I have to say, I kind of envy writers who find their niche and stick with it throughout their careers. Like the writer who says, “I write romances,” and after years of writing and trying to get published gets a contract with Harlequin and churns ’em out twice a year regularly till she dies or retires. Or the person who says, “I am an author of highbrow literary fiction,” finds a publisher eventually, and keeps producing classy pieces of work that don’t exactly rake in big bucks but get nominated for every award going. The kind of author who, when you pick up a book with their name on the cover, you know what you’re getting.
I have accepted that I am never going to be that kind of author.
I’ve had a niche, and good niche too, since I was 20 years old. I’ve written Christian fiction, first young-adult fiction and later Biblical historical fiction. I’ve had a good publisher who I’ve worked with for years, a publisher who is still bringing out my books and who I hope will continue to publish my inspirational writing for years to come. But that’s never been the only thing I wanted to do. I always had other projects, other ideas, that wouldn’t fit that niche.
Now with the modest local success I’ve had with By the Rivers of Brooklyn, I think I could probably have another fairly comfortable niche publishing historical fiction here in Newfoundland. I don’t want to be presumptuous but I think if I had another historical novel similar in scope and quality to Brooklyn to give to Breakwater today, they’d probably be glad to accept it.
But instead, I keep itching to try new and different things. I want to sell this quirky road trip novel that might best be described as “upmarket contemporary women’s fiction.” I want to finish and sell my time-travel novel about a monk and a graduate student. I still have a fantasy novel tucked away on a back shelf that I’d love to see in print.
It seems that every few years in my writing career I’m starting from scratch, trying to re-invent and re-sell myself, looking for an agent and/or a publisher.
If I can’t stick to one thing (and apparently I can’t, because my brain just isn’t wired that way) I wish I could find a publisher who thinks I’m so fabulous, and whose market is so broad, that they would say, “We will publish whatever you want to write!!” But that is not my reality.
It gets discouraging sometimes, looking for new markets, flogging new projects, trying to find new niches.
It’s also supposed to be bad marketing. Book buyers should be able to depend on your name, your “brand” for a particular type of book. And I know that with mine they can’t (if they ever find me at all!).
When I was growing up, one of my favourite writers was Madeleine L’Engle. And one of the reasons I loved her books was that they were so different. It seemed as if every bright idea she had, whether it was a contemporary teen novel or a time-travel sci-fi or a historical fiction or a spiritual memoir or whatever, she just wrote it.
Of course, after she crossed that initial hurdle of finding a publisher for A Wrinkle in Time, she was successful enough that she had a big publisher who was willing to put out pretty much whatever she wrote too (including re-releasing earlier, less successful novels in new packaging once she got better known). I’d like what she had — both the publisher willing to do that (I particularly like the part about re-releasing earlier work that didn’t sell well the first time around) and the flexibility as a writer to say, “I’m going to tackle this story because it interests me.”
In so far as I can be said to do anything as deliberate as career planning, that’s my plan. Write what interests me, and then wear myself out trying to find someone who wants to publish what I want to write. And if you pick up a book with my name on the cover, you’ll just have to read the blurb and a few random pages to see what you’re getting, because it may not be much like my last book.