The End of History Problem in Planning a Writing Career

May82014

The End of History Illusion is the common assumption that, wherever we are in life, we have become who we were meant to be, that we made mistakes in the past–dated the wrong person, got a dubious tattoo, made dumb investments, whatever–but NOW we’re grown up, we’re smarter, we know what we’re doing, and we know who we are.

The problem is, time passes and the End of History moves with us, and that time ten years ago when we thought we knew it all, knew exactly how the rest of our lives were going to go, knew who we were forever? Yeah, we changed and now that’s part of our history, we’re not like that anymore but THIS time, THIS is the End of History.

I think for a lot of people, that’s just an amusing tic, something you look back on and think, “How could I have been so wrong?” laugh, and move on. But if your career is tangled up in who you are, the End of History Illusion can be a huge problem. Take writers, for example.

We tell the stories we have to tell in the beginning, the stories of our hearts. Then some of us get published, and when we get published we get marketed, aka branded, because that’s the best way to sell books and everybody involved wants to sell books.

So let’s say for example, you start writing romance, and people think you’re funny, and bam, you’re a romantic comedy writer. That’s okay, you like writing what you like, so it’s not a problem. Then ten years go by, you write a romantic comedy novel that gets rave reviews, you’re poised for super-stardom, all you have to do is write another romantic comedy and . . .

You’ve changed. You’re not the person you were ten years ago. It’s not that you like romantic comedy any less, it’s that that’s not where your head is anymore. You started writing at 41, which was certainly The End of Your History, everything after that would play out as planned, but now you’re 51, and History moved, and now romantic comedy is who you used to be, not who you are now. That’s not a problem unless the world has slotted you as a romantic comedy writer, you’ve been branded as a romantic comedy writer, and now you have to choose:

Are you going to try to drag yourself back to where you were ten years ago to fit your very successful brand? Or are you going to say, “I’m sorry, that’s just not me any more,” and try to figure out who the hell you are now and what you’re going to write now?

A lot of people take Option A and keep writing the same thing, and if they can do it, more power to them, it’s clearly the financially smart thing to do. Others take Option A and try to slowly morph it, moving away by increments, although that usually doesn’t work since readers usually aren’t reading non-series books in the order in which they were written. Others are stuck with Option B because they can’t pretend to be who they were; they change, readers object, things fall apart unless the leap they’ve made gets them different readers, readers who will be very upset at the end of the next decade when The End of History moves again, and the writer has to reinvent herself.

An even bigger problem: What if she can’t reinvent herself? What if she’s written all the books she was supposed to write, and now it’s time for something different? Painting, music, water-skiing, welding . . . anything but writing. What happens then?

I think one of the most important aspects of career planning is taking into consideration the End of History Illusion; that is, I think any writer making a career plan has to assume that she’s going to change, possible radically, and factor in the evolution. You can probably with some degree of certainty what you’re going to feel like in six months, maybe a year. Five years? Nope. Ten years? Not a chance. And that’s why I think the best advice for writers planning careers is “Stay fluid and unpredictable.” Branding, the marketing tactic that everyone is so crazy about, is a trap and an illusion because once you’re branded, you’re stuck. That’s who you are, even if it isn’t.

I wrote a pretty good ghost story that got some pretty bad reviews on Amazon because it wasn’t a romantic comedy. I knew it wasn’t a romantic comedy. We didn’t promote as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a romantic comedy cover. And yet . . . I wrote a paranormal fantasy in collaboration with a guy; people complained that it wasn’t a romantic comedy. We knew it wasn’t a romantic comedy. We didn’t promote it as a romantic comedy. It didn’t have a romantic comedy cover. It didn’t matter, I was branded as a romantic comedy writer and people were disappointed because the books weren’t what my name implied to them. (Of course some people didn’t like the books just because they didn’t like the books. Can’t blame everything on branding.)

That’s why I think it’s a good idea to signal early and often that who you are is who you are; that is, if I’d established that I wrote Crusies instead of romantic comedies, I might not have had such a hard time when my End of History moved forward a decade, just as its moving now. At 64, I’m pretty confident that this is the real End of My History, except that my mother just celebrated her 88th birthday. If I get the same deal that Jo is getting, will I be the same person then? Not a chance. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’m going to be the same person tomorrow.

The key, as always, is to write the stories you have to write, not write to market, but I think that’s not enough. I think that we have to remember to challenge ourselves, move outside our comfort zones, break whatever natural branding is growing up around us. The bigger the gap between who we are and what we write, the more likely we’re going to hit writer’s block and creative exhaustion. Maybe the question we need to ask is not “What should I write next?” but “Where can I go next?” And then remember that wherever we go, eventually we’re going to end up some place else.

Read more about The End of History Illusion on io9 and on Psychology Today.

Filed in Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Writing

102 Comments to 'The End of History Problem in Planning a Writing Career'

On May 8, 2014 at 6:49 am Jwocky said...

Hi Jenny,

I just saw this and thought you might like the shout out. Apparantly the people at Salon.com really love you. :). It was in a review today.

“Unlike the more polished writers in her genre — Helen Fielding, Marian Keyes and the delightful Jennifer Crusie spring to mind — Weiner’s novels have a lumpiness that testifies to a desire to stretch the boundaries of her chosen form.”

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:32 am Jenny said...

Thank you!
Although I’d be so much happier if they weren’t using me to beat up on Jen. Her novels are not lumpy.
Still it’s a good day to be called delightful; yesterday I was sick as a dog and looked and felt like death; today is MUCH better so I’m delighted to be delightful.

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On May 8, 2014 at 7:07 am KC said...

Thank you for this. Wise words that I really needed. Just…thank you.

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On May 8, 2014 at 7:16 am Deborah Blake said...

I loved those books. I didn’t care that they weren’t romantic comedies. Why? Because they were Crusies. I think you still have LOTS of fans who would be happy to read your shopping list. Because whatever you write, you write well.

That being said, I absolutely agree with your “stay fluid” advice. Not only do writers change as people, but the market changes constantly. I’ve primarily focused on paranormal romance and urban fantasy (although I did write a contemporary foodie romance which didn’t sell, alas). But I’ve always wanted to write a romantic comedy, and my agent thinks now is a good time for that (and a BAD time to be pitching anything paranormal). So I am joyfully switching gears. I hope to write lots of different genres over the years. You know, assuming I keep writing, and don’t change to something completely different. Like Kosher pig farming.

(And no, that’s not an option you get. Why? Because I need another Crusie. Sorry.)

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:17 am Jennifer said...

There is frequently romance and comedies in your stuff. I say it still counts. Feh on the marketing.

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On May 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm dnelle said...

I agree. Anyone who knows your work is going to be happy with whatever you write, because it’s still your voice. I loved Maybe This Time, the Bob books, everything. Now having said that, have you considered a pseudonym- it worked for Barbara Michaels. No reason it couldn’t work for you. I say write something you’ve wanted to do but thought wouldn’t fit within your “brand” and self-publish under a pseudonym on Amazon, see what happens. Obviously you’ve been feeling constricted for a while. You’re not gonna do your best work if you don’t believe 100% in what you’re doing.

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:18 am Office Wench Cherry said...

What Deborah said. What I love about your books are the things that aren’t romantic comedy – the community, the smart women, the dogs, the food, the atmosphere. I’m not a big romance reader so the romance doesn’t really draw me, what draws me is everything else. I’ll read whatever you write – even if you welded it.

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:53 am bernie said...

Yeah… what Deborah and Office Wench said. I really enjoy your voice in your stories. I really don’t care if “the girl” ends up with “the guy”. I love the community feel and the journey that the main character takes, and the wonderful snarky moments that do actually make me laugh out loud… and sometimes snort which is oh so fun to do in public. So here’s me crossing my fingers that another Crusie will come my way… buy you know, no pressure.

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On May 8, 2014 at 11:34 am Natasha said...

I read different genres, and I have a kazillion (okay okay, ten. Or so) stories running around in my head trying to get out, and they’re not all the same genre. I’m not going to keep any one story trapped just because it doesn’t match the other “pegs”. And, if someone demanded that I’d have to stick with one particular genre, well, I hate doing crap that I don’t want to do, so it probably wouldn’t happen because writing is supposed to be a joy for me, not a job.

I think that if you’re a good writer, it won’t matter to your readers what you write. I never remember thinking that any of your books weren’t romantic comedies (I actually want to go back and read them again because I don’t believe you about that ;) ); I do, however, remember not wanting them to end, and I loved them just as much as any other Crusie book.

The only time I’ve not switched genres with a writer is when the writing sucked in the new genre. Of course, that applies to authors who stay in the same genre, too–I’ll stop reading their books if they decide that they no longer need to care about their writing and they’re only interested in just pumping crap out.

Write whatever genre you want to. We’ll read it. Because we know that it will be awesome no matter what.

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On May 8, 2014 at 11:34 am G and T said...

I firmly believe that marketing is the parent of many of the evils we face today. Sure, there’s a lot of power in defining your market segments and devising plans to reach them. But I am more than the sum of my demographic parts. Also, it’s a shallow approach to life. Unfortunately, I don’t see the tide turning on this marketing thing … ever.

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On May 8, 2014 at 11:42 am Cherry Harpy said...

I third the motion—what Deborah & Office Wench & Bernie said. I like some of your books better than others, of course, but all of them have the Crusie touch, the snark, the laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry-because-there’s-real-stuff-there, the community–so whoever you are, you’ve got readers. Thank you.

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On May 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm Nance said...

Good timing on this. Just yesterday I was wondering when the next Crusie would be out. I don’t expect romantic comedy, I expect crisp writing, strong communities, all that writerly razzle-dazzle you once called layers. … What I in fact was thinking was, “Orson Welles once read the phone book on Carson with style and elegance and yes, drama. I bet Jenny Crusie could write the phone book with style and elegance and yes, drama–because she would give us these people’s lives and their histories and how they once knew someone over on the next page.” I think that would be a fun exercise.

But I digress. Keep growing. We’re with you. Enjoying the ride.

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On May 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm cleo said...

I also think it’s hard to predict or understand why readers love certain authors or books – marketing aside. Even if an author successfully sells themselves as a fluid author (as opposed to an author of rom-coms or RS or whatever), there probably would still be readers who only liked their rom-coms (or RS or whatever), because that’s what they like by that author. (although maybe they’d be less likely to leave bad reviews of non rom-coms for not being rom-coms? IDK).

There are authors that I’ve cheerfully followed across genres (like you) and others that I haven’t (i.e. back when I read Anne McCaffrey I only liked her Pern books, because dragons). And others where I’ve been willing to follow some places but not others. Some of that may have to do with marketing and reader expectation, but I think it also has to do with what I connect to in different authors’ writings.

I’ve been reading JAK in all of her sub-genres for 20 years. I got bored with her Arcane series, even though I think it fit with her marketing / image (or whatever you call it) because I don’t read JAK for complicated plots, I read her for her smart, quirky heroines and excellent portrayal of community / family and I felt like the family / community stuff was less developed in some of the Arcane books.

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On May 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm Naked Under My Clothes said...

It’s *because* you have consistently challenged yourself that I’ve kept picking up your books. Your willingness to go where you need to go makes your books rewarding to read.

I’ve changed, too. I’m not the same person who read the first sentence of Fast Women and laughed till she cried and then bought your entire backlist. But I’m still interested in what you’re up to as we keep adding years, separately but together.

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On May 8, 2014 at 1:27 pm Sylvia Ketrie said...

Can you pull a Nora Roberts ala J.D. Robb? Because the books say, up front, that this is an author you trust to write a good book but that good book will not be in the same genre. I know people who like Jane Ann Krantz and Amanda Quick, but skip on the Jane Castles because the paranormal isn’t their bag. Or vice versa. Personally, I liked your last 4 books, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Rom Coms. I liked Agnes and the Hitman so much that I draped a black veil over my head and mourned when you said the collaboration had run its course. Have your editors or agent had any words of wisdom on this? Do you want a Tarot Card reading? I have a my deck and I am not afraid to use it! :)

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm Jenny said...

Generally, people who choose a different pseudonym are much more prolific than I am. I don’t write enough to write under two names. I’d rather just make it known that I don’t have a particular label, which makes marketing me a real bitch.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:34 pm Sylvia Ketrie said...

Prolific or not, I would read you under any name. It might be less of a bitch than having to market you as “brandless”, which BTW could be the name of your perfume if you ever launch one…

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:31 pm Muria said...

I agree with Sylvia. If you’re getting bad reviews just because they expect something different because of your name, it might be time to retire Jenny Crusie, and hire in Homer Hodges. Or Louise Crusie. Or whoever you’d like to be for the next little bit. Just clue us in so we can still find you on amazon (because it’s getting impossible to find bookstores these days). Harper Lee only published one book. I don’t think being prolific has much to do with it. I think the marketing department likes not having to work as hard to get your new books noticed because “It’s a Crusie”.

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On May 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm Diane said...

And it’s not just authors. I feel quite deeply that my chosen “career” has run its course. I loathe what I’m doing, but I can’t see a way to earn a living by starting over in some unknown new “career.” It’s really exhausting trying to see a way out of this box. And many family and friends seem upset that I want out of the box and to find something different.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:26 pm Jenny said...

People are always going to be upset that you want to change because you’re part of the backdrop of their lives, the same way they’re the backdrop in yours. If you change, they have to shift, however small the shift. Generally, though, people adapt unless your change directly attacks who they are.
Good luck!

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On May 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm Diane said...

Thanks! The hardest part is trying to figure out a new way to pull in income. It doesn’t help that my mother keeps harping on about how, at age 50, I’m basically past my prime and employers won’t want to hire me. At this point, I’d rather work for myself anyway, but can’t think of how to accomplish this with something I feel excited about doing.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm Jennifer said...

Seconded. I’m finding that you can’t get another job these days unless it’s one you’ve already held, and my job doesn’t really cross over to any other thing. And my previous field is journalism, so hah on that. I surrender. God wants me to stay in this field and LIKE it. I will force myself to like it at gunpoint if necessary rather than end up homeless, so there!

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On May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm Skye said...

I know what you mean. For eons when I lived in Seattle, I was a technical writer and editor in the high tech field. I burned out completely and when I moved, I worked as an editor for marine biologists. Unfortunately, part of that was boring and then the contract ended. AFter much running around, I’m back in Seattle where I spent most of a year looking for tech writing/editing jobs in high tech because hey, it’s Seattle and that’s what you do, even though I really, really didn’t want to. Then I realized that and decided to look outside my field and miraculously a tech writing/editing job in an entirely different field — one that interests me and has possibilities — opened up and I got it. Is it my new career path? I don’t know. What I do know is that only by being fluid and open will I continue to be able to work.

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On May 12, 2014 at 1:33 pm mitchiewitch said...

That’s great Skye.

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On May 14, 2014 at 10:54 pm Rebecca S said...

I really empathize with this. I’ve been a web developer since 2004 — and *wanted* to be one since, shoot, 1994 — but the field has changed so much that I don’t feel like I fit in it anymore. But it’s terrifying to contemplate changing careers in this economy. There’s something I think I’d like to do instead but it needs a Master’s, and I don’t want to take out loans…anyway. I ramble, but yes. You are not alone, for whatever that’s worth!

To our host: I have loved almost everything you’ve written and cowritten because you have such a wonderful voice, so I will add myself to the list of people who will follow you wherever your career takes you. Even if that means rebranding or a nom de plume or whatever.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm garlicknitter said...

What Sylvia said. It looks to me like some authors use pseudonyms openly to say, “This is me, but it’s not like my other stuff, so be prepared for something different, but you might like it because it’s still me.”

Also, what you said about stretching your boundaries. I have a friend who’s a professional sculptor, as in, he actually makes a living at it. He’s got a bunch of pieces that he thinks of as his “bread and butter” – a lot of people like them, so he can sell a lot of them. He spends about half his sculpting time making bread and butter pieces. The other half of his time, he makes stuff that he’s pretty sure he’s never going to be able to sell. He makes it to explore his medium and/or the contents of his own head. About half of that stuff sells, so he admits he doesn’t always know what the people want. I think mostly he doesn’t want to get stuck doing the same thing over and over, even if he used to love it.

If you write more paranormals, I will read them. If you write historicals, I will read them. If you write science fiction, I will read them. If you write more romantic comedies, I will read those too. I like the people I meet in your books (the likable ones, anyway). I would like to meet more of them, and I’m willing to travel to do so. (Why did that make me think of steampunk? Now I hope you’ll write steampunk. But it doesn’t have to be steampunk. I just hope you’ll keep writing books so I can meet more awesome people.)

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm Jenny said...

Steampunk is OVER, so of course I’m writing steampunk fantasy. I just couldn’t write it while it was popular. Now that it’s not the New Thing, I’m all over it.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm Sylvia Ketrie said...

Steampunk is over? Sure. Just like rap died out when it wasn’t the new thing. Bah. Steampunk has hardcore fans. Viva la Steampunk!

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On May 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm Deborah Blake said...

Damn! Now I want to read a Crusie Steampunk :-) I’ll bet it would rock.

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On May 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm el7 said...

I like Steampunk. Bring it on!

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm Theresa said...

Since when is steampunk over? It’s just really got going in my opinion.

A few years ago, lots of Reader-type folks (at least in my circle) hadn’t even heard of steampunk (which is something I corrected). Yes, I’ve noticed quite a few more titles on amazon recently with “dirigible” in the title. And yes, as with any writing trend that takes off, lots of writers pile on the bandwagon, some more successfully that others. (This is an observation, not a criticism. More books for me = Awesome!)

But the best stories in a given trend, the very, very best (in my opinion, anyway) seem to fall into one of two categories. There are the few that predate the start of the trend, often from (excellent) mid-list authors whose books, for whatever reason, didn’t ignite the fire. Frex, the first book in Tanya Huff’s Blood series—urban fantasy involving vampires, the supernatural, and a kick-ass female protagonist—predates the first Anita Blake novel by Laurell K. Hamilton by a couple years. Then there are the gems that come out a number of years later (as the trend is supposedly waning) that are written by the storytellers who take their time, let their ideas morph and gel until they have something that is crunchy and new and wonderful, which they then carefully craft into a novel. (Which then gets lumped into the trend, because, hey, marketing.) I would say that Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels books falls into this category (urban fantasy, kick-ass heroine, etc.) And they are awesome stories that have garnered a tremendous fanbase over the years because, well, they are well-crafted, wonderfully entertaining, and uniquely theirs.

I’m guessing any steampunk fantasy that you would write would fall into that second category, because that’s what you do: take time to let your ideas morph and gel until they’re crunchy and wonderful and then craft them into an awesome story.

True, Jennifer Crusie, writer of romantic comedies, had devoted followers who only wanted to read romantic comedies. Sucks that they’ve been disappointed by your last few books, and I’m not being sarcastic. No one likes to be disappointed or to be the one that disappoints. But Jennifer Crusie, the writer, also has a pretty large group of devoted followers who can’t wait to see what direction you decide to take your storytelling.

I agree, though, with folks who suggested using a different pseudonym, but not a completely different one. Jen Crusie or Jenny Crusie. It’s a clear way of telling your fans who only want romantic comedies that this book is something different, but it also tells the folks who just want a new Crusie that indeed, the new story/graphic novel/whatever is indeed a Crusie. I think you’re well enough known that you can get away with sending that kind of signal. Because that’s all it would be, a signal. The folks who only want Crusie romantic comedies would probably even appreciate it (although probably subconsciously) because it wouldn’t get their hopes up. Readers know what it means when a writer uses a slightly different pseudonym.

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On May 10, 2014 at 5:35 pm hilly said...

Steampunk is OVER

Balderdash! Great swathes of Doctor Who are totally steampunk(/fantasy), and the world’s not over that yet. Have you tried Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series? She’s still writing them, and we’re still reading them! Steampunk is the new Black(smith)!

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On May 11, 2014 at 9:24 am Jenny said...

No sub genre is ever really over. It’s just the “Write This Right NOW!” stuff. I mean vampires are technically over after the whole Twilight thing, but vampires are forever. They’re just not the Big Thing. Which lately was zombies, but now they’re stumbling out the door. I think it’s superheroes now, but I’m not sure.

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On May 17, 2014 at 10:10 am JulieB/Julie Spahn said...

I think it _is_ superheroes, but of course, in the time it takes to write a book, people need to know what this next big thing is GOING to be. Or, they can just write a damn good book and take their chances. ;)

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:32 pm Jennifer said...

Yup! I don’t think the genre matters that much unless someone specifically hates that genre. As long as the things you LIKE about the author continue. I’ll admit that’s been an issue for me with some authors who drastically changed style as well as genre. Like Jim Butcher–love Harry Dresden, but I read the first Furies book and man, it’s just so different and it didn’t have the things I loved about the author’s writing style carrying over like, at all. I didn’t care enough to keep going there.

But even the genre…. I don’t like horror and I watched Cabin in the Woods because it was a Whedon, so….I don’t know if that would be a block for everyone. But that actually had an interesting plot, so I watched it. On the other hand, used to be amused by Kevin Smith (though um…I don’t think all the pot is helping him come up with good plots) and I am not gonna give Red State a try. I’m undecided/leaning towards no on the new Pemberley Digital offering- I looooove LBD and Emma Approved, but I can’t say I’m dancing with glee at seeing them cover Frankenstein in live vlog action. But if you don’t go along, there’s issues with following along in fandom, so….I may just cave in even though I don’t like the idea.

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On May 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm Deborah Blake said...

I’m with you on the Butcher books, Jennifer. I love Harry Dresden with a passion, but I didn’t make it halfway through the 1st Furies book. And I like epic fantasy. But that doesn’t mean I won’t give anything else he writes a try.

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On May 8, 2014 at 4:24 pm Gin said...

Me too on the Butcher books — love Dresden (just got finished listening to the James Marsters readings of the first three), but not so enthusiastic about the Furies. Well written, but I don’t think I’m the intended audience for them. They seemed much more intended for adolescents, and I’m not that.

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On May 9, 2014 at 10:50 am McB said...

Me, too, on Harry Dresden. But on the other hand, my mom loves the Furies, and another person I know prefers the Furies over Dresden. The Furies are a very good example of their genre, it’s just not a genre that engages me. I like lots of dialog and snarky wit.

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On May 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm Jenyfer Matthews said...

Contemporary romance is over too. Not really.

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On May 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm Carol said...

Read and loved all your books. Each one has the Crusie magic and that is why I read your books. It has nothing to do with romantic comedy. It has to do with; the content, the written word, and the where are you taking me today. So…where ever you are heading in this decade and more, still interested and will read whatever you publish or a blog now and then if you have written all the books you have in you. I do love your “pretty good ghost story.” The reviewers are stuck and did get what you were writing with a guy or by yourself. Too bad.

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On May 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm Carol said...

…that should have been…”and didn’t get what you were writing with a guy or by yourself which is really too bad.

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On May 8, 2014 at 3:35 pm robena grant said...

You know what, brand really pisses me off. A writer is a writer and the writer’s voice is their brand. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter if they’re writing a novel, a blog, an essay, or an ad for the back of the cereal box, because their particular voice will shine through. I buy based on voice. I love yours, and Nora’s, and Barb Samuels, and have a few others that are automatic buys. I love, love, love to find a new to me author with a fabulous voice.
That said, I know and understand what you are going through and I don’t think there is an easy answer in your situation. You are up against the machine. You proved yourself in the past and made megabucks for the publishing house and they want more of the same, not more of the same but different. If you can convince your agent and your publishing house to give you free range, then go for it. Write what you want to write. We’re all waiting. ; )

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm Jenny said...

My agent and my editor do give me free range. They’re wonderful.

But the market is a different story, and I understand that. I used to love Robert Parker’s Spenser stories, but I never read any of his other series. If Dick Francis had written a book that didn’t have horses in it, I wouldn’t have read it. Readers want to read what they like, and if you shift on them, they’re likely to either think they won’t like it and not read it or, much worse, read it and not like it. Marketing didn’t pull the idea of brands out of nowhere, they’re fixated on them because they work.

Which is why we have to be so careful.

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm colognegrrl said...

Dick Francis wrote books without horses in them, actually, and I liked them. But what he kept was the type of taciturn hero who would get beaten up and almost defeated, but who would come through in the end because of his stubbornness and because, of course, the good has to win. So that was his brand, basically.

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On May 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm robena grant said...

Ah, I see what you mean. It’s all about reader expectation and not wanting to disturb that relationship that has built over many years. Can’t say I blame you. But readers are becoming more sophisticated. Electronic publishing with its frees and deals, has opened many readers up to a whole new world of reading. I want to say they are becoming more daring with their choices, so publishing is changing, readers are changing, why not writers?
If you write whatever with passion you will pick up new readers, maybe lose a few of the old readers who are inflexible, but it will all even out.

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On May 9, 2014 at 10:56 am McB said...

Hmmm, I think maybe Marketing thinks branding is the answer, and I do know that there are readers who have a reading rut and are quite happy there. But I also think branding backfires a lot. A book works because it’s a good book, not because it happens to have a sparkly vampire or whatever in it. But marketing gurus push and we end up with a glut of third rate books about vampires, and that kills the same market, not because sparkly vampires are over, but because 98% of the sparkly vampire books just weren’t that well done and readers got tired of feeling cheated.

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On May 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm Diane said...

Unfortunately true. People may read a new series by a familiar author and like it on its own merits, but equally might not, if it’s quite different from what they were expecting. I remember a few years ago Suzanne Brockmann had a book out that featured two characters people had been expecting, from prior set-up in other books, to end up as a couple. They did not and wow, were some people ticked off about that!

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm Skye said...

One of the many things I like about your writing, Jenny, is it’s fluidity, the fact that all your books are different. I want you to continue to write your Crusies, whatever the hell they might be at any given time, because I like your voice and how you create your worlds and characters and stories.

It does seem that some writers really do best in one brand, but it’s always interesting to see them break out. Some changes I like, some I don’t. I’m pretty sure that I will generally write stories with a fantasy or paranormal aspect, but I’m not sure where else my mind will take me, and I like that.

And this post is a very good reminder to stay fluid on all fronts. It works better over the long term than standing still.

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm katyL said...

I get the sense from a lot of indie writers who’ve recently entered the market, that such specific branding isn’t so much an issue for them because they’re coming through the starting gate writing across multiple genres. But I hear what you’re saying, and it’s certainly a challenge.

Me, I don’t so much believe in the End of History Illusion because I believe we are all dynamic beings. And I raised my son with that idea too. Even where careers were concerned. He has watched both his dad and me (and several other family members) transition from one career to another repeatedly. In fact, we’ve always told him most people will, so it’s what he expects for himself. He’s not afraid of it. It’s very freeing, really, knowing he won’t be stuck with any one thing he tries.

But then I don’t believe in any kind of pigeonholing. I don’t believe potential can be predicted and I don’t believe creativity has limits.

I enjoy stories. But that doesn’t mean I like all movies made by the same director or writer/director. Or books by the same author. Or episodes from the same TV series. Any more than I like all the cleaning products by my fave eco-friendly brand, or cosmetics by my fave cruelty-free company, or paint colours by my fave paint company.

I say, write what’s in your heart. Kind of like that quote from LA story: “Let your mind go & your body will follow.” Maybe: Let your creativity go and your audience will follow:)

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm Tess Loeffler said...

Love your writing in ANY type of style. Good for you to write what hits you, what you need to. It is the words in which they are spoken that mean to most to me. Does it grab me? Will I have to reread it and reread it again? Winner! BTW, I loved the ghost story too! If you do steampunk I will follow.

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:46 pm Kate George said...

This is sooo True! And it’s not just writing. I’m just not who I was – and tomorrow I may be someone totally different. The writing changes, the activities change, the desires change (I want nothing more than to be alone – which would devastate my children if they knew, but has nothing to do with me not loving them). The problem is that if we’re making a living being who we are it upsets people when we change. I’ve never minded that your stories change, Crusie. Don’t know why – probably I just like your writing and story telling and genre isn’t such a big deal to me. Wish my readers were more like me… hell – all readers!

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On May 8, 2014 at 5:57 pm Shangrila said...

Here is why I love your books, romance comedy, paranormal, ghost story, whatever: They’re smart and they are true-emotionally true. Every so often, I read a sentence of yours that takes my breath away because it’s so TRUE, and I will read you forever for that.

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On May 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm Jinx said...

And choosing any book because of an author is a way more trustworthy way to find a book you’ll like than choosing one because of the genre. If the author writes honestly, rather than just churning out the dreck, that author’s individual quality will win out.

I started reading your books despite a hugely bigoted mistrust of the very “idea” of (yuck!) Romance Books. I was overcome by a comment I read somewhere that said your favorite authors were Georgette Heyer and Terry Pratchett, so I figured, “hey, okay, worth trying.” So to hell with genre. People should read your books because they’re addicted to your books. Write a phone book if you want, but just put your name on the front, okay?

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On May 8, 2014 at 9:00 pm Redwood Kim said...

I’m thinking that the web stuff you do automatically strengthens your brand, such as it is. The collaborations surprised me, especially the ones with Bob, because I had no context for them. But I liked your writing, so I went along for the ride. By the time MTT came out, I had looked you up on FaceBook and ended up here (and RF) so I knew what to expect. Your voice comes through on all your writing, so I have no hesitation about following you to whichever genre you care to explore.

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On May 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm Emily said...

I think the really good authors, directors, artists, musicians, creators can take you with them into all sorts of places you never would have tried otherwise, and expand your horizons because you trust their vision and you’re willing to try a ghost story/western movie/dubstep/werewolf heroine if it’s them. And sometimes that leap of faith pays off bigtime.

I hit my End of History about nine years ago. I was a bookseller. It wasn’t just what I did, it was who I was, it was woven into my fabric, and it suddenly started to feel like it wasn’t where I was meant to be anymore. I came pretty darn close to a fullblown breakdown over it. Right now, where I am meant to be is being a mother to two charming, energetic boys. Doesn’t mean I’m brilliant at it, but it feels right to be here and it feels like the lessons I’m meant to be learning at this moment in time are buried in trying to be a better mum. I’m starting to get the first faint unsettling twitches, now that my youngest is going off to school, that suggest that the next upheaval and challenge may be on the way, and it’s leaving me feeling rather panicky and slightly excited to see what gets thrown at me next. I just hope it doesn’t involve another breakdown.

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On May 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm aunt snack said...

One reason some of us miss the romantic comedies is not the comfort of branding, but the scarcity of good comedic writing. For me there was you and Calvin Trillin (who has written in a lot of other different genres over the years) who could make me want to call a friend at 2am to read them a funny line. I like, buy and recommend your other stuff, but I NEED the high that that laughter gives me.

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On May 8, 2014 at 10:31 pm Dre Sanders said...

I quit writing for three years. I had several partials. At some point, I decided to pick one of these and finish the damn thing with no expectations of how good it would be. I just needed to choose a book to write and do it. The doing was the important thing. To my surprise, I quit thinking about every other darn sub- genre I’d like to write, and focused on my WIP. I had abandoned this book as episodic, unmarketable, with some unusual romance elements. I decided if I ended up with something decent, I’d self-publish. This gave me a lot of freedom to write the story my way. I’m getting ready to publish it in September, with another new book coming out in December. The irony is that I didn’t even choose this because I thought it was my best partial. I chose it because it was furthest along. Somehow, choosing one story to finish unblocked me. My advice would be to pick among your WIPs, set all your other projects aside and finish the book . If SMP doesn’t want it, self-publish. I think just writing the book for yourself, and nobody else, is the best thing you can do for yourself right now.

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On May 9, 2014 at 1:17 am Micki said...

This is a very presumptuous thing for me to say, but you know me. I’m presumptuous.

I suspect part of the problem is that you want and need Jennifer Crusie, Queen of the Rom-Com, sales on your Jennifer Crusie, Paranormal Explorer Extraordinaire, titles. (Non-ironic labels — I think you’ve done great in both fields and I’m always a huge fan.)

And in a better world, you’d have them. But just like some SFF readers have romance cooties, some romance readers get the creepy-crawlies when any sort of fantasy or make-believe comes in. That said, it IS a Venn diagram, and there’s a lot of people I know who are in the cross-over camp. I first heard about you on the Bujold list.

The sales are a huge problems, because writers must get enough to eat and retire in comfort. In order to get the sales, one must have the book. And we all know writers who have faked it, and parodied their old stuff, hoping to sell books and satisfy their readers. We know writers who stopped growing, and we outgrew them. I think writers must keep growing — not just for personal sanity, but also because those sales will disappear if the writer doesn’t have her heart in it.

At this point in your history, I don’t think you have it in you to release a book that you don’t love. So, please, write what you love.

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On May 9, 2014 at 2:28 am Jessie said...

I have been reading this after a great dinner preceded by two martinis (what can I say, I am a M. F. Fisher fan) and I am ready for you to recast Don’t Look Down as a steampunk novel (different characters but still). Okay this probably makes no sense so I will go back to thinking about how to cook a wolf.

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On May 9, 2014 at 3:35 am catheges820 said...

Please just keep writing! I like the rom-com books as an escape from troubling days, but I would welcome other formats. My reading style is eclectic – I love Dorothy Dunnett and Diana Gabaldon, the history, the wonderful descriptions, the touch of the paranormal, they are books you can sink into for a week. But I love what you write just as much. I don’t expect you to write 700 pages of historical fiction, As others have said I enjoy the houses, the animals, the friendships, the patter. Thank you for keeping me happily entertained. I look forward to reading whatever you publish.

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On May 9, 2014 at 8:40 am Bec H said...

Hi Jenny, I’ve been following your blog quietly for ages. I wanted come out of the dark to say that I love all your books. I buy them because they’re Cruises (that’s the brand I love).

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On May 10, 2014 at 11:53 am Jenny said...

Welcome, Bec. And thank you!

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On May 9, 2014 at 8:57 am Mama_Abbie said...

Coming out of lurker mode to comment on this:

I, for one, am glad that you are branching out and writing new “genres”. I have enjoyed your last books very much. I find that as I have grown *gasp* older my literary tastes have changed and, perhaps matured (or maybe not, but they are different). So many of the romances that I read and loved when I was younger don’t hold up on re-read today. I can no longer identify with the protagonists.

I read for voice and community and character growth. I want to be able to identify with the protagonists in some way. These are all things I have found in all your books. I still want there to be a Happily Ever After, but after 35 years of happy marriage, that doesn’t have to mean boy meets girl. It means that growth occurs, direction is successfully found/changed and satisfying next stage of life is embarked on. I AM a romantic, so if a character is a lonely singleton, I am happy if the HEA includes meeting and linking up with a partner, but the personal growth and embarking on the next stage of the journey is what is most important to me.

One my favorite authors over the years has been Kathleen Gilles Seidel. I have always loved her voice and the community she builds. Her protagonists are strong accomplished women with something to learn, and I have always found it easy to identify with them. Her last two books were not romances by any stretch of the imagination, but there was still a HEA; a turning of the corner and setting out on the next stage of the journey. (It didn’t hurt that her last book was about a mother-of-the-groom right when I was planning my daughter’s wedding.) I would read anything that she, and you write.

Lurker mode back on.

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On May 9, 2014 at 10:41 am McB said...

Apparently I missed the memo, because I didn’t know you wrote romantic comedy. I thought you wrote Jennifer Crusie. They usually had a romance in them, and there’s always snark and wit to make me laugh, but I never mistook them for comedy.
I’ve always read your books for the banter and character, so if you keep that in I’ll keep reading you whatever it is.

On authors changing genre, I have mixed feelings. I’m not reluctant to try their new thing, it’s just that their new thing doesn’t always click with me. But that’s not because I insist they have to write the same thing. I think that sometimes the new thing doesn’t have the same spark. Maybe they are trying too hard to Write Different?

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On May 13, 2014 at 6:58 am German Chocolate Betty said...

I really really agree that you write CRUSIE’s and not RomCom. I mean, look, several of your romances are not really comedy, at least not to me: “Tell Me Lies”?? Not a comedy in my book — great characters, but some pretty scary stuff in there. “Fast Women”? Likewise — more murder than comedy. “Crazy for You”? I mean, seriously: a reality-challenged sabotaging stalker?

Yes, they are all written with wit and charm and sassy-ness. Yes, there were light bits — but they were mostly in the zippy, snarky dialog that is your trademark.

I don’t think you can point at your collected works, even the early ones, and pigeon-hole them.

So, yes, I buy Crusie’s because nobody (and I do mean NOBODY) has your touch on dialog, characters and story.

I realize that this is not true of everyone: I got my copy of Dogs and Goddesses (which IS a romantic comedy, albeit with fantasy) from my mother, who said “I bought it because I love her books, but I don’t like this one.” I loved it (well, there are DOGS in it, what can I say?) But then, I am addicted to your dialog.

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On May 13, 2014 at 9:29 am Jenny said...

Thank you!
I think at the end of the day, as a writer, you just make peace with each story that comes to you and you write it as it needs to be written, the best you can. Trying to shove a story into a genre makes as much sense as trying to shove a child into a career; it’s really not your decision to make.

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On May 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm Not writer Beth said...

Oddly, I was looking at the reviews for Wild Ride on Wed. night. I’m about to pull the trigger on the Kindle version (waiting to see if I get any Amazon gift cards for Mother’s Day) and thought “wow, these folks need to get a life”

Just write. As people have said, we’d read your grocery list. Hell, collect a bunch of the blog posts and do them as a book of essays. I’d buy that too.

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On May 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm Sure Thing said...

I skipped to the end of this to say, do what you want, whatever makes you happy. It’s a favourite line that my cousin uses. I agree with this sentiment.

Funnily, I’m a Crusie fan, and I never stuck you in “romantic comedy” in my head. Romance author, yes, but NOT pigeonholed in comedy. I took exception when a pal classed your books as chicklit. In chicklit (e.g Marian Keyes)it is the character’s developmental journey that moves the story forward as she faces conflicts, while in romance, it is the romances that is the focus, driving character development.

While I was misguidedly a member (leader/poobah?) of the “write another damn book, Crusie” club, I didn’t mind what you produced as long as I liked it.

I’ve since mostly resigned from the club when the Saint Neil Gaiman appeared in a vision to geeks everywhere and shone his celestial light on the ultimate truth “George RR Martin is not your bitch.” I saw the sign and was saved.

To hell with branding. People got pissed when the realised Memoirs of a Geisha wasn’t an autobiography but THEY bought or borrowed it from FICTION section of stores or libraries. You’re never gonna get past those types. Focus on us, instead. :-D

For the record, I’m a bit wired. It’s my birthday and I spent the week suffering from, then recovering from, laryngitis and then playing catchup while rocking a bit of a Demi Moore voice. It’s been a good day so far, I went in with no expectations and it could only get better from there!

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On May 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm kay said...

Best quote for this situation “I never look back, darling! It distracts from the now”

Stella Gibbons who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, had the same problem, it was her most famous book, but she felt she was no longer the person who had written it,

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On May 9, 2014 at 11:26 pm Judy, Judy, Judy said...

I guess I have always thought of your books as Crusie’s and not a particular genre. And if you continue to write, no matter the genre, I’ll read them. To give an example, I don’t like historicals, yet, I’ve enjoyed everything Jayne Anne Krentz has ever written. And while my favorite Anne Stuarts are the Ice series, I’ve loved some of her historicals.
And I don’t care what anyone says, I read that ghost story so many times, and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again and again.

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On May 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm JenniferNennifer said...

Not just writers – they boo’d Bob Dylan off the stage when he brought out an electric guitar the first time. Sooner or later, most of the fans came around, and new fans joined on.

Be true to yourself. Easy to say, harder to do, especially when one’s finances are tied to it. But then, consider the alternative………

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On May 10, 2014 at 11:55 am Jenny said...

Thank you all for the votes of confidence (g). I really do appreciate them.

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On May 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm Barbara Beebe said...

I remember a blog post of years ago — You were writing a book, and, you said, ghosts were showing up. You asked if we’d read a book written by you with ghosts in it. The overwhelming response was about what the comments here say: If you write it, we’ll read it. Ghosts aren’t my usual choice [although my taste is pretty eclectic], but Crusie ghosts are definitely a different kettle of fish. You wrote the ghost story, and we read it and loved it. You wrote several non-standard-issue-Crusie books, and we loved them. We love your books because, regardless of genre or subject matter, your voice is there, and we love your voice.

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On May 11, 2014 at 9:28 am Jenny said...

Thank you!

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On May 10, 2014 at 4:02 pm jennyw said...

I love your posts but I found that one particularly wise and inspiring, and I had just never thought of life that way, so thank you.

I would read anything you wrote but you are right, I would start off by expecting something – it’s like hoping you’re going to get ‘Here, there and everywhere’ and getting ‘Sgt Pepper’. It’s not what you’re expecting, but that’s fantastic.

I wonder what it did to Georgette Heyer, getting the routine down pat and producing the work every year? I know we’re always told she didn’t rate those books at all, just the more strongly historical ones (which I still think are nothing like as good) – maybe that’s because she went on being what her readers wanted her to be?

Anyway, thank you Jenny

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On May 11, 2014 at 9:27 am Jenny said...

Thank you!
I always thought Heyer probably really enjoyed writing her romances but just felt guilty about it and had to make a show of knowing that she was writing “trash” instead of “real books.” Considering how many romance writers she’s inspired, her impact has been huge. Wish she could have known not just how much happiness she brought to so many of us, but how many of us she showed the way to creative fulfillment.

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On May 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm samimonster said...

interesting timing–today i loaned one of your books to a friend for approximately the millionth time. (all of my crusie books are worn to bits or have been replaced more than once.) this prompted me to do my several-times-annual search to see if/when there is another crusie book on the horizon. i’m pretty sure everyone i’ve ever lent one of your books to makes the same semi-regular search. i could not care less what genre you choose, i just sincerely hope you keep writing and publishing!

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On May 11, 2014 at 9:24 am Jenny said...

Thank you!

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On May 11, 2014 at 9:48 am lily malone said...

Another vote from me in the same theme as the one about booing Dylan off the stage above. Thank you for the post.

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On May 11, 2014 at 11:37 am Bona said...

I understand what you say here, I’ve seen it in other writers. Creative people that I know tend to be restless when they are doing the same thing all the time.

Conan Doyle killed Sherlock, J. K. Rowling tried to publish something different with another pen name, even Robert Graves didn’t want to be remembered by ‘I, Claudius’, as he considered that he wrote it just for the money.

The risky thing is that, once you are branded one way, it’s difficult for the market to change and accept another role. But you can never know what’s going to happen.
Who knows, maybe with time you will be as successful in a new trend as you were with the other. Readers do also change, and don’t read always the same.

Personally, I respect artists or people in general that don’t let life put a label on them. It’s more satisfying -even if there’s this financial risk of earning less money.

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On May 12, 2014 at 9:38 pm Raquel said...

First time posting. I’ve been remiss (lazy). I’ve been a dedicated Crusie for 20 years now, and I don’t give a Yankee-d**n what ‘genre’ you write. I’m reading your book. They make me happy when it seems nothing else can. There is also the generous bonuses that they can’t get me pregnant, make me sick, stick me with the check, or forever damn me to eternal life with an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Now! Where IS Cal?

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On May 13, 2014 at 9:30 am Jenny said...

So you’ve been dating. Min and I feel your pain.

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On May 13, 2014 at 9:32 pm Raquel said...

:-) I’ve stopped calling it dating to think more positively on it as the obligatory anthropological farce. I don’t have a tenth of the talent of everyone else on these blogs, so that is the nearest I can come to growing into a newer genre.

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On May 14, 2014 at 8:12 am Jenny said...

Talents are many and varied so it’s impossible to compare yourself to anybody else.
People tend to talk about their strengths on blogs instead of weaknesses and that skews the comparison even more. You wouldn’t let anybody else say, “Raquel, you don’t have the tenth of the talent of bloggers,” so please don’t say it to yourself.
Around here, we aim for the “I’m fabulous” self-talk. Well, SOMEBODY has to say it.

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On May 14, 2014 at 7:41 am Ylva Hedin said...

I call it: “re-packing your suitcase”, and update your dreams.

People make this misstakes alot. They work towards a goal, they set up when they where 16. Now when they are 56… and living that goal, they are bored, uncomforteble and missreble.

You need to update. I am not a writer, I thought I was going to work as a actor, or, as a proffesional stuntman… when I was 17, and have a house and two children and a beutiful husband when I was as old as 25.

Now I am 36, working parttime as a secretary so I can spend the time I want with my dogs. I am a breeder now (not yet had my first litter). And spend all my time with them, the dogs…

I may be a crazy terrierlady…

Aaaaaaaaanyway, I love your books, no matter what genre becuse they are written from the heart. No fakes, just pure joy to read. I read them once a year… Just because they make me feel so damn happy! :)

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On May 14, 2014 at 8:14 am Jenny said...

I’m not sure “update” is the word I want. I’d rather think of it as achieving one dream and starting another instead of updating the same task list. Of course, I think in stories, so that’s probably why. A writer’s nightmare is rewriting the same story over and over . . .

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On May 14, 2014 at 9:15 am German Chocolate Betty said...

I have reinvented myself numerous times. And about every 5 years, too. I was a small cog in an insurance office for 5 years while I finished one masters and started the next. Then I taught courses at two universities for 5 years. Then I got offered an asst dept head at one of the universities, changed locations (read: country) and did THAT for 5 years. Then I got offered an associate dean position back in the States, so I hopped the Atlantic again and did THAT for a bit more than 5 years (during which my first husband died). So then I restarted my life by hopping back across the Atlantic to Berlin, where I worked in industry for, yup, a bit over 5 years. Then I met my now husband, who was in Bonn, so I had to find a new job — and am now in research. I have been here 6 years and have recently gone through a “omigod, I missed the 5-yr mark and haven’t reinvented myself” mini-panic. But then I got myself elected as the institute’s representative for women’s issues (sort of affirmative action, but only covers gender equality, as handicapped has its own representative) — really important because there’s a 1:9 ratio of female:male scientific personnel — so I am now working closely with personnel, workers’ council and management. So, still doing the same job, but with a new dimension added (and new contacts, etc., as my institute is one of many in this larger organization, so I am now one of 50-60 women, mostly scientists, which is really cool). Am also working on convincing folks that I need a dept of my own, as my institute as NO women in management positions (except personnel). Which would be another re-invention.

So….I have about 7 years to retirement (I’ll be 59 this year), so one or both change should rejuvenate me enough to get me through the next years.

‘Cause tough as it is, change can be very re-juvenating!

“Rewriting the same story over and over again” doesn’t just pertain to writing per se — it can apply to any job when the pizzazz is gone.

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On May 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm Raquel said...

Thanks, Jenny. You’re right, of course. I AM fabulous.
This is a very helpful subject discussion. I’m working on a book now where my characters on interconnected to my other works. They all have their unique voices, and I am stuck in trying to make them all be heard, sorry-read- in a way that makes sense.

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On May 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm mary said...

If no one has said it yet….. pen name. I write happily (and modestly successfully) under three names in four genres. Those who love me enough will follow me anywhere. The others? We won’t disturb them with the knowledge that authors are more than a brand.

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On May 15, 2014 at 9:29 am Jenny said...

Nope. I have enough problems being Jennifer Crusie. All pen names would do is give me more brands to be limited by. I know that works great for a lot of people, but it’s not for me.

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On May 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm Shirley Jump said...

Very well said and I heartily agree. I was in the romantic comedy boat for years and have slowly moved away as I’ve grown and changed and wanted more out of myself as a writer and out of the books I create. I think indie publishing has opened up some avenues for that, but the reader expectations are always there. And the contract expectations–sometimes those keep you forced into that box because you don’t have time to stretch your wings.

I, for one, hope you keep writing till 88. I’ll read anything you write, because I read for the enjoyable experience of a Crusie book, not the type of book it is.

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On May 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm Glee said...

Yea for Cruisies. I don’t think I knew you wrote RomCom until people complained about Don’t Look Down. Phooey on them. Some of us buy for good writing. We will continue to buy.
I, like German Chocolate Betty, had multiple lives. I recently retired (yes, it does happen if you live long enough) after career number 6. The relevant part of that is that, when my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, I began to look for a job where we had a better human support system. And so I interviewed back at career #3. Since the place had problems (like most places) and I knew what some of the old ones were, the interview team spent much time and conversation on how the place had changed since I left 8 years earlier. It didn’t seem to have occurred to them that I might have changed. The problem you’ve pointed out about branding is that it doesn’t really allow for wide enough shifts in the consuming audience either. Your readers, too, change, and some new ones may want to know about your stories. I think your core audience would expect emotional growth and great dialog. With that we will be happy. For example, I’m in the didn’t care for Dogs and Goddesses at all but I will buy your next book anyway category. I think most folks who’ve read one of your stories would fit into that category.

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On May 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm Diana said...

In pretty much any other line of work, if you change jobs, change companies, change career paths…no one bats an eye. But if you’re a writer or a teacher, people see a change in your career path as some sort of failure. You’re expected to teach fourth grade until you retire and you’re expected to rewrite the same bestseller over and over again until your audience starts posting reviews about how your books are getting stale.

This situation is not helped by advice given at writing conferences, where I’ve heard hopeful authors ask questions like, “I am working on a paranormal series and also a series of true crime books,” and inevitably, the sage author at the front of the room will give the hopeful author a pitying look and advise him or her to abandon one of the other because no publishing house wants to work with an author who writes more than one genre.

My confession: I was one of the readers thrown off balance by Maybe This Time. It wasn’t that the book was bad; it was that the characters overlapped with one of your comedies (even though I thought Fast Women was one of your more serious and emotional comedies). Although I really loved the setting.

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On May 16, 2014 at 1:33 am Jenny said...

I think a lot of people see the changes of someone in their lives as changing their lives; it’s like you moved the sofa and now everything is different. I think the big difference for a writer is that people buy your books expecting the same thing as last time and then feel cheated because they paid good money and got something they didn’t want. It’s why reading the blurbs and the sample are so important, and why putting the right cover on the book is so crucial.

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On May 16, 2014 at 4:35 am Bridget said...

Jenny, (coming out of lurking)

It’s scary to change but people forget that not changing is a choice too. I did the “I have a job and this will be my life for the rest of my life” for a long time. And then one day a door opened and I shot through it like a bullet. (Bullet hell, more like a ICBM)

I have never regretted it.

One of the reasons I did it however was at that job I worked with a woman who had started there after high school and was stuck there. She wasn’t really happy, she had nowhere to go without going back to school but they knew her and she knew them and she stayed. She stayed for 43 years while juniors became seniors and seniors became partners and partners retired. Everything changed and she didn’t – she chose not to and it changed around her whether she chose to change or not.

She was a sweet person when I first knew her and she was miserable for the last ten years easily. With that as an example, walking out of there was the easiest thing I ever did – even as it scared me silly.

So, as much as I like your books and read and buy your books, where’s your door? Do you really want to write another one? Because maybe you could teach or lecture or redecorate houses or create art for a living – because we’ve seen what you can do and we’re in awe of what you can do on a regular basis.

Yes, you make your living writing. You’ve got multiple talents in every twist of your DNA and you can make a living doing other things. You might find that separating I-have-to-pay-the-mortgage-&-buy-dog-treats from your writing might even give you a boost of energy for it. But if your mother’s 88, you’ve got time to do several other things.

The other thing to remember is – Yes, we want buying a book to be like going to McDonalds. So what? It’s not and striving for consistency over actual taste isn’t good for us anyway. Heyer wrote a lot of books and some are better than others. Cartland wrote a lot more books and most of them are crap. Austen wrote six and we teach them in school.

Find your door.

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On May 18, 2014 at 12:03 pm Jenny said...

I have lots of doors, no worries. I just have to choose one (g).

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On May 16, 2014 at 11:55 am Hope said...

I have to chime in on the late side here because this is something I’ve always wanted to say to you. I LOVE it that you never write the same book twice. I LOVE it that you never write the same book twice.
When I’ve been a bit put off by a book you’ve written (Dogs and Goddesses) I read it again and it becomes another book I treasure.
I think authors who write ‘serious fiction’ are given a bit more latitude in what they write than so-called genre authors. This is all part of the snootiness of so-called intellectuals that judges fantasy, happy endings, or just neat endings as being of lesser value to the ‘oeuvre’. In fact, I’ve often thought that many established authors of ‘serious’ works descend to cheap ploys such as killing off children (or dogs) just to keep their writing in the serious category. Terrible events do happen in every genre of writing, but what matters is how organic the event is to the book. Those authors of literature deal with a different, but also limiting trap.
I love books of many genres; what I look for is good writing, preferably with some wit and some wisdom in the perspective. I have eye problems, so I listen to more audiobooks than actually reading books, and I am driven crazy by the assumption that when I buy a book of a certain type that I want to be inundated with all of that same genre, no matter by whom. I have become a curmudgeon in writing my opinion of this to audible with no real apparent change. Good bricks and mortar bookstores spread all of the new and recommended books out before you like a cornucopia and that is what we have been losing with the increased used of ebooks and audible books.
Jenny, you are a treasure, and it makes me crazy that you’ve been stuck in a niche. I hate, hate, hate the terms chick-lit and chick-flick and the essays you’ve written about romance novels should be required reading in English classes. How about Bet Me read at the same time as Tess of the D’Urbervilles (the book that sent me out to find and love Georgette Heyer).
So I’m one of those who will buy whatever you write, no matter what.

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On May 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm Jenny said...

My publisher has been wonderful about NOT sticking me in a niche; mostly it’s just reader expectation.
My editor is a goddess. No worries.

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On May 17, 2014 at 12:00 am Bridget said...

BTW, I just noticed that Mary Stewart died last week.

There’s a model for a writer who switched, Jenny – she jumped from Gothics to Arthurian when no one was doing Arthurian since T H White and restarted the whole genre.

And she was 57 when she did it.

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On May 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm Laura Resnick said...

I suppose this is where one sees the “benefit” of having a tough career, as I’ve had.

I’d cheerfully have written 30-40 category romances for Silhouette. But after a dozen, they dumped me, and I had to reinvent myself.

I’d cheerfully have spent many years writing single title romance. But my first single-title publisher dumped me after one book. And then my second single-title publisher dumped me after one book.

I left the romance genre and started writing fat epic fantasy. I loved it, and wrote 3 novels in what I envisioned at a 12-book (or more!) world of sequential novels… Vut that publisher was such an abusive nightmare to work with, I froze up and couldn’t keep writing for them, even though there was a new contract. I would genuinely rather never write again than return to that horrific situation.

Now I write urban fantasy (for a publisher where I’m very happy).

But since I’ve got ebook backlist available in epic fantasy, short fiction (I’ve published avout 60 short stories over the years), and romance-genre fiction, as well as a little nonfiction, I don’t feel pigeon-holed or “branded” as an urban fantasy writer. I feel it’s just what I’ve been doing lately. (And my goal is to increase my pace enough to keep that series going while alternating it with some other type of fantasy novel.)

Until I got to DAW Books (where I write my urban fantasy series, currently finishing book #7 and contracted through book #10), it was a very tough career, with a lot of financial crises and constant stress and many, many disappointments.

But one of the upsides, certainly, is that I have never felt branded or constrained by market expectations.

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On May 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm Rosa said...

the only thing that would make me quit reading is if you became a totally different person. It’s the attention to each character as a person – and the feminist underpinnings of that – that keeps me coming back.

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On May 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm katyL said...

Late comment but happened to see Maybe This Time at Amazon. Thought that was ghost story book you were talking about re some readers expecting straight romantic comedy & saying it was off-brand. But from what I see, the book has fab reviews. Lots of them. And deservedly so–it’s a clever, fun book.

Got me thinking, although I understand the importance of branding, think while maybe some readers found it off-brand, lots more readers found it on-brand because it has classic Crusieness readers expect from your books. So really, who do you listen to? Or maybe it’s a case of not listening at all because there will always be contradictory opinions so all you’re left with is writing whatever feels right.

And looking at your sales just at that retailer, you’re obviously entertaining more of the people more of the time than not, so you’re obviously already doing a lot right.

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