Admit it, you’ve thought about cheating. After all, there’s so many to choose from, why tie yourself down to one genre? (Hey, what did you THINK I was talking about?)
The reality is we’re always growing and changing, and sometimes that means delving into a new genre that we’re unfamiliar with writing. Maybe we go from non-fiction to fiction, or children’s fiction to memoir. When there’s a big shift, there’s also a learning curve. Rochelle Melander has navigated this move and is here with some great advice on how to make this a smoother transition. Read on! ~ Angela
When I launched my writing career in the late 90s, I knew I wanted to write for children. But with two master’s degrees and professional training as a life coach, I found immediate success writing articles, resources, and books. In 2017, I got serious about getting a children’s book published. In 2019, I landed a book contract for Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, which came out this week.
If you want to boost your writing career, you can write more books, start a blog, write for hire, ghostwrite, and so much more. Genre switching might be one of the most challenging ways to expand your writing. But it also brings many benefits: writing in a new genre will inspire you, strengthen your writing muscles, and expand your platform. Here’s how to start:
1. Build on your strengths
Whether you’re trying to find a new genre or have one in mind, you can speed up your progress and ease the transition by assessing your current strengths. I’ve written picture books and middle grade novels. But when I got serious about getting published, I knew that I had the best chance of breaking into the market by writing a nonfiction book. I could use the skills I’d developed to write about famous writers. And writing about writing would build on my established platform.
- List what you already do well as a writer. Be sure to include both craft and business skills.
- Brainstorm ways you could use these skills in a new genre. At this point, don’t limit yourself to the genre you’re leaning toward. This will help you expand your thinking about what’s possible for you.
- Note the specific skills you can use in your chosen genre.
2. Get schooled.
No matter how much writing education and experience you have, switching genres requires learning about the craft and market. Picture book author Kira Bigwood has two degrees in writing and works as a copywriter by day, but she studied and wrote for several years before she sold her debut picture book, Secret, Secret Agent Guy. She said, “You wouldn’t expect to know how to perform surgery without going to med school, so why would you think you could write a children’s book without first putting in the work (I’m talking to myself here).”
Check out your new genre’s professional organization—and see if they offer classes. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I used that membership to find classes. Follow the leaders in the field, and read their bios: where did they learn the craft? Read as much as you can, focusing on articles and books published in the last five years.
3. Get help.
You can take a gazillion classes, but at some point you’re going to need specific feedback on your writing. Whether you join a critique group, get a critique partner, or hire a professional editor, you need someone who knows the genre to read your work. They will be able to tell you if your work sounds contemporary. Retired educator and children’s book author Sandy Brehl said, “My critique partners worked hard to keep me from slipping into “teacher voice” and just let information work itself into the natural storyline… or land on the cutting room floor!”
4. Know your why
Succeeding in a new genre takes time, hard work, and persistence. You will have moments when you want to give up. According to Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why, it helps to “know the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.” Whenever you feel like giving up, get connected to your purpose, your why. Knowing that you are writing books to inspire children or bring joy to tired adults or teach people—that will keep you going when you’re facing obstacles.
In 2006, I founded a writing program for young people in Milwaukee. I wrote Mightier for the children I’d taught for years. I knew that they would love reading stories about young people just like them who found their voice, wrote their truth, and changed the world in the process. When I got stuck, remembering them helped me to keep moving forward.
Connect your hardest tasks to your why. I encourage my clients to write a goal statement that includes their when and their why:
Each morning, I will write my romance novel so that it will bring joy to people!
Here’s the template:
When: [Time frame]
I will: [Your task and goal]
So that: [Your why]
5. Don’t forget to play
In the midst of writing, publishing, and marketing a book in a new genre, it’s easy to forget the passion and joy that inspired your decision to jump into a new playground. What seemed joyful at first can begin feel like drudgery—especially when you encounter obstacles. When you get stuck, remember why you started on this journey. Embrace the delicious parts. Take time to play with words. You will be happier. You’ll write better. And you’ll delight your readers.
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