Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trust Your Writer's Instincts

I'm posting this for our newest member, Flo. You go, Flo!

Way back in the 1990's, after the publisher of my first two historical romances was shut down, I had some rejections. I then started getting this strong urge (writer's instinct) to research and write a proposal set in England. My agent then thought I should stick to American-based settings, which were hot at the time, not English. My gut instinct told me to send that proposal out on my own, but I failed to follow it. Instead, I turned my focus to reading and writing category romance. Historical romances dropped off my personal radar until ten months later, when I visited a book store and suddenly noticed that almost every single release was English, Scottish, or Medieval based.

Yowsa.

Was I psychic? Was this a coincidence? Nope. I think what happened was that my writer's instinct, well honed by years of following and studying the market, had kicked in.

A while after the above event, when a different, equally talented agent I had didn't want to represent one of my category romance proposals, I submitted it on my own. Even later, when a third agent in a contest didn't care for my pitch on a different book, I wrote it anyway and submitted it. These were ideas that my instincts told me were different enough and that kept me excited through the writing. Both books sold.

So if your intuition tells you to write something for a long enough time, there might be a good reason. Possibly, the emotion in that idea is holding you captive, and it could well do the same to an editor. Or the idea is innovative, or fresh enough to sell, even if the trend is almost washed away.

How do you hone these instincts?
Studying your genre or targeted publisher with an intense focus is one way. I don't mean just reading, I mean intensely reading and studying. For the three months before I started writing a category romance, I read fifty-two of them. That gave me an instinctive feel, I believe, for the rhythms of category writing and for how each of my targeted lines differed, as well as what plot lines were fresh, underdone, or not used yet. Ditto on the Inspirational romance market.

Not only read, though. When I finished a book, I would jot down the title, release date and author, and what I strongly liked about it, and what I really didn't like in it. If I had only a lukewarm reaction to some part of the book, I did not note it. The idea with these notes is to see what elicits strong reactions, good and bad, to help hone your instincts about what makes an appealing book so it will sell.

Another way of getting an instinct for possible market changes is reading writers' emails in loops to see what plot lines they are working on. When I was a writing instructor for a correspondence course in the 1990's, I critiqued many, many proposals from all across the country. I received a lot of the following plot line: a woman, hurt by her husband or long time boyfriend, starts all over again. I spent a lot of time telling students these were not category romance and back when this was going on, there wasn't a huge market for these books. But then, not too long afterwards, the chick-lit and women's fiction waves hit. The market for my students' proposals opened wide. I've heard about this "idea plain" in the sky that drops ideas, but I think what people write might more reflect current news and trends in society (at least in contemporary fiction.) The eighties and nineties were a time of marriages falling apart in greater numbers, and these stories were begging to be told.

So watch news and documentaries to see if some subject makes your mouth drop open or arouses your emotions--if it grabs you, it might grab an editor. If watching true crime shows on lost children makes you understand or see a pattern in kidnapings , that revelation could become a hook. My February book started after I saw a brutal murderer who was set free from lack of evidence. Later, they found the unarguable evidence that he was guilty--and could not arrest him for it again. That whole episode just wouldn't let go of me.

So how about you? Have you ever just felt with all your heart that your proposal is something you just have to get out there? Is there an idea niggling at you that won't let go, but it seems crazy to try it, based on what you know about today's market or on your own abilities? (Try it anyway.)

Or does the whole idea of writers' instincts make your head explode? Maybe you call it something else? Do you have other suggestions for honing your writer's instincts when it comes to creativity?

13 comments:

Flo Moyer said...

Thanks, Danita, for posting the blog for me.

Everyone, after I read my piece all pretty and nice on the blog page, I noticed this line:
"...when a different, equally talented agent I had..."

Just in case...I want to say I did not mean that sarcastically at all. Both agents were truly good and talented. They just had a difference of opinion as to what to send out. In the long run, my firm belief is if you believe in your wip to the extent that you feel, with all your heart, that you have a winner--get it out there to editors. Now if they tell you 'no', that's different.
Flo

Flo Moyer said...

Sorry--just trying to rig up getting comments here emailed to me.
Flo

Alice Sharpe said...

Flo -- Welcome to the blog! It's so nice having another voice.

Man, I wish I had your instincts. I can't say as I've ever had the feeling one of my ideas was on the cutting edge though I do understand that feeling of hearing about something that has happened (as in reading it in the newspaper or seeing it reported on television) and knowing that it will make a great story. I can see why the incident you spoke of caught your attention. The next book I have coming out was inspired by a cop shooting what turned out to be an unarmed man, and the one I am working on now is related to another news incident that happened not so long ago.

I agree with you when it comes to reading what is selling to notice a pattern and did that when I first sold to Intrigue. However, now that I write Intrigue, I don't read it. I never read what I'm writing. Too worried I'll see one of my ideas dancing across another author's pages and then I won't be able to use it. If I don't know about it, I can use it because we all know that an idea is seldom so original it hasn't been tackled before, plus we know our take on it will be individual.

Thanks again for posting -- you have a lot to say and the voice of experience is always invaluable. I hope you blog again!!!!

Lisa Pulliam said...

Hi Flo!

Great post. You asked: "Or does the whole idea of writers' instincts make your head explode?" Yes. Yes it does. There's a part of me that watches trends in television and movies to try and determine what is up and coming, but I rarely apply it to what I'm doing. At this point, I'm lucky if I have an idea that keeps my attention. I don't want to think about market. Hopefully I'll eventually develop instincts like yours!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Wonderful blog, Flo! And we're so glad to have you guest blogging with us!!

I believe very strongly in a writer's instinct. I think we ignore it way too often, let others influence our enthusiasm or change our ideas. Or - and this happens the most - we listen to that niggling voice in our head that tells us the idea just isn't good enough. Of course, you have to know your market and what's being pubbed in your genre to be able to realize if an idea is new and fresh enough to make a difference, but it's the writers who ignore that voice (and many other outside voices, like you did, Flo) who are the ones that reap the rewards.

I knew in the middle of writing my fifth book that I had something unique. Even before I finished it I knew it would sell. It took a little longer than I'd hoped, but whenever I heard that little niggling voice telling me to move on, forget about it and give up hope, I remembered that instinct that told me it would be the one. And that's the book that got me my 3-book deal. Now, as I finish up what could possibly be a new series, I have that same instinct rolling around inside me, telling me this book is new and different and something that could be BIG. So many times along the way (like last night when I was sick to death of writing it and sure every word was drivel), I skimmed back over something I'd written weeks ago and reconnected with that feeling. Of course, I'd love for this series idea to sell right away, but I've learned patience. And I've learned not to ignore my instinct when it tells me something imperative to my career.

Danita Cahill said...

Flo, Elisabeth can rig it up so all the blog comments go to your email, if you want her to.

I think you're right on about listening to your instincts. Editors and agents may have a strong feeling or knowledge about what's selling, or going to sell, but ultimatley, I think it boils down to the writers (and the readers) -- what they feel, what they care about, what they instinctively write that drives the market. Sometimes the smaller presses are the ones willing to take the gamble on something different with the writers.

Genene said...

Hi, Flo! As others have said, it's so nice to have you guest blog.

My writer's instincts are still in the fledgling stage. I am in awe of someone who can lead the "trends" in what's selling.

At this point, I simply write what is compelling to me. I think as I sell more books (and do more promotion), I'll be able to step back and look at the broader picture of where the market is heading -- or where I would like to lead it! LOL!

Good post!

Flo Moyer said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I really appreciate them. :-)

Alice wrote:
>>Too worried I'll see one of my ideas dancing across another author's pages...

----I know. This is definitely a risk. Before this current book sold, I had my three chapters written and my synopsis fleshed out some, but not yet submittable. During a writing break, I read one of the line, and their key or solution to solving the crime in it was exactly how I had already written my characters as solving the crime. Instead of using it, I brainstormed a way different method using the original I had as a starting point. So in a way, it helped, but in a way, it hindered, because it's nerve-wracking. Very valid point.

Lisa wrote:
>I'm lucky if I have an idea that keeps my attention. I don't want to think about market.

-----This is okay--and good--too, especially when the creativity is flowing, because everyone works differently. :-)

Eli wrote:
>>I knew in the middle of writing my fifth book that I had something unique...I knew it would sell...

---Yes, this is it--and I'm so glad you're feeling it, too. :-) I have this same feeling about a historical I wrote awhile back and strengthening the faith factor in it, and asking if I can submit it to my editor for their other line. The only thing about it is that it had some rejections in the past, so it will be a real test of my "instinct," which keeps on telling me it's a special book. I'll keep you guys updated on it.

Eli also wrote:
>>So many times along the way (like last night when I was sick to death of writing it and sure every word was drivel),

----This is wild, since, it would appear to be the opposite of just knowing your work will sell. If it's any comfort about that worried feeling, though, it seems be a bit universal. I've read so many bestselling authors say in interviews something close to this: while they are writing, they are sure or fear their work is garbage or stupid, or what have you. We are so normal, it seems, when we do this. :-)

Thanks again for the thought-provoking, and very kind, feedback, everyone. You truly are a great chapter. :-)
Flo

Barrie said...

What an interesting guest post, Flo!

I don't specifically try to figure out what's next in the publishing world.

But...I do read a bunch in my area. And I do belong to a couple of loops. And I do keep up on what's selling. Maybe all that sort of somehow gels together somehow.... :)

Paty Jager said...

Great blog, Flo! And Welcome!

I have granddaughters and their mother here all week and they are keeping me away from the computer. We went shopping for material for a bridesmaid dress today. Shopping all day with a 20 month old is not fun! LOL

Anyway, Instincts. I've don't believe I have them. And I'm not sure how to hone them. I do like some of your ideas, Flo. I try to keep abreast of what other historical authors are writing via the RWA historical loop I'm on and listening to what the pubishers say. I'm thinking I may be on to something with my western historical series I'm plotting, since they say the westerns are coming back.

The next contemporary I'm writing may be a harder sell, but it is a story I want to tell. It is an emotional driven plot.

Got to go stop a fight. Great to have you hear, Flo!

Flo Moyer said...

Danita wrote:>>ultimatley, I think it boils down to the writers (and the readers) -- what they feel, what they care about, what they instinctively write that drives the market.

---In the category romance market (my current field of "expertise (ahem)", the above is so true. Emotionally appealing stories sell. I have so love the "plot" that I always have to remember to focus on the characters and the emotion appeal to readers. Great point, Danita.

Genene wrote:
>>At this point, I simply write what is compelling to me.

---This does work. Maybe not one time, when I wanted to write about the heroine working in a camp for deserters during the Civil War--that was universally disliked by editors, but I loved it, because the heroine was trying to find her brother--but the rest of the time, yes! :-)

>>>-- or where I would like to lead it (the market)!

---That's the most important point of this blog, that I, of course, forgot to point out. (So thank you.) Writing the book you are most passionate about is how to lead a market trend, I think. At least, it's the closest I can come to an idea of how to.

Barrie wrote: Maybe all that sort of somehow gels together somehow.... :)

-----Barrie! Thanks for coming to read my blog. :-) As for the above, I hope it does all gel together.
Flo

Flo Moyer said...

Thanks, Paty!
You wrote: >>I'm thinking I may be on to something with my western historical series I'm plotting, since they say the westerns are coming back.

---Yes!!! I hope you are, too. The timing may be fantastic. I've been keeping my eyes open for a return to American based historical roms, as I love them. Westerns were my absolute favorite time period to write in. I also liked Colonial times, too, since I grew up in NJ right next to a Revolutionary War battlefield. But the west--there is just something about it.
Flo

Karen Duvall said...

Sorry I'm commenting so late in the day, but I've been keeping tabs on the blog. Wow, Flo, what a great blog post! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

I struggle with this writers instinct thing a bit in that I wrote a book I'm so excited about I can hardly stand it, but it's unique. It's an urban fantasy with romantic elements, and it doesn't follow the familiar tropes of the genre (not vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.). My characters are knights and gargoyles in the 21st century. I did some genre bending and I'm tickled to death with the results. I only just started querying agents a couple of months ago and have been getting a luke warm response so far. Out of 10 partial requests, there are still 6 that I'm waiting to hear back on. No full manuscript requests yet. Sigh. But I'm very passionate about this series and hope to attract the interest of an agent who isn't afraid to take risks.

As far as market trends, yeah, I do watch them. I read in my genre almost exclusively, and I've never read or heard about anything close to my book. There's a YA that just sold to a UK publisher that has some of the same paranormal elements as mine. It's title is The Curse of the Dragon. Mine is called Knight's Curse. It's the only thing I've heard about that remotely resembles my story. So I hope it catches on big over there and the interest spreads to The States. Time will tell.