I think that every writer who’s ever read publishing advice online has probably come across at least one article on the importance of “branding.” Apparently, to be really smart, writers ought to be figuring out the one thing that they’re best at — or the one thing that connects the most with potential readers — and then sticking to it no matter what, so that fans will know exactly what they’ll get from every new novel by that author.
I know I sound a little snarky in that description, but I’m actually not arguing with it as a strategy. I’m sure that it is a smart, practical way to build a successful career.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been much good at sticking to my own lane. There are too many wonderful genres that I love as a reader, and I get frustrated whenever I try to shut out all but one of them in my writing life. Before I sold my first books, I published dozens of adult f/sf short stories, and I drafted full-length novels for both adults and kids. Then my first agent, back in 2005, took me on with an adult historical fantasy manuscript, and it felt like my first big step onto the publishing ladder. Aha! I’m almost there!
Although that particular novel didn’t sell at the time, the fact that it came so close to selling at various points and was taken to acquisitions meetings by various publishers was, I thought, a definite sign for my career: Aha! Adult novels are what I’m really good at. Focus on adult fiction from now on!
So I wrote another adult historical fantasy manuscript after that, and when I got a flash of inspiration for an MG novel idea that I absolutely loved, I was strong and I forced myself to ignore it. Uh-uh. No way. I write adult books now! No distractions!
Well. To cut a long story short, it was only when I finally broke down and let myself write that distractingly, impractically different MG novel, just for fun, that I finally actually sold a novel — a whole trilogy, in fact (the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for kids), which I loved SO much. And it got wonderful reviews and feedback, which, to me, felt like another flashing sign: Oh. This is what I’m really good at, then!
So needless to say, I immediately told myself: OK, I’m an MG writer from now on. No more adult novels! No distractions!
You can probably guess the end of this story!
Last year, my first two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, were both published by Pyr Books. They’re wildly romantic and full of dark magic, politics and rich history, and I love them.
Later this month, my fourth MG fantasy novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, will be published by Bloomsbury Books in the US and Canada (after coming out in the UK and Australia earlier this year). It is joyously fun and frothy and funny and magical and full of my love for dragons, chocolate, fierce, brave girls and created families. Needless to say, I love it too!
There was a part of me, at one point last year, as I was juggling edits for both types of novels (while simultaneously parenting two young kids and dealing with a serious lack of sleep), that I thought: This is so complicated and challenging, and if I only wrote in one genre, I could stick to just one book a year. Should I give up and finally REALLY pick either adult fantasy or MG fantasy and stick with that from now on?
But then I looked at the books on my shelf and thought: No.
I couldn’t be happy if I wasn’t regularly writing MG fantasy, tapping into that pure sense of wonder and fun and adventure and joy, writing empowering, funny magical adventures.
I also couldn’t be happy if I wasn’t writing adult fantasy, getting to delve into the big questions of my own adult life, diving into swoonworthy romantic storylines and, yes, exploring some real darkness in my work sometimes, too.
I love The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. I also love my adult novels and novellas (including the new romantic fantasy novella for adults that will be coming out in September, Snowspelled).
I hope that you guys will love them all, too — or if not, that you’ll still be patient with me as I take my turn with each genre, knowing that I really will come back soon to whichever one you love most.
I could never leave either of them behind.