Advice for Writers

There is a great deal of information available to anyone intending to publish, whether fiction or non-fiction, and some of it is very good. This post concerns two aspects of advice sometimes given to writers of fiction.

The first is to write within a defined genre. If you write crime, fantasy or romance then your work will easily fall into a given genre and you won’t have to give this further thought. But beyond the clearly defined genres life may become more difficult. Assuming there is one, where is the dividing line between general fiction and literary fiction? Does it lie in the quality of the prose, or perhaps in the references which literary fiction might safely assume the reader will pick up but which the author aiming at a more commercial market could not safely include? What if an author combines two genres? And what if humour is involved?  I think we must try to avoid, as best we can, being totally confined within the bounds of a given genre unless it suits us. This may make marketing more difficult, but we should not let marketing considerations dictate how we go about writing unless our sole motivation is to make money.

The second piece of advice is to have more than one title to hand when approaching a publisher or agent. They like to know the well won’t run dry. What is the point in creating a profile for a writer who stops after one book? No one likes wasted effort. This is probably good advice, though tough for a one-book writer. You would not want to be Harper Lee today.

And when it comes to writing several books, the advice is to go for a series rather than a several stand-alone titles. The attractions of this are obvious. When readers move on to the later titles, they already know some of the characters. The experience might be compared to watching a soap rather than a sequence of one-off dramas. For writers the same applies. When moving on to the second and subsequent titles, they have already created several of their characters and don’t have to go through it again. You could say it appeals to laziness all round or, if that is too negative, that this approach, because it saves energy, is more efficient. It can and does work well, though some series have peaks and troughs (Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series is uneven) and others outstay their welcome (Henning Mankell’s Wallander series ends on a weak note).

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