Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The One Journey, Many Paths session

Having covered three of the overall sessions, I need to spend a bit of time discussing the concurrent ones.  A conference planner just plain can't win with these.  If you don't plan any concurrent sessions people are going to whine that all you had were the big-room events, some of which they didn't get much out of.  If you plan many sessions of concurrent events, meanwhile, you'll get people who aren't interested in any of the four meetings in one slot, and those who are highly interested in more than one who haven't quite figured out how to be in two places at once.

I don't know whether Katharine Herndon, the planner for the JRWC this last time, experienced any of that, but I've seen it at prior events.  I'll say that her design lent itself well to my needs; there was only one time block during which I desperately wanted to be in four places at once.

This was it.

There was a session called Flesh and Bones that taught character-building.  It began as my first choice from the description, but it turned into my second choice when I saw that it was everybody else's first choice.  The Good, the Bad, and the Sometimes-Ugly was a session on facing criticism over what you write, and it sounded like something that will be very appropriate for me once my book moves past the beta reader stage. Hopefully, then, they repeat it next year.  Speaking of repeat: History Repeats Itself was on the topic of making historical dialog actually sound historical, a subject that interests me greatly from an academic standpoint but isn't all that crucial in my realm at the moment. 

I walked into One Journey, Many Paths, a session on writing in multiple genres, media, and interests, looking forward to the discussion.  The cast was certainly interesting, featuring Irene Ziegler, a novelist, actress, playwright, and excellent parallel parker, per her bio, and Michael Parker, a literary author who publishes in multiple places in both novel and short lengths and in both literary fic and non-fic genres.  Rounding the trio out was David Henry Sterry, commercial author in more genres than I could keep up with. 

First, let it be said that I didn't consider this topic up for debate until the conference.  Not two weeks prior, I'd read a blog post by someone who's become a successful Indie who said not to do it.  Her reasoning is that an author should always know his target market thoroughly, and you can't get that close to multiple target markets at once.  Rachelle Gardner also tackled the topic in her blog, and her response to the self-posed question of "can I write books in multiple genres and still expect to build a successful publishing career" was a resounding "no," too.  Her chief argument is one of focus.  Both arguments have some traction with me, I admit.  Then again, I have yet to publish one book, so it's a bit early for me to be picking sides.

A tip of the hat, if I may jump aside for a moment, to the phrase of the session: "viscerally hallucinogenic."  Once again, I'm stuck looking at notes that copied the phrase but failed to attribute it, so all I can do is admire the term's beauty while wishing I knew who said it. If any of you happen to know, would you please leave it in the comment section? 

Back to the session: it was interesting how the speakers diverged on the topic.  It wasn't that they disagreed, but rather that they approached it from three opposite viewpoints.  Ms. Ziegler told of the pleasure you can get from writing both screenplays and novels.  A novel, she explained, is something you experience through your eyes and imagination, while a play is something you experience through its lyrical music. One's verbal, then, while the other is auditory.  The writing of each contains very different challenges that she clearly loves. 

Mr. Parker made some interesting observations on how the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction isn't as great as many believe.  Specifically, he pointed out that a non-fiction writer has significantly more freedom than most people may think.  He pointed to something he called a poetic truth; every retelling of a "true" situation carries a bit of the writer's perceptions and wishes with it, so there's really no such thing as entirely-non-fiction.

Mr. Sterry took the point about non-fiction to another level, having successfully published two memoirs himself.  The memoir is normally considered non-fiction, but it's entirely composed of memories that may or may not have actually happened the way the author tells them.  He explained that at one point he was advised, "just don't make stuff up."  Thus, he continued, the plotting is different between a memoir and a novel, but the actual writing isn't.  Both still have to carry a story in an entertaining way.

Having explained why one might get into writing in multiple genres, the panel--Mr. Sterry, specifically--took a crack at why we should do so: two different genres equals two different revenue streams.  Two books out there is two books earning royalties, homogenre or not.  Additionally, each category of genre carries with it other potential revenue streams; in the self-help category, for example, there are speaking engagements that may not be as prevalent for a novel writer.  If you're in it to make money, it makes sense to leave yourself open to as many opportunities to make money as possible. 

However--it's also, he acknowledged, a lot of work.  He has five different agents, rather than the typical one, who don't return his calls.  He described his efforts to keep his identities separate, which include (trying not to tell too much of his story here) having to be careful of the voice he uses for his various Twitter feeds.

Generally, the commentary in favor of writing in multiple genres was positive and plentiful, mostly related to the pleasure such writing brings to the writer but some related to making more money as a writer.  Since the room held multiple novices, the panel provided some sage advice for beginners:  Don't worry about "brand" as much as figuring out who you are.  Write what you enjoy writing; go where your passion is.  Most importantly, as Mr. Sterry said, "You have to have something to market in the first place.  Lots of people have marketing structures built up around stuff where there's no 'there' there."

On that note, it's time for me to go back to working on getting my 'there' there.  


  1. Thanks for the post!
    I wanted to go to this session but obviously couldn't. ;)

  2. Sounds like that was a great session! It's nice to hear some professionals talk about multiple-genre writing.

  3. Great post.

    And yes, you can tackle more than one genre snd sell and know your target audience in all of them. Many times the audience overlaps.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.