One of the aspects that have changed because of the self-publishing revolution is that writers are able to make art for art’s sake. As a self-published writer, you’re free to write and publish whatever you want. You make your own editorial agenda.
But the thing is that there are some writers out there, me included, who like to write in more than one genre. I’ve written stories that range from Contemporary Fiction to Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Absurd Literature. But this can be tricky when it comes to finding an audience.
Since I have yet to self-publish something that departs from Mainstream Literature, I invited a fellow self-publisher, Katie Jennings, to tell us a bit about her own experiences with writing and publishing novels in different genres.
You’re a young, new writer. When did you become interested in writing?
I took my first stab at writing when I was thirteen, when it became clear that I needed some sort of escape that was both engaging and challenging. I have loved to read for as long as I can remember, and I suppose I wanted to see if I was any good at writing the kind of stuff that I was reading. I wrote a lot of short stories and plenty of unfinished books throughout my teens, one of which was published in my high school’s literary magazine, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that my hectic life settled down enough for me to really dedicate myself to writing. I had finally reached the pinnacle point in my life where I could make writing my passion and give it all I had.
Why did you choose to self-publish rather than go down the traditional route?
Well, originally I chose to self-publish because I didn’t want to go through the process of writing query letters, finding an agent, waiting for a publishing company to take an interest in me (which they may never have done!), etc. It became clear to me that self-publishing was a much faster route to getting my work out there (I’m notoriously impatient!), and I respected the challenge of it. I wanted full control over my work, and as a bonus I got higher royalty rates as well. But I knew that my success was going to be entirely up to me and how hard I worked, and I suppose the entrepreneurial spirit in me was thrilled to rise to the challenge.
You debuted with a Fantasy series, The Dryad Quartet. And now you’re releasing a mainstream fiction novel. Did you find it difficult to change genres?
Not at all. I suppose if I were to try and write a poetry book or a chick-lit humor style novel, then yes that would be difficult. But I feel comfortable exploring any genre that still incorporates emotional, character-driven drama, romance, mystery and suspense, whether it be fantasy based or reality based. Because in the end, my writing style is still the same regardless of the genre.
Do you think that writing novels in multiple genres makes it more difficult to find an audience?
Yes, I definitely believe that. Marketing 101 would tell you to brand yourself into the perfect niche to find your audience and then cater to them. And while I am eager to please my readers, I am more eager to write what I want to write. That’s kind of an Indie thing, I suppose, is that we self-publish because we maintain full control over our work, and we get to truly put our hearts and souls out there for readers to discover without having our words and ideas tampered and tweaked by a third party. Because Indies are very much dedicated to their passion for writing more so than sales numbers, I feel as though our experimentation in various genres and our courage to try new things is what sets us apart. And because of the self-publishing platform, there is very little to lose from writing what we want to write. If anything, it only broadens the market and gives readers even more options to choose from!
Some writers use different pen names for each genre they write in. What is your opinion about this practice?
My hero, Nora Roberts, does this. And I suppose I can see the reason for it, as a reader looking for a good crime drama may initially turn away from one written by a romance writer like Nora. Therefore she can reach a whole different audience without the “romance” stigma attached to her name from her previous works. But using a pen name is not something I think I would ever do, simply because I don’t think there’s a problem with authors branching out into new genres. Again, if the writing style is consistent, your fans will still follow you. Look at J.K. Rowling. She wrote Harry Potter, a young adult fantasy series, and now she is branching out with an adult drama novel about a city council seat. And while some fans of the Harry Potter series may not take an interest in her new novel, I am confident that the majority of them will still buy her new work because they love her as a writer. Especially her fans, like myself, who have grown up with Harry through the series over the last several years. We are ready to read a more adult themed book by her.
Like I said earlier, it’s a pretty major shift, from fantasy to mainstream fiction. How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
I always say that music inspires me. In the case of When Empires Fall, it was one specific song that I have loved since I was very young that inspired me to write this book. The song is called “Raoul and the Kings of Spain” by Tears for Fears, and it is truly a beautiful song. While I didn’t pull my plot line or anything from the song, this basic idea of “the seventh son of the seventh son comes along and breaks the chain…” is what got me, as did this question posed in the song, “can we ever hope to seek asylum from the bounds of faith and family?” I knew that I wanted to write a novel about a very large, prominent family, an empire of kings in America, well respected and renowned for generations. Until the seventh son of the seventh son broke the chain, and shattered the family to pieces. This is a key, underlying component of When Empires Fall, and the cornerstone for the drama and suspense that ties the entire story together.
What are your writing habits?
Sporadic. It really depends on what mood I am in if I am able to sit down and write or not. And unfortunately, the internet is a horrible distraction! But when I’m working on a novel, I try and push for at least a few pages a day if I can, but if it starts becoming forced then I have to stop.
Do you outline?
Yes! I am an avid outliner! As a Virgo, this is a must for me. I refuse to begin writing a novel until I literally have every single chapter, every relationship, every twist and turn of the plot worked out. That way I can relax and write from my outline without worrying if I’m missing an important detail as I go along. I suppose it’s my meticulous planning beforehand that makes the actual writing process itself go so much quicker.
What would you say are the most important aspects of writing?
Character development and lots of conflict! I am big on characters and heavily reference astrology when developing mine. I love characters that are so real they could walk beside you, so well-fleshed out that you can clearly picture them throughout the story as you connect emotionally with them. A good character is one that you feel strong emotions for, whether they be good or bad. You should either want to cry for them, throttle them, root for them, or destroy them, depending on who they are and what wonderful or horrible actions they commit. Without that, characters are just plain boring! And conflict, well, every good novel needs excellent drama and conflict. What point is there of telling a story if there isn’t something bad that happens, or some sort of challenge for your protagonist to overcome?
Are there any rules you stick to?
A few. I have to be fully finished with my outline before I even start writing. And before I even start outlining, I have to have my characters fully developed with personality traits, back stories, flaws, etc. Other than that, however, I more or less go with the flow, expending my energy where it feels right. With When Empires Fall, I didn’t even have a title until I literally wrote the last paragraph!
Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
There’s so much that could be said, and so little space to say it in. The self-publishing world is incredible, and the community of Indie authors amazing and supportive. I suppose the best advice I can offer is know that you’re not alone. Know that there are millions of other aspiring authors out there going through the same issues you are facing. They struggle through writer’s block, they freak out over bad reviews, they anxiously hit the publish button on Amazon and expose their work to the masses, etc. We are all in this together, and it is this support system that will keep you strong, will keep you going. It will take your own ambition and drive to make you successful, but on those days when you’re feeling down it will be your friends and fellow authors who hold you up.
Katie Jennings is the bestselling author of a fantasy series, The Dryad Quartet. You can find out more about her and her novels here.
When Empires Fall is her fifth novel, available on Amazon.