What Do You Want to Write?

Writer’s Tip 1 from Historical Romance Author Margo Maguire

When I first began my writing career, I decided to write a “hospital horror” story. After all, I’d been an intensive care nurse for years and I knew the ins and outs of hospital life. I knew all the dark little corners and quiet secrets. My hospital was on the cutting edge of many new technologies – why not incorporate all that into a book that would terrify my audience?

Because there wasn’t much of a market for it. If I wanted to break into fiction-writing as a paying job, I needed to understand market demands.

Fortunately, I have a friend who is a college professor of English Lit and creative writing. He recommended that if I was serious about writing, I should attend a writers’ workshop. He told me about one that’s held once a year by a local group at a nearby university. I attended two of these and learned an incredible trove of craft and market information from the authors who presented workshops.

So that’s my first recommendation:

Find one or two writers’ workshops and invest the registration fee and the time it takes to attend. My guess is that (since you’re here) you’re interested in writing a romance novel. You ought to check out Romance Writers of America (http://www.rwa.org/). Not only is there a national conference with lots of incredibly valuable workshops, but there are local chapters all over the country that invite speakers to their monthly meetings.

Some of these put on yearly workshops on a smaller scale than RWA. Check out the RWA website. There is loads of information there, and when you join the organization, you will receive a monthly magazine that’s filled with articles about writing. It also gives information on all the workshops that are being presented around the country. You can usually attend these even if you are not a member.

Those first writers’ workshops that I attended were organized into two different tracks: the craft of writing, and the business of writing. The first consisted of talks given by authors on such aspects as writing dialogue, plotting, developing characters. The second was all about agents, editors, and publishers – what they look for in a manuscript, what you have to do to get one of them. It also addressed the literary market – what’s selling and what’s not.

My second recommendation:

Do your homework on the marketplace. Just because you want to write a book about a Chinese pirate in 1798 who falls in love with an English earl’s daughter as he’s taking control of their ship … well, unless you’ve got some huge marketing guru behind you, it’s not going to sell. The market dictates what publishers buy. Once in awhile, they’ll go out on a limb (in Romance, anyway) and pick up an author whose writing is spectacular, even though the concept or setting is off the beaten track. But those are few and far between.

During those first two writers’ conferences I attended, I discovered that over half the mass market paperback sales belonged to the Romance genre. I decided I needed to figure out what a romance novel was, and possibly try writing one. I bought a few and started reading. Then I bought a few more. I probably read 50 to 100 books, keeping it up until I understood what good romance writing was about, and what the market expected out of a romance novel. As I read all these books, several ideas for my own stories began to percolate in my mind.

The important point is that when I considered what it would take to become a published author, I took into account what the market was. I could write a little niche book – a book I was dying to write – that might garner me 1,000 readers, or go for a larger audience. It all depends on what kind of writing career you’d like to achieve.

Margo Maguire © 2011.


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