you're saying about branching out of your genre after awhile because it's going to be hard to keep me writing strictly historical.

Of course the other wrench is that Wild Rose Press is interested in Marry Me Ma'am as a contemporary secular but if I change it to inspirational, they may not be. But then again, they may just send it over to White Rose Publishing which is their inspirational division. I dunno and I'm not going to worry about it until I get Emma's Outlaw emailed out.

The only peeve I have is where one or more characters continue in a protagonist role ad infinitum and each story focuses on major changes in them as individuals rather than weaving them in as a unifying factor in the ongoing action.
I believe my dd read a Love Inspired Suspense series like that. I was about to read it but she said I probably wouldn't like it and went on to explain that all 3 books had the same protags. It wasn't like Marylu's Pirate series that I spoke of a comment or 2 back, but just the same dating protags solving mysteries. I think they were cozy mysteries. Whether I would've liked them or not, I didn't read them because she has a fairly good take on what I like and with 400 books in my TBR pile, I haven't time to fool around.

2 cents or not, Molli, I always appreciate you stepping up and speaking your mind. Thank you.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Congratulations on having a successful conference and having so much interest shown in "Emma's Outlaw", which is a great title, by the way.

I love series. Usually three or four in a series is a good number for me, although I have read longer series. I gobbled up Mary Balogh's "Slightly" series (6), and back in the nineties I adored Harlequin's "Crystal Creek" series which was about a small town, Crystal Creek, Texas. I think there were 12 in that series, and I still have them all.

I've discovered they are harder to write than I thought, at least for me. They should be stand alone, yet the second and third depend on the first and a certain amount of explanation is needed. Yet, like Linda said, the last thing a reader wants is a book that spends it's first half explaining what happened in the first book. It's a fine balance that I haven't yet mastered. I wish you very good luck with your series.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Erika, I did. :)

Yeah, I think I know what you mean about 'whole new character' from one book to the next. In some books I've been introduced to a not-so-nice character and then wham in the next book, they're the main character and I'm supposed to feel empathy to them. Uh uh. I've only read 2 books that handled that well and it was because enough space was given in book 1 for us to know why they acted the way they did and although it wasn't an excuse and I didn't become endeared to them, I didn't NOT like them anymore.

Good point, Erika. Thanks for stopping and telling me what you thought. I appreciate it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Linda, thanks for coming back. I wondered how your cowboy stories would fit in the depression. Oh, I'm looking forward to all of them.
You said, One thing I dislike about some series is when the 3rd or 4th or whatever number of book I am reading spends half the pages bringing me up to speed on characters from previous books. I will not be doing that in my series.
I don't like that either. Especially when I've saved the books and read them one after the other. In that case, I start skipping any portions that even hint at a backstory and then feel cheated at the end. :( Good to know you won't be don't that.

Wishing you well with your writing.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I'm in the process of collecting the Crystal Creek series but I only have a couple so far. It's like a treasure hunt when I go in a used book store. :)

When I wrote my Prairie Junction series, I didn't give any backstory about the characters and yet my critique partners remembered them from the previous books. I think this is because I gave them complete scenes with the main characters in the previous book so the reader had more of a picture of them. Then in the next book, I had the main character from the previous book come around and they had another scene. This seemed to jog my CP's memories and they'd make comments using track changes saying something like, 'I thought this was the waitress in the last book' or 'she moved to town near the end of the last book, right?" etc.

I find that most of the books where repetition drives me batty is when it's a multi-author series and it's almost as if they need to get the backstory down for themselves so they assume we do too.

Thanks for the encouragement, Jana.