Jo Ann and I met long ago when we were both authors for Kensington Precious Gem Romance. She's a Past President of Romance Writers of America and a veteran of the publishing wars.
In my email, I asked her if she would allow me to publish an article she wrote years ago about how authors end up reinventing their careers with the changing vagaries of the publishing world. I found a tattered yellow copy of the carticle which prompted my email. She kindly agreed.
Jo Ann Brown has been creating characters and stories for as long as she can remember. Her first stories were populated with her friends and sisters. She wrote her first novel in high school, and it happily resides in the very back of her file cabinet. Fast forward through college, serving in the Army as a quartermaster officer, getting married, and increasing her blessings with three children...and Jo Ann sold her first book in 1987. Since it was published in 1988, she has sold over 100 titles and has become a best-selling and award-winning author. Romantic Times called her "a truly talented author." She currently writes Amish romances for Harlequin Love Inspired as Jo Ann Brown.
Reinventing Your Writing
by Jo Ann Brown (among other names)
“When I fall in love, it will be forever...” That song was supposed to be the theme of my writing career. I was in love with historical romances, and I would write them forever. My characters’ once upon a time would mean my happily ever after.
I’ve reinvented myself several times in the 25+ years I’ve been writing, and I suspect I will again. Each time, I’ve done it with eyes wide open. Here’s what I’ve considered each time.
What is triggering my desire to reinvent myself?
• In the early 90's, I went from historical romance author to traditional Regency author because of market conditions. At that point, Regencies were doing great (hard to imagine now!) and slots for historicals had dried up.
• Subsequent reinventions happened when opportunities came my way – a publisher looking for a specific sort of book, a packager needing a ghostwriter, my editor moving from one house to another.
• Reading in a new genre/subgenre and wanting to write in that market.
Why do I want to reinvent myself?
• The need to reinvent oneself may be a story idea/characters you want to write, but you simply can’t fit it into your current genre/subgenre.
• You’re bored and want a new challenge.
• Your fans have been clamoring for a book from you that wouldn’t fit in with your current contracts/submissions.
• You are between contracts/houses.
• Your numbers tanked for your last book, and you need to start over to get the distributors to order more of your next title.
When should I reinvent myself?
• If you are an aspiring author, you need to be Kentucky Fried Chicken – do one thing and do it right. You shouldn’t jump genres...until you’ve published a few books and established yourself as “Paige Turner, who writes erotic Cinderella vampire inspirationals”. Then you can consider reinventing yourself. On the other hand, if you’re not yet with an agent/under contract and your current genre isn’t taking you where you want to go, you can reinvent yourself now. Stop submitting in Genre A while you write in Genre B and start submitting that. It doesn’t mean you’ll never go back to Genre A. It just means you’re making Genre B a priority...for now (as they sing in the Broadway play “Avenue Q”).
• For a published author, you need to look at your contract obligations and figure out when you’ll write what may need to be a complete ms. Just because you submit and sale on proposal now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to when you reinvent yourself. It’s not going back to square 1 (because you have knowledge and experience), but it’s like going back to square 1.5.
What should be considered when you want to reinvent yourself?
• Markets, of course. There’s no sense in writing that erotic Cinderella vampire inspirational if there isn’t a market. For published authors, does your current publisher have a line/program with books like the one you want to write? If so, discuss this change with your editor before you jump ship.
• Time. When will you write in another genre/subgenre with your writing/life obligations?
• How long do you want to stay with this reinvention? If you’re looking at a single book, it’s probably not worth the time/effort.
• Money. If you’re accustomed to million dollar advances (and aren’t we all????), are you willing to take a smaller advance to begin all over again? Even if you’re keeping the same name, you can’t always expect to receive the same advance in different genres. The bookstore sales simply don’t support it.
• Name. Will you take a pen name? Readers can be annoyed if they pick up a favorite author’s book and it isn’t what they expect. If you take a pen name, how do you know your current readers will go with you? You don’t. You can hope your loyal readers will follow us, but some won’t like your new genre. Some won’t get the news (even if you send out a newsletter and/or have a web site and/or a blog and/or Facebook and/or tweet...and/or whatever other social media you use or comes next).
• Renewing your brand. Should you have separate web sites, etc. for each version of yourself? Should you combine them? If you have two separate ones, should you link them? This becomes more of an issue if you’re reinventing yourself into children’s or YA (and possibly inspirational) markets.
• Balancing deadlines. Not only for submitting, but the subsequent work. Many writers when they’re reinventing themselves follow the wing-walker’s rule – don’t let go of one part of the airplane, until you can grab another! Or they simply want to write in multiple genres at the same time. If you’re working with editors at different houses, you have to make sure you don’t set unreasonable deadlines that will have a collapsing domino effect if copy edits come in late for one project and a deadline is shifted on another.
My best advice to you (and the advice I follow myself) is to take the long view and have a career plan before you try to reinvent yourself. Then go for it...
Find JoAnn Online
Buy Amish Homecoming by Jo Ann Brown
Amazon Kindle * Amazon mass market * Barnes and Noble mass market * Nook * iBooks
Authors, print this out and read it when you feel as if a publishing door is closing.