Pinterest Fail cookies--perfection vs. reality--with text: Is Professional Feedback Like...?

The title of today’s post makes it obvious that this might be a controversial topic. Writers pursuing traditional publishing are often told not to pay for editing before submitting to agents or publishers. But is that always the best advice?

The “rule” originated because in the days before valid self-publishing options, there were too many willing to take advantage of authors. (Er, there still are too many willing to take advantage of authors, but let’s stick to this one point. *smile*)

Pre-published authors were bombarded with claims: “Pay me to edit your work, and I guarantee you’ll get an agent/publisher.” Er, no. No one can guarantee a result of an agent or publisher unless they’re in cahoots, which some of these scammers were (and are).

Also back then, many editors were employees of a publisher, rather than a freelance contractor, unlike how they are now. That meant there weren’t many quality editors able to freelance for anyone and everyone.

Put that scam aspect together with the fact that there weren’t other legitimate editing or publishing options years ago and the advice to not pay for editing before submitting made sense. Any editors we found as pre-published “nobodies” were likely to be scammers or unqualified.

But the landscape has changed just as much as the post-apocalyptic settings in some of our stories. We’ve had to change our opinions and attitudes about many old-school advice “rules,” and today Sharon Hughson, a pre-published author who’s pursuing traditional publishing, is here to talk about whether this advice about editing should be next on the chopping block. Please welcome, Sharon Hughson! *smile*

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How a Professional Edit
Can Outshine other Forms of Feedback

Writing is a competitive business. If you want to stand above the crowd, your writing needs to glitter brighter than a diamond at midday. To this end, a writer needs feedback on the stories they write. (I’m not talking about Aunt Rose, either).

Different avenues exist for writers—at every level—to get honest (and hopefully helpful) insight into their manuscripts. Much of this input might be available free of charge. In fact, should we ever pay for a professional edit when seeking traditional publishing?

I have seen recommendations from traditionally published authors (and even a few agents) in regards to editing. The consensus seems to be: Don’t spend money on editing your manuscript before shopping it to agents and editors. Believe me, I sighed hugely when I read this advice (since I don’t make much cash as a full-time pre-published author).

Is this the best advice for you and your manuscript?

In my sixteen-month stint as a professional writer, I’ve found feedback from a multitude of sources. Family, friends, writing groups, fellow newbie writers, published authors, and even a couple professional editors.

What a Critique Partner or Critique Group Can Do for Us

I have experienced three separate types of critiques in my writing life. My experiences may be atypical. In any case, I’ve had critiques from a writing group, a published author, and a fellow pre-published writer.

I know most writing groups are composed of pre-published authors. However, my experiences between a group setting critique and a one-to-one critique have been vastly different.

In the writing group, you have three types of people: the know-it-all, the uber-critical person, and the soft-hearted reader. Their titles are self-explanatory. None of these people will be able to help you improve your writing. In fact, they may make your story worse if you try to incorporate their advice.

If you’re a member of a critique group, you’re the person who gives honest and useful feedback on every story. You never get your feelings hurt and always balance your negative comments with positive ones. As this person, you will soon tire of receiving less-than-helpful critiques from the other members and seek feedback elsewhere.

I actually paid $50 to have a published author in my fantasy genre read the first 20 pages of my manuscript. We had a ten-minute meeting to discuss her comments. She marked my manuscript in every direction. The setting was lacking. The characters were flat. The premise sounded tired and over-used. My sentences were horribly constructed.

About ten percent of what she said helped me improve my writing. Saying what is wrong with something is not the same as offering solutions to fix the problems. In fact, I have rarely read a critique that offered helpful insight for improvement (noting all my bad habits doesn’t count, does it?).

Finally, a fellow writer offered helpful and insightful advice about the opening and characterization of the manuscript I’m currently shopping to agents. She reads the genre and has an excellent ear for strong voice and snappy dialogue. Where she excels, she gave me the best advice I’d received from all the other critiques combined.

Of course, she isn’t strong on structure or creating conflict. She knew what she liked about the characters but couldn’t tell me why she didn’t like what she didn’t like (a mouthful, I know). In short, if we struggle in the same areas, she can’t help me dig my way onto solid ground.

What Beta Readers Can Do for Us

Beta readers are readers not editors. They should not be expected to catch your grammar errors, typos, or sloppy writing. They read for content and fluidity.

Say they’re confused about why or how something happened, they make a note. If they didn’t like the characters or find them believable, they mention it. Give them a list of 23 things to comment on and you’ll get some amazing—and diverse—feedback.

I did have two fellow writers beta read my manuscript. Both of them gave insightful commentary about plot, character, setting, conflict and pacing. In most cases, every one of my six readers found different things to wonder about—which helped me plug the holes in the story.

As for helping me improve the structural flaws, there wasn’t any feedback I could use. They weren’t equipped to identify weak areas in my story or character arc.

What a Professional Editor Can Do for Us

This brings us to the woefully under-appreciated professional editor. Perhaps you have looked at these people and thought, “I can do that. What skill do they have that I don’t?” Especially since many of the best editors are also published authors.

A developmental editor will amaze you (if they’re a true professional). You won’t have to ask them about anything. They will open your manuscript and tear in.

Yes, I do mean tear into every word, sentence, paragraph, and event. Close attention will be given to the opening pages because they know these are crucial to the success of your story—both with agents, publishers, and readers.

Nothing will be off-limits. Is the setting vague? Does the character have a goal? Can the scene be easily visualized? Does the dialogue sound like something people would actually say?

Your narrative will be scrutinized. Are you using the best point of view? Are you hopping between character perspectives within the same scene? Does the description sound like something a narrator of that age would truly think?

Certainly, problems like too much telling will be addressed. However, deeper issues like the underlying structure of the story and obvious character arcs will be more important to a developmental editor.

Their job is to decide if you have a story to tell. If you do, are you telling it from the right perspective? Did you start in the best spot? Is there enough conflict to sustain tension and keep readers turning pages?

Jami is holding me to a word limit, or I could go on here for another thousand words. Bottom line: A professional editor locates the bones of your story and decides if you have a foundation. If you do, they’ll dissect the characters to help you streamline motivation. If they find inconsistencies, you will hear about it.

My Personal Conclusion

In short, I disagree with this blanket assertion: A manuscript traveling the traditional path doesn’t need an editor. I agree there are some benefits in “free” feedback, but sometimes those sources don’t push your manuscript to the top of the slush pile.

Time to face facts: You won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great your prose or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work. It’s a fact; one I was sad to encounter.

I’m a pretty effective editor, but the truth is I’m too close to my own story to recognize many of its shortcomings. The characters are my intimate friends, so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Weakness in character arc or description are the invisible woman.

So here’s my advice:

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting,
take the plunge to pay for editing.

Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript:

  • has sound structure,
  • has believable and relatable characters, and
  • isn’t riddled with plot holes.

Look at this expense (and it isn’t cheap) as an investment in your career—like workshops, craft books and conferences. In the end, your manuscript will sparkle. You will learn how to write a stronger story and spot your weaknesses in the next manuscript. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned.

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Sharon HughsonSharon Hughson writes non-fiction, YA fantasy and women’s fiction. More than a decade in public education has given her special insight into the minds and voices of teenagers.

Reading, playing the piano and walking in the great outdoors devour her minutes (yes, only minutes!) of free time. She lives with her husband along the Columbia River in Oregon.

To learn more about her writing, visit her website.

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Sharon Hughson's blog headerVisit Sharon’s blog to read her three-part series on her experiences with critiques. The series kicks off with a reminder that critiques often aren’t going to feel good, and we need to be prepared for that. The second post touches on the fact that when multiple feedback comments say the same thing, we should listen. And the third post explores how the ability to ask (non-defensive) questions might increase the helpfulness of the feedback (so look for that feature when searching for feedback sources).

On her blog, Sharon goes deeper into the insights from her professional editing experience.

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Thank you, Sharon! Like you, I’ve heard this “don’t pay for editing before submitting” advice before, and we don’t talk enough about whether that’s still the best advice, given the changes in the industry.

As Sharon said, I don’t think authors should pay for editing right out of the gate. There are many sources for feedback, and spending money shouldn’t be our first option. In addition to what Sharon mentioned here, I’ve blogged before about my experiences with writing contests and how some of them are structured to provide feedback (although due to the contest entry fee, they aren’t technically “free” feedback).

Every agent will be different about what they can overlook. Some might be able to see past our errors or inelegant wording to the story underneath. Some might not want to help us through that weakness. Some agents consider themselves feedback agents and some don’t.

So how can we know what to do? Following the typical “don’t pay for editing” advice, the next line is often that we should shove this story under the metaphorical bed and move on to another story. For me, my second story helped me find my voice and my genre, so I understand why we might not want to stick with the same story that’s causing us problems.

But other times, we want to stick with that story and solve its problems. We might not want to give up on a story that’s the first of a series, or perhaps it’s the book of our heart. Or maybe we’re willing to invest money to speed up our learning process beyond what we could pick up on our own from free or cheaper resources. There’s no right answer for everyone and every situation.

When we don’t want to give up on a story, we might be able to use a “rule of three” to step through our revision/submission process:

  1. Get feedback from three free sources (beta readers, critique groups, etc.).
  2. Query three agents who represent our genre and accept sample pages (many agents who accept sample pages will peek at the pages even if the query is less than perfect).
  3. No bites? Get feedback from three more free sources and pay attention to repeating issues noted in the feedback.
  4. Query three more agents who represent our genre and accept sample pages.
  5. No bites? Pay a small amount for feedback on our opening pages or scenes (writing contests or a professional partial edit) and again pay attention to repeating issues noted in the feedback.
  6. Query three more agents who represent our genre and accept sample pages.
  7. Still no bites? Pay for a professional edit or a manuscript critique/analysis from an editor who emphasizes teaching-style feedback and specializes in our weaknesses (i.e., big picture developmental editor issues, sentence and grammar line editor issues, etc.).

If we stick to two or three feedback sources or agents on each round, we won’t burn out too many people, and we’ll still have enough feedback to look for repeating problems. That information about our weaknesses can be invaluable, as Sharon’s advice and this process are all about learning what might be holding us back.

That’s my main takeaway from Sharon’s post. If we feel like something is holding us back from success (rather than just plain subjectivity) and free feedback isn’t helping us determine what that something might be, it might be worth it to invest in a more aggressive form of feedback.

When we’re feeling stuck, we want to know what’s holding us back. Sometimes, our critique partners or beta readers will be able to push us past that obstacle, and sometimes they won’t. In those cases, paying for an edit might provide the in-depth analysis that will push us to the next level for this story—and the next one. *smile*

Do you think authors pursuing the traditional publishing path should ever pay for editing? Have the changes in the industry affected your perspective on this issue? How do your experiences with the different types of feedback compare to Sharon’s? Do you think knowing our weaknesses can help us move forward with a story, or is it better to move on to a new story? When would a professional edit be a good idea or a good investment for a beginning writer?

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Paper torn to reveal a drawn heart with text: The Psychology Behind Emotions

As writers, we usually want to keep the reader immersed in the story so they don’t put down our book in the middle and not care enough to pick it up again. We often keep readers’ interest by engaging their emotions.

That might mean we give readers characters to root for, anti-heroes they can’t look away from, or plot situations or character circumstances they want to learn more about. A common method for keeping readers engaged is to create a sense of empathy or sympathy with the characters, and that means we want our readers to feel emotional when our characters do (even if the emotions don’t match up exactly).

Because of those goals, we see a lot of writing advice about how to create emotions, show emotions, strengthen emotions, layer emotions, handle intense emotions, etc. But we might not have stepped back and thought about (or learned about) the psychology behind those emotions we tap into.

When we understand the psychology driving emotions, we might be able to make those emotions more realistic. We might recognize when there’s a disconnect on a character’s emotional journey, or we might see when a character’s motivation doesn’t match the accompanying emotion.

So I’m excited to bring Kassandra Lamb here today for a guest post on “emotional psychology 101.” Her experience makes her the perfect person to help us understand the deeper psychology behind our characters’ experiences.

Please welcome Kassandra Lamb! *smile*

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Emotions 101 for Writers

As a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer, there is one subject that I know well—emotions. For years, I helped my clients identify, understand, and manage their feelings. But when I first sat down to write about my characters’ feelings, I discovered some new challenges.

I had been trained to name the emotion for the client. Now, as a writer, I couldn’t name it. I had to show, not tell. And I had to do so while maintaining the pace of the story. Ack!

I did finally get the hang of it, and my psychology background was an advantage. So let me share some things I’ve discovered about showing emotions in our writing.

The Basics: The Physical Side of Emotions

In order to immerse the reader in the character’s emotional experience, we describe their behavior, body language, internal dialogue, and visceral sensations. The last of these can be difficult to pin down but is often the most powerful way to show, not tell.

We humans experience emotions first as sensations in different parts of our bodies. There are individual variations—some people are more chest feelers while others mostly experience stomach sensations—but there are definite trends in where and how we tend to feel each emotion.

(Note: this is a way that you can individualize your characters. One can be a chest person and another feels most things in their stomach.)

Here are some examples of the sensations related to each of our basic emotions. (For an extensive list of ways to describe feelings, both Jami and I recommend The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.)

  • Fear: tightening in throat/chest, dry mouth, nauseous/butterflies in stomach, heart pounding, chills, hair standing up on neck, hyperventilation, etc.
  • Anger: heat, heart pounding, muscles clenched (especially fists/jaw), gritted teeth, outward pressure in chest, rapid respiration, etc.
  • Sadness: heaviness (especially around heart), ache or sharp pain in chest, lump in throat, voice choked, stinging/gritty feeling in eyes, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc.
  • Happiness: lightness, floating sensation, bubbly sensation in chest, warm, tingling, etc. (excitement includes restlessness, rapid heart rate, etc.)

There is a physiological reason for these tendencies. A part of the nervous system, called the autonomic nervous system (ANS), regulates our body’s reaction to the environment and prepares us to respond. The ANS has two branches, the arousal branch and the non-aroused branch (that’s not what they’re called, but I’m guessing you could care less about the confusing, more scientific terms).

You might have noticed that anger and fear have a lot of overlap. These emotions are part of the fight-or-flight response that is triggered by the arousal branch of the ANS when we perceive a threat. There’s also some overlap with excitement, another aroused emotion. Be careful with these overlapping emotions. If the feeling isn’t apparent from the context, you may need to use at least one sensation that is exclusive to that emotion.

“His heart pounded. A chill ran through him.”
(Got it. We’re talking fear here.)

The non-aroused branch of the ANS takes over when we are safe. It kicks in even more so when we are sad or depressed. We can become so under-aroused that it’s hard to function.

There are three other basic emotions, called the self-conscious emotions. These develop in toddlerhood, when the child first develops a sense of themselves as a separate being.

  • Pride: See happiness, add swelling sensation in chest.
  • Guilt: lump in throat, pain in chest, queasy stomach, twist in gut, etc.
  • Shame: heat in face and/or all over, heaviness, shrinking or pulling body in on itself feeling (as in wanting to hide), etc.

Guilt and shame, while related, are not the same. Guilt is about our behavior while shame is about our being. We feel guilty for what we have done; we feel ashamed of ourselves (for more on this, see my past posts on guilt and shame).

Emotional Twists and Turns (i.e., Emotions Aren’t Logical)

People can get guilt and shame twisted up together in their psyches and feel ashamed because they make a mistake (especially if they had fairly dysfunctional childhoods). This can be a useful dynamic when developing a character with poor self-esteem.

Also guilt sometimes morphs into misdirected anger. A man cheats on his wife, gets caught, and is initially remorseful. But then he becomes angry if she doesn’t forgive him right away.  He’s subconsciously mad at her for “making” him feel guilty. Or he doesn’t get caught but his guilt turns to anger on a subconscious level and he picks fights with his wife, maybe even projects his guilt onto her and accuses her of infidelity.

Ever wonder why some women are attracted to bad boys, no matter how much they bemoan the way these men treat them? Another way emotions can get twisted together in women from abusive backgrounds is confusion between fear and love on a subconscious level, or even fear and sexual excitement. The parents they loved, and who were supposed to love them, were scary. So they meet the bad boy, feel fear (a realistic reaction) but then misinterpret the fear as attraction and/or love.

Jealousy is a common motivation in characters. It’s a combination of fear and anger. The person is afraid of losing someone they love to another, and they are angry at the person they perceive as a threat. How dare this woman try to take my man? The tricky part is keeping it straight which emotion one feels toward whom. The jealous person may aim the anger at the wrong party (i.e., their loved one) and end up bringing about the very thing they fear, the loss of that relationship.

Good Grief! (i.e., How to Write Grief “Right”)

As an avid reader of mysteries, it really bugs me when an author glosses over the grief of those close to the murder victim. Grief is hard to portray realistically, and it can potentially debilitate a character. But when a character sets out to solve or avenge a father’s/sister’s/lover’s/child’s murder, damn it, they’re gonna have some grief to deal with along the way.

Grief is the most complicated and illogical emotion of them all (and they’re all illogical). It’s a mixture of pain, anger, bargaining, and guilt. If someone or something can be blamed for the loss, the grieving person will go there, at least initially. Often they will be angry with the person who died (told ya it’s illogical), although they probably won’t acknowledge this anger consciously. They feel abandoned and/or are mad about something the dead person did that they feel led to their death.

In book one of my series, the protagonist’s first husband is killed while doing a favor for her. The night after his funeral, she rages, “Why did he have to be so damned nice?” Of course, she immediately feels guilty for being angry at him for being a nice guy.

Survivor guilt is also common. The person becomes convinced that if they had done something differently, the death would have been prevented. This is a belated attempt to reclaim a sense of control over a situation that they couldn’t control. Because helplessness is the emotion humans hate the most!

Grief can lead to various pursuits of justice and/or vengeance that may or may not be rational. This makes for some interesting plot points. BUT (back to my pet peeve) the person would not be able to completely sublimate their grief with these pursuits. They should still periodically feel a surge of guilt, anger at the dead person, anger at themselves, or just plain sadness.

Grief brings us to the subject of…

When Is Deep Point of View Too Deep?

Readers want to be entertained by realistic stories about characters they can relate to. They do not want to be overwhelmed by the characters’ emotions. So there are times, for this reason and also for pacing purposes, when toning down the emotion is called for.

I have discovered several ways to do this:

Limit the Number of Visceral Sensations:

Two usually does the trick, especially if you also have some internal dialogue. I once read a story—that was otherwise well written—in which the heroine’s grief for her lost lover was expressed in a long paragraph that contained every grief-related visceral sensation known to humankind. Instead of feeling immersed in the character, I found myself pulling back, thinking, “That’s a little over the top.”

It really wasn’t. A grieving person might very well feel all of those things. But it’s too much emotion for the reader’s comfort level, and it broke the tension in the story.

Replace One of the Visceral Sensations with an Action Beat:

This is a great place to add a little touch of individualization. Is this a character who would be irritated with her grief, or would she succumb to it? Have her swipe her wet cheeks with the back of her hand, or throw herself across her bed.

When this guy is angry, is he the yell-and-pound-the-table type, or would he narrow his eyes? This shows the reader the emotion without immersing them in it quite so much.

Use a Different Point of View (POV):

Of course this only works if you write in multiple POV. When writing a scene in which a character has a strong emotional reaction, sometimes (not always though) it is better to show that scene through the eyes of a different character.

I often do this with both grief and intense anger, especially if wallowing in the emotions would slow down the pace too much. The emotion can be quite powerful when seen through the eyes of a close friend or lover, and yet it is not as overwhelming.

The Deft Stroke:

This is often the best approach when pacing is the major issue. One short description of a visceral sensation and then move on.

In one scene in my new thriller, the protagonist’s husband is in a dangerous situation when he receives a text message from his wife referring to another character as his girlfriend. Realizing this is not the time or place to deal with “a wife in a jealous snit,” he sends her a one-word answer and gets on with the action of the scene. (And of course pays for that terse answer in a later scene.)

My brother (my guy-stuff consultant) pointed out that the character would be angry at the accusation, even though he chooses to push it aside for now. Well crap! How do I have this guy get angry and deal with his anger, all in an instant before the tension in the scene dissipates. After mulling it over, I hit on the deft stroke.

“His jaw clenched.”

This is that character’s main way of exhibiting anger, so that three-word sentence is more than enough to show his emotion.

A quick action beat and/or short line of internal dialogue works well too.

“Her head jerked up.”

“I’m just ducky, *sshole.”

Obviously, this is a quick overview of how to write about emotions. So by all means, ask me questions in the comments.

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Kassandra LambWriting and psychology have always vied for number one on Kassandra Lamb’s Greatest Passions list. In her youth, she had to make a decision between writing and paying the bills. Partial to electricity and food, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in Florida where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her. She and her husband also spend part of each summer in her native Maryland, where the Kate Huntington mysteries are set.

Find Kass on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for updates on Kate’s World at Kass’s website, and check out her posts on psychological topics and other random things at the misterio press site.

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Fatal 48 Book cover

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound. But they can ill afford these distractions, since Sally’s time is about to expire.

FATAL FORTY-EIGHT is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo.

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Thank you, Kassandra! I find this fascinating (psychology and brain stuff are two of my nerd hobbies *smile*). I’ve always believed an understanding of this topic helps writers, so I’m grateful to you for sharing this post.

We’ve mentioned here on my blog about how visceral reactions (throat clenching, heart pounding, etc.) work in small doses, but we can easily overdo it (to the point where it hurts the pacing). So it’s good to get “permission” from a psychologist to find a happy medium between realism and writing craft. *smile*

As we’ve also talked about how those visceral reactions overlap from one emotion to another, I loved hearing about why that overlap exists. As Kassandra alluded to, that’s why we need to ensure our meaning is clear with more specific visceral reactions or by layering in other emotional cues (body language, dialogue, etc.).

Many of us also struggle with how to handle intense emotions, such as grief, so I appreciated Kassandra’s tips on our options. She mentioned some great approaches that I hadn’t thought of before, so now I have more tools to add to my writing toolbox. Hopefully, you all found something helpful in my nerdy selection of a guest post too. *smile*

Do you think understanding the psychology helps us write more realistic emotions? When emotions haven’t felt realistic in stories you’ve read, what felt “off” about them? Do you have any other tips for how to write emotions realistically? What emotions do you have the most trouble portraying? Kassandra will be checking the comments, so now’s your chance to ask for help!

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Multicolored stick figures holding hands with text: Creating Unique Characters through Research

Several months ago, I posted about how we shouldn’t be afraid of writing diverse characters, even if we don’t have first-hand knowledge of their experiences. My belief isn’t about quotas or forcing stories to take on an issue. Rather, my take is that diversity exists in real life, so it’s lazy to not include diversity in our stories.

However, because of the fear of “getting it wrong,” we might hesitate to write characters with diverse orientations, cultures, nationalities, or abilities. Yet as we discussed earlier this week, we often write about settings or jobs or situations we haven’t experienced, and it’s simply part of our job as a writer to do our research to make our story and characters believable. So how can we reach the point where we’re comfortable with our research for diversity aspects?

The first step is to listen to our characters and not make assumptions about them conforming to the “default.” Sticking with a “default” character is a cliché-like writing tic, and clichés and writing tics aren’t good in general. Instead, we want to treat each character as a three-dimensional individual.

The second step is to learn enough about the diverse aspect to determine if and how various experiences might affect our specific character. In other words, the diverse aspect shouldn’t be the only thing defining who our character is. There’s no monolithic xyz experience for any type of character, whether white, black, Asian, gay, or paraplegic. Just because a character is xyz doesn’t mean they have to be a certain way. That’s resorting to a stereotype.

Today’s post is about how we can do that research to learn more about experiences for which we don’t have first-hand knowledge. The other week, I tweeted a link to a fantastic blog with writing resources for racial and ethnic diversity. (Check out their Navigation page for links to posts about each category, trope, stereotype, etc.) And I just discovered Diversity Cross-Check earlier this week (with their tag categories to connect with other first-hand resources).

And today, I’m excited to introduce Melinda Primrose here on my blog to discuss writing characters with a disability. She’s going to give us the inside scoop into how to research for authentic characters. Please welcome Melinda Primrose! *smile*

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How to Write a Character with a Disability

Thanks, Jami, for letting me stop by today. How many of you have read a book with a disabled character and thought the way the writer portrayed the character must be correct? It’s ok to raise your hand. I used to believe the same thing, until I became disabled myself.

I’ve been legally blind for almost 10 years now. I’ve come to realize that most authors just use tropes when it comes to disabled characters. But you don’t have to be one of those authors! Let me show you how to write an authentic disabled character.

Step 1: Why is your character disabled?

I want you to really think about this. Why is this character disabled? Does this character need to be disabled to fulfill his/her usefulness in the plot? Is your character disabled just to fill a trope?

Not sure about tropes? A great list of disability tropes can be found on TV Tropes.

Look around. See how others have used the trope and subverted it. (Be warned! Heading to TV Tropes can lead down a rabbit hole that’s hard to get out of.) And, of course, what you do from here will depend on your own personal tastes and story needs.

Step 2: Research the Basics

This is super important! Do your research! Knowing the effects of any given disability will help clear up character choices.

For example, I would find it very hard to believe a blind character being a world-renowned photographer. I’m not saying this isn’t possible, but the author would have to give a lot of explanation as to how the character is able to accomplish this.

Researching anything can be difficult without the right tools. When thinking about disabilities, WebMD and Google will get you a good start:

  • WebMD: Web MD will provide the basic background for the disability, including symptoms, causes and treatments. This can help show what the character’s daily life may be like. For example, would someone with this disability be on medications or have to go to the doctor/hospital for treatments?
  • Google Search for Organizations: There are also many organizations that are dedicated to disabilities. Googling the disability can point you toward these organizations. For blindness, I know of two major organizations, American Council of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind. Studying these organizations can show you what assistance is available for a disabled character.

Step 3: Get Personal with Research for First-Hand Accounts

The hardest part of research is talking with someone who has the same disability as your character. If you know someone in real life with the disability in real life, approaching them first would be my best advice.

Don’t know anyone with that specific disability? That’s ok. There are several ways to find people with disabilities on the internet. Thanks to the internet, we can get to know people from all over the world!

  • Google Search for Forums: First, let’s go back to our friend Google. Googling any disability plus the word “forum” can point you to a place where people with that disability congregate.
  • Ask Reddit: If you have a very specific question, like “how would having a fake eye affect someone’s ability to go camping,” another great option is Ask Reddit, or, if you’re on a mobile device or use a screen reader, you can find an Ask Reddit for Mobile version here.

I may be late to the Reddit party, but it’s such a wealth of information. Another way to find how someone reacts to life with a disability would be the Reddit AMA’s. An AMA is short for “I am a” and is a place where people share their story and answer questions from the community.

There is a search box on Reddit, so use it to find what you need. There will be a lot of unrelated stuff to sift through, but the good stuff you will find can be extremely valuable.

(Super huge warning!!! If TV Tropes is a rabbit hole to get lost down, Reddit is a journey to the center of the Earth! It is very easy to get lost in reading Reddit that you forget why you’re there in the first place. Make sure you have a plan of action to get yourself out of Reddit’s grasp!)

Advice and Disclaimers for Researching First-Hand Accounts

In addition to the general rules of net etiquette, there are a few things to remember that will help you get the most out of your experience with someone with a disability.

  • A disability affects everyone differently.
    That question about a fake eye and camping is a real one I’ve come across. I have gone camping with my fake eye and had no problems, while others who have answered that question had major problems and wouldn’t advise doing it.
    Neither answer is an absolute. What is right for me isn’t always right for someone else. If you get different answers from different people, that’s just life.
  • Not everyone with a disability is open with strangers about their disability.
    I don’t have any problems answering questions about my disability or what caused it. My view is that I’d rather answer questions and inform people so they don’t live with the stereotypes.
    Not everyone has the same attitude I do. If someone doesn’t answer your questions, just move on and understand it’s not always personal.

If you have any questions about blindness, you can find some information on my blog. I’ll be happy to help if I can.

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Melinda Primrose is a legally blind author, mother and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, though not always in that order. You can find her at her website, where she blogs about life with blindness, among other things. She gets frustrated when she sees a person who is blind portrayed erroneously in literature, so she answers any author’s questions about blindness to help combat this.

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Melinda Primrose's blog banner

Melinda Primrose and her blog are a treasure of information for writers interested in learning more about what it means for a character if they’re blind. Her growing blog already has detailed posts about the basics of blindness for authors, the intricacies of walking while blind, and the reading options available to those who are blind.

In addition, she’s happy to take questions from authors through her blog or Twitter!

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Thank you, Melinda! This is great advice for researching many character-related elements, not just disabilities. I’d never thought about forums or Reddit for information (and like I mentioned above, I just recently discovered the great Writing with Color and Diversity Cross-Check resources), so there are more researching options than ever before. *smile*

As Melinda said, our first step should be figuring out how our character fits into the story. This step helps us avoid clichés and tropes for any diverse aspect.

For example, with few exceptions, a character’s diverse aspect shouldn’t be treated as a character flaw because character flaws are personality aspects that a character can “fix.” A clichéd trope is to have a character “overcome” their disability the same way they’d overcome being, say, selfish, but for most stories, disabilities (or other diverse aspects) would be character traits similar to eye color, not flaws to overcome.

Like Tracy’s advice on Tuesday to complete premise-level research first, Melinda’s tip to research the basics online will help us prevent issues with stereotypes and believability. That step of learning what we can on our own comes with additional bonuses too.

It can be scary enough to approach people in real-life for any kind of research (at least for introverts like me), but it’s especially hard if we’re worried about offending someone with our questions. Learning the basics first through the power of Google will also help us approach potential first-hand account sources with respect. In other words, these steps can help us ask more intelligent and non-offensive questions, no matter the type of diversity we have in our story.

But above all, remember Melinda’s final piece of advice about how a disability (or other diverse aspect) will affect everyone differently. We need to be true to our characters because their experiences will be unique, and hopefully these tips will help us write realistic and three-dimensional characters who will capture our readers’ imaginations. *smile*

Have concerns about “getting things wrong” held you back from writing diverse characters? Did this post help you know how to overcome those worries? If you’ve written characters with diverse aspects, do you have other tips for how to research and/or write characters beyond our experiences? Have you written a character with a disability? If you’ve hit walls in trying to research a disability, leave the details in the comments and Melinda will see what she can do to point you in a helpful direction!

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Scientist mixing chemicals with text: 6 Steps to Research Our Story

How are all my fellow NaNoWriMo writers doing? I started off behind in word count because various pre-November projects kept me busy until November 1st. That meant my first NaNo day was mostly filled with… *sigh* Research.

I probably wasn’t the only one spending precious writing time researching ideas, settings, or other details. No matter what genre we write, we’re likely to have to research something.

If our stories take place within the real world, we might have to research historical figures or events, small towns or big cities, or diseases or personality behaviors. If our stories take place outside the real world, we might have to research warp drive or time travel theories, evolution ideas, or cultural or mythological concepts.

In other words, today’s guest post about how to research our writing projects will be relevant to most of us. And Tracy L. Ward is just the person to help us out, as she comes from a journalism and historical fiction background, so she’s an expert at researching topics.

Many of her examples below are specific to researching settings, but the steps themselves encompass far broader ideas that we can apply to any kind of research we need. Please welcome Tracy L. Ward! *smile*

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Researching the Write Way

Any writer who has been pounding the pavement for a while knows there is a lot more to this author gig than simply writing. There’s revising, editing, promoting, and a whole lot more. It all takes time and energy beyond stringing words into sentences, and sentences into stories. But before all that comes the research, and in my historical genre, I accept that research makes up half my overall project.

Research is vital to every writer, not just the historical ones. The contemporary writer may not realize it, but they are researching a book every day.

Every new place discovered and new person met is an opportunity for better, more descriptive writing. Everything you read is another lesson in vocabulary, sentence structure, and plot development. There is no such thing as an “off” button for a writer, and research is no different.

But beyond accepting that the world is one big research project, there are different techniques and tips for the average writer. In this article, I want to highlight a few of the techniques that I learned while working as a journalist and writing novels in my Peter Ainsley historical mystery series.

Step #1: Keep a File Folder for Ideas

Every journalist has a set of files where they stash clippings of articles on specific topics they feel will come up again, or will one day make great stories. Creative writers can make use of this organizational tool as well.

Later these clippings can be used as prompts or story generators. How many times have you heard something on the radio or saw something on television and thought “That’s better than fiction”?

Story prompts can be anything that catches your eye, anything you find interesting, anything that relates to your genre or area of writing interest. For me, that means anything that relates to history and crime, but because my books are character driven, I also tend to be drawn to articles that talk about the human condition (i.e., why we do the things we do).

Lucy Maud Montgomery, writer of the Anne of Green Gables series, said that the idea for her famous novel came from a hand-written prompt she found in an old hat box she had used once to stash away her stories. Montgomery was going through this box when she found a note describing a story of an orphaned girl sent to an elderly couple by mistake. Some of the best feature stories I have written for newspapers came from prompts I left for myself in my file folder.

Step #2: Complete Story Premise Research First

When you start a new project you must make some decisions straight away. What is the theme of your book? (Jami’s note: We might also think of this step as “what is the premise of your book?”) The answer to this question will guide your starting research.

My third book, The Dead Among Us, focused a lot on the living conditions and societal attitudes towards Victorian London’s pauper children. I already knew orphaned children were a dime a dozen on London’s streets at the time and poverty was every where, so to begin, I had to find out why. Why were there so many unclaimed children living in those conditions.

Before I wrote a single word, I looked into this, and the answers I found are what I formulated my plot points around. I needed this first layer of research to create a convincing plot, otherwise I would become stuck, have to back track or try to force something that just would not make sense.

Poor research in the beginning has resulted in a number of manuscripts dying halfway through. Having said that, research should not stop you from writing for too long. Think of this step as a primer coat. At some point you just have to start your masterpiece.

Step #3: Gather First-Hand Accounts

You don’t have to go to a place to get a feeling for it. Some lucky writers get to go on research trips (on their own dime), where they jot down endless notes and take countless photographs.

This works for writers who are handy to the places they intend to write about (or those with unlimited budgets), but counting on this kind of first-hand research can limit the scope of your book. Just because you haven’t visited a place doesn’t mean you can’t write a story set there.

Online Resources for First-Hand Accounts

Travel sites, local blogs, and YouTube all have a place in a writer’s arsenal. In particular:

  • Travel Sites often have detailed maps and downloadable audio walking tours (sometimes historic in their content) that can give you context for notable buildings and directional substance for urban areas that you wish to include in your book.
  • YouTube is a major resource, often underutilized by writers. It feels like everyone has a video camera and will take videos of the most mundane things, but those seemingly normal videos are great for providing local terminology, dialect, visual perspective and even minor details like the amount of traffic at a particular park or on a particular street. You’ll be surprised what you come up with.

Step #4: Dig Deeper into the Details

For my second book, Dead Silent, I needed to find a neighborhood for a typical 19th century surgeon. Remembering surgeons were the ‘tradesmen’ of their day and not compensated all that well for their life-saving and often distrusted work, I knew Dr. Jonas Davies would not be living alongside the upper crust. He was from a very poor family and had just started out with a career in medicine.

  • Using Google Search, I was able to find a color-coded map detailing neighborhood classes. From there I was able to select a neighborhood within his social class and income level, not far but not close to the hospital where he works (St. Thomas).
  • Using Google Maps and Streetview, I was able to get a street view of that area and I could ‘walk’ the streets as they appear now. The Streetview feature setting on Google Maps plops you down right at street level and gives you a 360 degree view of everything including traffic, crowds, and architecture.

Step #5: Reach Out for Additional Assistance

It’s important to note that settings are more than just trees and buildings. No matter where you decide to set your story, I can bet the land and its people have a long standing history that has shaped the city, the culture, and the people. It’s important to know when a rural area was once a mining town or a gambling mecca.

These tidbits will have an impact on your story and could give you a new angle from which to base your plot. There’s no need to go crazy finding this background out, but you should have a general cultural knowledge of the places where your book is set.

Local archives and historical societies are great places to get local and even not so local information. Often run by volunteer history enthusiasts, these groups are packed to the gills with information and, in the very least, research knowledge. They can point you in the right direction, if not join you in your search.

I once had a historian call me four weeks after our initial contact to tell me some new information she had found about a neighborhood I was researching. I was humbled by her willingness to assist and her matched enthusiasm.

Step #6: Don’t Forget to Write

It’s easy for research to become a distraction. Many writers get so caught up in the research they never get around to writing the story.

You could always find more details, but the details may never find their way into the final draft, so it’s important to:

  • research the big stuff,
  • write the book, and
  • fact check the smaller things later as part of the revision process.

When I was writing Chorus of the Dead, I used symbols on both sides of a word or phrase I found suspect. When I write, momentum is my best asset and stopping that momentum to research what kind of remedy Dr. Ainsley would suggest or what type of dress Margaret would wear would be tantamount to shooting myself in the foot.

If I am on a roll, I stop for nothing and put ***research treatment*** or ***fashionable dress*** and keep writing. When I go back over the book during a second, third, and fourth readings, I cannot miss the highlighted parts, and then I will have the time to look more in depth into that detail.

Research need not be cumbersome. If you are interested in your subject matter, then it’s not work. It’s just another part of writing a book. It may not be your favorite part, but trust me when I say writing a book that is rich in research helps to separate the writers from the authors.

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Tracy L. Ward pictureA former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward has been hard at work developing her favorite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a young surgeon in Victorian England. Her books, Chorus of the Dead, Dead Silent, and the newest series addition, The Dead Among Us, can be found on Amazon, Kobo, and other ebook retailers.

Tracy invites you to visit her at her website or follow her on Facebook. She lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two kids.

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About The Dead Among Us:

The Dead Among Us book coverLondon 1868 – The newspapers call him The Surgeon, a killer targeting pauper children in Limehouse district leaving their bodies discarded in death as they were in life. Discouraged by the lack of physical clues Dr. Peter Ainsley joins Scotland Yard’s Inspector Simms as he scours the city to learn where the children came from and how they fell into the clutches of one of London’s worst criminal minds.

Frustration mounting, Ainsley decides to approach his number one suspect with or without Scotland Yard’s blessing. Nothing during his medical training could have prepared him for what he finds, and when Ainsley finally catches up with the child killer neither of them will ever be the same.

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Thank you, Tracy! This is a great summary of the steps we need to go through for researching a story.

Like many writers, I have clippings (both physical and in OneNote) of various story, plot, or character ideas. But I want to reiterate Tracy’s point that we might need to complete big picture research before we even start drafting.

In one of my stories, I’d written an escape scene that couldn’t actually work the way I planned. Luckily, it wasn’t a major part of the book, but that’s a danger if we don’t do a sanity check for our major plot or story ideas first. *smile*

YouTube, Google Search, and Google Streetview are definitely some of my go-to resources, but I hadn’t thought of several of Tracy’s other suggestions before, like travel sites or local blogs. In researching my NaNo story, I found several interviews with people who had gone through similar experiences as my heroine, so that was a great source of first-hand accounts as well.

For my introverted self, reaching out for additional assistance is always the hardest step. But sometimes, as Tracy said, we can find some real gems of information by talking to people directly.

And her last tip about putting off until later the research that won’t impact the story is one we heard from Courtney Milan as well, in her advice for slow writers. We often hear that we should use only 10% of our research knowledge in our story, so it’s more efficient to make sure we really need to know something before dedicating a lot of time to figuring it out. Sometimes good advice is helpful for many different reasons. *smile*

Do you keep clippings of story ideas? How much research do you do before you draft? What are some of your favorite resources for getting first-hand accounts or digging deeper into details? Do you struggle with taking the step to reach out for in-person help, or do you enjoy the opportunity to talk to others? Do you have any other research tips?

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Child playing hopscotch with text: Should We Genre Hop?

Writers are a creative lot. We often come up with more story ideas than we can write and have to decide between competing brainstorms. Sometimes that over-abundance means we choose which story to focus on by writing the idea that pesters us the most.

That “squeaky wheel” path is just one of the ways that we might hop genres without meaning to. Yet our brand is often tied to our genre. So what should we do? Ignore that idea? Or embrace our multi-genre muse? *smile*

Summerita Rhayne is here today to share some of the pros and cons we should keep in mind if we consider following our muse’s lead. She’ll also give us some tips on how to make choices on the best way to grow our career across multiple genres.

She’s struggled with this issue herself, so she has the inside scoop on what to look out for. Please welcome Summerita Rhayne!

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Should Authors Hop Genres?
(And If So, How Should They Do It?)

Thank you for having me on your blog, Jami. I’m very excited to be here, being a keen follower of your blog. This place is always full of invaluable information related to the writing craft—not to mention having Jami’s helpful take on current news in the writing and publishing world.

Hopping genres or writing in different genres is something that is advocated as a total no-no for authors. But as authors we are often helpless against our Muses who may want to explore other areas once one work is complete. Or even before that!

J.K. Rowling, despite being horrendously successful in children fiction, has done it. Nora Roberts, celebrated romance author, has a crime writing identity as J.D.Robb. Just like Georgette Heyer, who wrote Regency as well as her detective Hannyside and other whodunits.

There may be a number of reasons why authors genre hop: to find a variety of readers and wider recognition, out of monetary consideration, or “not putting all eggs in one basket.” Most importantly, authors may veer off into a new field just because they are inspired!

The Advantages of Genre Hopping

Let’s take a look at the advantages of genre hopping:

  • Inspired Writing: If you are in the mood to write a new genre and overpoweringly inspired to do it, obviously it’s a no brainer. One’s Muse has to be followed, and your most inspired work may well be your best writing.
  • Wider Audience: You write to a wider audience, and hence engage more readers.
  • Versatility to Publishers: Your versatility is known, so maybe you’re a better option for publishers, as you’re able to handle different lines they may be promoting.
  • Better Earnings: You earn better as you write more books.
  • Broader Knowledge: You research more and come to know about an assortment of subjects and become a walking encyclopedia. :) New ideas may brew up, which your contemporary authors cannot keep up with, as they follow a straight and narrow path.

The Disadvantages of Genre Hopping

But it’s not something for the weak-hearted! Let’s see why:

  • Requires More Juggling:

You risk annoying your publisher. If you’re putting feet in two boats at the same time, you’re bound to unbalance, if not topple. You have to meet deadlines, and often, returning your copyedits might be required yesterday. If you’re juggling multiple contracts, you have to organize better.

  • Might Turn-Off Readers: 

It may turn off your readers. This is the biggest disadvantage I notice in genre hopping. Speaking from my own experience as a romance writer who wanted to write a different line in the same genre, I found it a worrying possibility.

The first two books I wrote were “sweet” romance, and then I decided to opt for a higher sensuality level, and even though the genre was the same, I knew the readership would vary. Many readers don’t want their pet author to suddenly don a new avatar.

I circumvented this by assuming a new writing name. Sometimes this can be the only feasible option, like J.K.Rowling did for her crime fiction. If an author wants to reinvent themselves, assuming a new persona can be advantage. More on this later in this post.

  • Demands More Work:

It involves tons of work. Yes, you may have an audience already out there, but are they loyal enough to follow you into this new territory? Most are probably not. So you’re still faced with fetching in new readers and building a market for your work.

  • Might Need Multiple Brands:

You may have to start from scratch. This follows on from the previous point. If you have a new (pen) name, you have to build your brand all over again.

In today’s world of marketing, this is a huge task for a well-established writer. In fact, some would say it’s downright foolish to leave a loyal fan following and search for new fans when there are tons of books clamoring out there already for readers. This reason is why you shouldn’t take genre hopping lightly.

  • Creates Story Confusion:

You can end up with a confused headspace. Writing is a demanding career. It is hard enough to devote yourself to writing page after page, and if you’re someone like me, with ideas streaming in every alternate minute, then it is even more difficult to concentrate.

Multitasking in writing is often necessary because when you have one book finished, you often start on a new one rather than twiddle your creative thumbs. According to Holly Lisle, the maximum writers should multitask is like this: have one work in writing, one in editing, and one in the plotting stage. I’m guilty of breaking those rules.

Recently I got inspired to work on a historical and contemporary at the same time. The characters were very drawing, and it was impossible not to write them. But it is a headache.

Believe me, it takes some orientation to remember the names of the characters when I open each file. So you can imagine how working on two completely different genres with different world building can leave you mired in confusion. You risk forgetting the rules or world building you set for Story1, as against the ones you did for Story2.

My advice is, if you’re hopping genres, do it one story at a time, especially if they are totally different genres. However, feel free to ignore. I myself do. Just write everything down so you can go back and check your notes.

Do You Need Multiple Brands?

We can build a different persona for each genre, but is that option a help or hindrance?

Niche writing and niche building is deemed necessary by many advisors on writing craft. In today’s competitive world, an author needs to devote all their time and energy in building their career. If you’re serious about making a go of writing, you need to put in every firearm in your arsenal, harness all your creative powers, not just into writing but into marketing as well.

Think about Genre and Target Audience:

Genre hopping can be done if it’s carefully thought out and not just an impulsive plunge. For authors who write for children as well as an adult audience, it might be worth their time to invest in new branding because their readers for each field are different.

If you write fantasy for children and suddenly switch to writing erotica, you are bound to catch heavy flak if you continue with the same name. Continuing with the same name/brand is desirable only when you write for subgenres or similar genres.

Think about How to Make the Differences Clear:

If you’re writing in parallel genres like fantasy and paranormal or the multiple subgenres in romance, you might opt to continue with the same identity, but you’d still have to make it clear to your readers what to expect from your next books. You don’t want grumpy readers complaining how they picked up what they thought was historical but found sci-fi instead! I know I would be turned off the author if this happened.

This problem is addressed efficiently by traditional publishers who usually devise a new look for different books by the same author. But if you are self-published, the onus is on you not to mislead your readers and risk their wrath!

Genre Hopping Can Work, but Keep Readers in Mind

To sum up, I take the view that one should think carefully what genre hopping can mean to your readers. If your target genres are widely different, or if your audience is of different age group or other specification, then opt to create a new brand rather than having an unwary reader get what they did not want.

This can happen quite easily nowadays while ordering books online, especially if you are ordering from a cell phone with smaller screen size! If you’re writing in subgenres (for example in romance: historical, contemporary, or paranormal), even then do make sure your books are categorized and showcased differently.

In case I have sounded too cautionary, let me list a few authors who have written in different genres with ease:

  • Roald Dahl (wrote children’s fiction and adult fiction)
  • H.G. Wells (called the father of the modern science fiction genre, he was also a popular historian)
  • Georgette Heyer (wrote detective fiction and historical romances)
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (wrote detective fiction, horror, SF)
  • Ken Follett (mostly known for his Cold War and suspense novels, he’s also written two historical dramas)
  • Ian Fleming (wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for children, besides his James Bond novels)

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Summerita Rhayne took up writing when she was in her late thirties and hasn’t looked back since. First published in 2013, she has won contests with Harlequin and Harper Collins India. She writes sensual romance with emotional conflict and has recently published her first self-published book.

Writing, she finds, is the only way to deal with the numerous story ideas bubbling in her brain that pop up more rapidly than her keyboard can do justice to, though it often takes a backseat while juggling a job and the demands of a family. However, a story and its characters have a life of their own and will find a way to make the writer pen them down. Connect with her at her website and on Twitter.

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Summerita’s first self-published work, Against All Rules, a contemporary office romance set in India, is out now and available on Amazon. Catch an excerpt here or add it to Goodreads.

Against All Rules coverThe efficient PA out of her depth…

Samara knows getting attracted to Tahir is like asking for trouble. Not only is he her boss but he’s got divorced recently and has sworn off any commitment. Short term is not on her list but temptation has never been stronger…

The man who doesn’t have faith in rainbows anymore

Tahir doesn’t believe in enforcing a code of conduct he cannot follow. But Samara might just make him make an exception! An affair at the office might seem a solution to his troubles but how can he avoid treading uncharted territory…?

Against All Rules
…when fire is set, it’s hard to avoid the blaze…

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Thank you for those insights, Summerita! You’re right that sometimes we just have to follow our muse’s lead, and in fact, that’s what led me to my current genre. I was in the middle of revising an urban fantasy when a paranormal romance idea popped into my head and didn’t let go. Five paranormal romance stories later, I’m not complaining. *snicker*

Bonus Tip for Handling Multiple Pen Names

As far as multiple pen names and brands for our different genres, we also have the additional decision of how separated to keep those names:

  • Secret: Some authors keep the connection between pen names secret and don’t link from one name to another. Going along with Summerita’s advice to keep the reader in mind, this option might be best for very different target audiences, when no overlap would occur or when one audience might be upset by the other side of our personality (children’s to erotica, for example).
  • Connected: Other authors keep the connection between their pen names open and take advantage of potential overlap among their readers. This option can reduce the work of building multiple brands as well, as we could potentially use one social media account (such as on Twitter) and mention both names in our “about” section. These authors often have links from one web page to another and use multiple names simply to avoid reader confusion.
    • A good example of this option is the open connection between Nora Roberts and J.D.Robb. Readers know what kind of story they’ll get based solely on the author name.

I also really liked Summerita’s point about the danger of story confusion. Even within one genre, I’ve tried to keep myself to that idea of one story in planning, one in drafting, and one in editing. Just that amount of juggling is sometimes enough to create struggles with capturing each character’s voice and attitude, so I can only imagine the difficulty in trying to keep everything straight in multiple genres and story worlds.

When I’ve gone beyond that recommendation, and tried to apply, say, a new revision tip to multiple in-editing stories at once, my brain nearly explodes and I get nothing done. In other words, there’s a real danger if we try to do to much at once. A result like that isn’t quite the effect we were going for with our attempt at “efficiency.” *smile*

As a reader, have you ever been misled or disappointed when an author switched genres? If you’ve genre hopped, what are the pros and cons you’ve encountered? Have you found success in genre hopping? What are your tips for a successful shift to a different genre? Do you have any advice about how to keep multiple stories, genres, or story worlds straight in your head, or tips on how to better organize the required juggling act?

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Do You Have a “Must Read” List of Blogs?

November 4, 2014 Random Musings
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As writers, most of us are insanely busy. *raises hand* And it can be difficult to find time to dedicate to writing. So I’m picky about the number and quality of blogs on my “must read” list. They have to earn their spot—and keep earning their spot. So why would I turn over control of my blog to others for most of a month?

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7 Tips for Staying Safe on Twitter — Guest: Marcy Kennedy

October 30, 2014 Random Musings
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Today Marcy Kennedy shares tips to stay safe on Twitter, but many of these tips will apply to staying safe online—period. Not just for Twitter. And read on for my bonus tips of how we can implement her ideas across our online life.

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Ask Jami: How Do We Describe Characters?

October 28, 2014 Writing Stuff
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How we describe characters often depends on our story’s genre and what impression we want readers to have. When we’ve talked about descriptions here before, we focused on how it’s important to describe our settings enough to anchor our readers. Do we have to describe our characters to the same extent?

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Ask Jami: Whose Point of View Should We Use?

October 23, 2014 Writing Stuff
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Today’s Question: “How does one figure out which POVs to use and when? … How can I balance it out so that each character has their share of the novel without revealing too much or ruining the suspense?”

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Ask Jami: How Many Characters Is “Too Many”?

October 21, 2014 Writing Stuff
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Kim wants to know if there’s an optimal number of characters to include in a novel. That’s a great question because we want to hit the balance between the claustrophobia of too few characters and the confusion of too many characters.

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