f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part II

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, March 10, 2006

Establishing a Career as a Writer: Part II

Yesterday we talked about the need to complete your first book.

Today we’re going to talk about the kind of book you need to write. Like I said, those two things probably seem like they should be switched. I don’t think so, however.

My gut feeling is that your first book should be the one “unplanned” part of this journey. First, there’s no guarantee that you will be published. Odds, frankly, are against it. Second, I’m not sure you really even know what kind of writer you are until you actually bring a story to a close. Stephen King could try his hardest to write a romance but chances are, halfway through, somebody’s going to bleed.

So, you need to sit down when you’re finished and ask yourself, “What kind of book did I just write?” Probably you should get some honest people whom you trust and ask them, “What kind of book did I just write?”

Then I think you need to ask yourself two pretty important questions:

1. What did I like about writing this book? How can I repeat that?
2. If I could write any book 2, what would it be?

Your career as a writer is launched with your first book, but established with your second. And I think it’s best to be as clear as you can about your intentions with what you want to do with your writing.

Folks talk a lot about author “branding.” I know for a while it was popular to create tag-lines or phrases that repeat your brand the way that companies do. I’m somewhat skeptical about the efficacy of such approaches, but I don’t disagree that there is branding among authors. And usually that brand equals a name.

Stephen King
John Grisham
Chaim Potok
Richard Russo

Shall I go on?

It seems like you have two choices in approaching a writing career. The first is that you can write stories that echo each other in their genre/setting/etc. Or you can write stories that echo each other in less easily described or tangible ways. But, pretty much, you’ve got to write stories that echo each other somehow or you’ll never gain any traction with readers. Each book will seem like the first.

As I said, there needs to be logical intention as you move forward in your career. And it’s got to be a logic that you can explain and sell to a publisher. Again…managing risk. Publishers are eager for authors whose career trajectory makes sense. The easiest are “genre” authors. I wrote a bestselling romance; I’m going to write another bestselling romance. Not everybody is going to be that kind of writer, however. What you need to find is that thread that’s going to link your books in the mind of your readers.

From painful experience, I can tell you the downside to not having a logical echo to sell to your publisher. Basically ES and QE are linked foremost in that they’re both stories I really wanted to write. Which is great as an “artiste” but did little to help ground my career as a novelist. Should I find myself with a second chance, I’ll approach things differently.

So that’s it. The book that you should write is the book that, somehow, you want to write again. It’s in the “somehow” that you remain sane as an author. It’s in the “again” that you find the path to your career.

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Continue on to Part III of Establishing Your Career as a Writer.