Monday, April 8, 2019

Zeroing In by Brenda Chapman

Question: Has your approach to writing changed during the time you’ve been published? What was the change in response to? Or, if not, have you considered other approaches and rejected them? What were they, and why?

The major change in my approach to writing since I've been published has been to  focus on a specific market. I began writing books to satisfy my desire to create and this hasn't changed. I also wanted to experiment and to push myself artistically and I continue to do both. However, after writing for both young adults and adults in alternating projects, I settled on writing for the adult market alone. 

My first attempts at creative writing after university were short stories and I was fortunate to have them published in various formats. My first official contract was with Canadian Living -- story about my daughters growing up in a city as opposed to the small town where I was raised, and my worry that they were missing out. I followed this with a few mystery short stories before I ventured into mystery novels for the young adult audience.

I spent those early writing years visiting schools, teaching workshops, judging public library writing contests, all for  kids. I joined groups that focused on the children's market and went to conferences with the same target market. However, I continued to write short stories for adults and when the YA series ended, I tried my hand at a full-length adult mystery entitled In WInter's Grip. This was followed by another YA coming of age standalone (for older teens) called Second Chances. Add in some adult literacy mystery novellas, and I had all my friends completely confused. I was amusing myself with all this variety, but as an agent once told me, "You have to pick one market or you will not develop a reader following."

I somewhat reluctantly stopped writing for the YA market because I came to believe the truth of what the agent had advised. The YA market is a separate industry with its own reviewers, writing organizations, and festivals. It is difficult to stay on top of latest writing trends in this genre and to keep abreast of the adult mystery genre at the same time. I made a conscious decision to focus on adult novels although this didn't stop me from keeping two series going - the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedurals and the Anna Sweet adult literacy novellas. I was still experimenting, however, since I'd never written a police procedural before. Plus, Anna Sweet is a P.I. so this was another variation on the theme. In addition, I tried my hand at third person, alternating viewpoint in the Stonechild books and kept writing in first person for the Anna Sweets. Enough variety to keep me amused :-)

This year, I've completed the contracts for both series and the path forward is wide open once again. I've had a couple of ideas percolating in my brain and am currently knee deep in a new manuscript - this time, a standalone thriller. Still for the adult audience and under the mystery/suspense umbrella but certainly a new challenge. I'm thinking about getting back into short story writing but not until I have a solid idea.

My advice to writers starting out would be to choose an audience and genre and to settle in for several projects. There can be lots of variety within a chosen area, but readers will follow you more easily if they aren't wondering who your latest publication is for. An option is to use a pseudonym to keep audiences separate, but it can be difficult enough to gain a readership with one name. Once you've acquired a following, hopefully your readers will follow you if you decide to write in another genre or for another age level. 

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Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great advice, Brenda. It's all about being creative and finding that fit.

Susan C Shea said...

I'm seeing crime fiction authors who don't want to be stuck in a sub-genre niche either - cozies vs. thrillers vs. domestic crime. They're taking their names with them because their brand is still recognizable.

7 Criminal Minds said...

Yes, something to be said for name recognition in this business.