I turned in THE BOOK WITH THE TITLE SO FABULOUS THAT I DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, which will be published by MTV Books on July 1, 2011, and I've moved on to writing my option proposal. I'm so excited! The sky is the limit for this book. The only requirement is that it should be the same genre as GOING TOO FAR, FORGET YOU, and THE BOOK WITH THE TITLE SO FABULOUS THAT I DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. So I'm writing the book I want to read.
I'm being very careful about this. I've loaded the soundtrack onto my iPod, only songs I love. I've found cool names for the hero and heroine. I'm working on their characters, making sure they're people I'd want to hang out with. The setting is a place I'd kill to live. The stuff that happens in this book is stuff I love to read about in other people's books--if I read these hooks in the back cover summary when I'm standing in the bookstore, that book is an automatic buy for me. I am doing my best to make this the Best Book Ever--for me, at least. Tastes differ, but this book is perfect for mine.
But not everybody writes this way. At a writers' conference luncheon recently, I sat at a table with an author who wasn't published yet but was pretty far along, with more than one manuscript completed. She told me she wrote romantic comedy, so of course my ears pricked up. But then she went on and on and on about THE HUNGER GAMES, and when I said dystopian isn't my thing, she said dystopian is her FAVORITE. So I asked her: "If dystopian is your favorite, why in the world are you writing romantic comedy? Don't you write the book you want to read?" Her response is that she'd gotten that advice before, and it was the worst advice she'd ever received. People told her that she did not have a dystopian voice. She has a romantic comedy voice. She wasted a lot of time writing dystopian and now she is writing romantic comedy.
I don't want to mess with anybody's head here, because I do think what's good advice for one person can be terrible advice for another. But, trying to put myself in her place...I cannot imagine someone telling me that I do not have the voice to write YA romantic comedy and romantic drama, but I have a good dystopian voice, and I should write dystopian instead. I mean, I REALLY dislike dystopian. It would be like someone telling me that I was a terrible writer but I had a terrific aptitude for being a mortician. I would not run out and become a mortician. And even if I did give writing dystopian a shot, writing it would be like painting with my eyes closed. I would have no idea whether I'd written a good dystopian novel or not, because I dislike all of them.
Writing is hard, and navigating the publishing world is harder, but I think the most confusing and demoralizing time for writers is that period when they've completed some manuscripts, they've had some encouragement, but they haven't made that first sale. At that point some people beat their heads against the wall for many years and many manuscripts, acting out the definition of stupidity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. (Fifteen years and ten manuscripts before I was published...I am way guilty here.) I have watched people make one change and suddenly their careers take off. But turning your back on the genre you love in favor of one you don't love, just because somebody (who didn't buy your book or offer you representation) suggested it, is not a change I would recommend to anyone.
Weigh in, y'all. Do you write the book you want to read? Are you operating very successfully in a genre you don't prefer? Do you think "voice" is really an immutable part of a writer and is suitable only to certain extant genres? I would love to know what you think.