So, how do you know if you need genre therapy?
Trust me, everyone does, at least a little.
A hundred percent of the writers we’ve done this with have had a transformative experience. It’s changed the way they write, given them a better identity, and helped them to see the sorts of story threads they were missing before.
There’s a difference between creative and commercially creative. You can be brilliant, or you can sell brilliantly. It’s extremely difficult to do both, especially in the beginning. So, before starting any project, ask yourself what you really want.
Then, before building your author career, take the time to discover who you are.
If that’s not reason enough to try it, how about this?
Genre therapy cures writer’s block.
We’ve all spent time staring at the blank page. But writer’s block what most of us assume it is. I’m not saying that to dismiss the millions of writers suffering from not knowing what to say.
After working with hundreds of writers, and dealing with thousands, I can say with one-hundred percent certainty that even if there are days when you don’t feel like writing, or have trouble conjuring the words, that’s no different than any other dude or dudette in the universe.
Even Mr. Rogers didn’t want to go to work some days. But that other thing, the one the world refers to as writer’s block, that’s a case of either not being excited about what you’re writing about, or writing the wrong thing altogether.
Figuring out your genre means figuring out yourself, and once you’ve got that nailed, everything you want to create becomes easier to make.
Genre therapy also helps you master your art faster.
You’re probably aware of the 10,000 hour rule, so there’s no need to go in-depth here, but the law essentially states, Demonstrate raw talent, practice your gift with intention, and after a ton of time, you’ll be one of the best in the world.
We write fast because the math makes sense. The old way is dead. Books no longer need to be printed on paper, shipped to bookstores, or occupy space on a shelf. Inventory is bottomless. Even if people as a whole aren’t reading books like they used to, people still read, and whale readers can swallow an ocean of words.
We are here to serve them.
But there’s another, far more important reason. At least for us, it trumps sales every time.
The more books we write, the better we get. One of the questions we are asked most often is, “how can you possibly produce quality content at the quantity you produce?”
The answer’s deceptively simple. We can produce at such quality, because of our quantity. All of our drafts get at least four passes before they are published, and have the same editing standards as any traditionally published book.
The key is in getting that draft out fast. You don’t edit yourself when you talk, so the same should go for your writing, at least in the first draft. We learn to second guess ourselves, but the faster you write, the closer you come to your most natural voice.
Back when I was writing copy, I’d sit on my finished sales pages for a long time, sometimes a few weeks if I had to. I always wrote them fast. I researched hard, and deep, then — like Jerry Maguire writing his mission statement — I WROTE.
But when I turned it in fast, clients would think I rushed through it. That was never the case. There’s a difference between rushing and going fast. Five-star kitchens are highly efficient. The food isn’t fast like McDonalds, but it’s still as fast as it can possibly be.
I was a solid copywriter with an exceptional process. And my copy always converted, no matter how quickly I finished.
Fiction isn’t any different, unless you insist that it must be.
However, you’ll have a hard time manufacturing both speed and quality if you’re staring at a blank page, writing the wrong thing, or confused about who you are as a storyteller.
Genre therapy changes all of that.
There are, of course, signs you might be writing in the wrong genre.
One or two, if not all, might even sound familiar.
If you are unsure of the tropes and conventions expected in your story, there’s an excellent chance you’re writing in the wrong genre. This is a big one, and we see it a lot with new authors, who aren’t necessarily dying to write, but are nonetheless starving for a hit.
A typical scenario sees them heading to Amazon, checking which genres and sub-genres are killing it at any given moment, then attempting to write a book in that genre.
But when you’re a tourist instead of a citizen to the genre, it shows. And even if you can launch your book and sell a significant number of copies in the first thirty days, that’s a far cry from reaping the scads of mavens who will devour your book, and buy everything you write for the foreseeable future.
Lit RPG is the best, most current example of this. Right now, the genre is a quiet juggernaut. If you’re not familiar with it, the most famous example is Ready Player One. Books in this genre have one thing in common: their main characters spend a significant amount of time within the confines of a video game or artificial reality.
There are a lot of pretenders here, and their books all tank. Even if the writers themselves know how to throw down the words.
Because the conventions of the genre are more important than the quality of your writing.
That hurts the purists among you, but it’s the truth. Lit RPG authors need experience playing video games if they want to see the meteoric success a fat handful of their peers have already had in this genre.
Of course, readers want an engaging story, well-drawn characters, plot points that make sense, and preferably without any holes. But nothing is more important to a Lit RPG reader than a believable Lit RPG experience. That means hit points, side quests, money systems, and anything else one would expect to find in the genre.
I write well and fast, but I would never attempt to write Lit RPG, because no matter how fast or well I write, it isn’t the genre for me. Readers would smell it, and the book wouldn’t be nearly as much fun for me to write. That’s important. When I’m working on the right project, I fly.
You’re probably writing in the wrong genre if you’re spending too much time staring at the blank page, have your characters doing things that don’t quite make sense, or are unable to depict a believable world.
There’s an excellent reason for that last one, and we’ll get to it in just a moment.
People end up writing in the wrong genre for many reasons, but the one I just mentioned is the biggest. Writing for a paycheck will almost always put you in the wrong genre.
That’s why the romance market on Amazon is a dumpster fire. There are too many mercenaries bleeding on the page. That dilutes and confuses the market. Worse, it impedes the pretender’s growth as a writer, creator, and businessperson.
You cannot necessarily create what you like to consume.
That’s another big reason we see people writing in the wrong direction. They are attempting to mimic some of their favorite things, without having the skill set to do so.
Let me explain that, because it would be natural to assume that if you enjoy reading a particular type of book, or watching a particular type of television, you would be qualified to replicate that experience on the page.
But this isn’t true.
Sometimes there’s overlap, but we can’t automatically create what we consume, and believing we can will often boil us into frustration.
Come on in, the water’s warm, the idea says.
So you do, but every chapter’s another degree, until the water’s too hot and you finally can’t stand it. You either have to toss the project, or gut your way through it, wondering why you even started it in the first place.
We had another author — not Jack the Ripper Romance — who came aboard to write sci-fi with us. She was in love with her project, and the world it came from. Man vs. Machine. A tale as old as time, or at least as old as The Terminator.
But she was having an extremely difficult time with her book. Bogged down in the middle, same as every science fiction project she’d tried to write before this one.
Fortunately, we’d already come face-to-face with genre therapy, and knew how to start thinking around this problem. We gave her the same sort of interview. But as with any therapy, there isn’t a standard set of questions, so much as many things to pay attention to.
“What’s your favorite TV show of all time?” I asked.
No hesitation: “Star Trek: the next generation.”
I nodded. That made sense, and was in full alignment with the style of story she was trying to write. But there was an obvious stray thread, begging to be pulled.
“If they were rebooting Star Trek: The Next Generation right now, and you got a call from Paramount inviting you to be in the writer’s room, would you take the job?”
“No way,” she shook her head.
“And why not?”
“Because I’m not qualified. I would get bogged down in all the sciencey stuff.”
“You mean like the stuff that’s bogging you down now?”
A timid nod, then, “Yeah.”
“What if Netflix was bringing Ella Enchanted to their streaming service, and they invited you into that writer’s room — would you take the job?”
I’m glad I knew her well enough to ask that question. It was like a unicorn had galloped into her room the second I did.
After that conversation, we had the clarity needed to move her off the project and onto another — one much more suited to her. As with our previous author, her second book was the easiest, most fluid, draft she’d ever worked on. And the most fun.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you enjoy reading or watching is what you’ll be best at writing. Instead, focus on who you are, what you know, and the type of story you’re most designed to articulate.
If you like the idea of genre therapy, but are afraid it will restrain you, locked in a basement and starving of imagination, you have nothing to worry about: Understanding your genre opens doors, without forcing you to tell only one sort of story.
When it comes to genre, you don’t have to be monogamous.
I’ve been with my wife over 20 years, and couldn’t imagine ever being with anyone else, even for a night. But when it comes to genre, I’m shameless. There are plenty of stories I’m not qualified to touch, or interested in trying, but I understand the elements of my writing that transfer from genre to genre, because I understand those elements within myself.
Remember our first author? The one who wanted to write a Jack the Ripper romance? Besides that dark thriller we talked about earlier, she’s now working on a series I’m even more excited about. It’s sci-fi, with aliens, and nothing like her first series. Still, it’s a hundred percent her.
In the last nine months, I’ve written psychological thrillers, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, dark horror, and techno-thrillers. Later this year I’m planning to write an extremely contemplative book about dying. But there is a lot of Sean Platt in those stories, regardless of the pseudonym on the cover.
You can be great in more than one genre, but proceed with caution. More often than not, it’s your writer’s desire to scurry around on the playground. I sympathize; I’m the same way. I still love to experiment, but after millions of words, I’m no longer willing to conduct them blind.
Know who you are as a storyteller, and you can nestle deeper into your identity with every new project. If you already have your genre figured out, believe me, there’s still plenty to glean from exploring your creative psyche.
And if at some point while reading this you’ve come to realize that you’re writing in the wrong genre, don’t panic. It’s never too late. I wrote millions of words before I finally figured most of this out. Same for several of our writers. One of our authors — whom we met at our one and only Genre Therapy workshop — is in her seventies. She posted in our company Slack channel last week that she had a day with well over ten-thousand words, her personal best.
It isn’t too late, and despite what you’ve probably heard, we’re still in the early adoption phase of indie publishing. It might not seem that way, with millions of new books each year clamoring for slivers of finite attention, but it’s a market correction that the truest storytellers will survive.
The antidote to the glut lies in becoming a more fluid, organic storyteller. And that starts — not to beat a dead unicorn — with going deeper into yourself.
We started out with the dream of being able to write whatever we wanted.
So we did, and it was fun. Sometimes profitable and sometimes not. But that constant up and down made it difficult to build our business.
Eventually, we crashed into a wall. Most of it financial, and some of it creative.
But that's a great place for a storyteller to end up. Because we know that the darker the midpoint, the brighter the climax.
So we sharpened our understanding in who we are, enough that we could help our authors when we saw them making the same mistakes.
Now, figuring out who our writers are is the first step in making them happy, productive, and profitable. Usually in that order.
Know the person inside the creator, and the creator inside the person. Often, that’s the inner space where you’ll find profit dancing with your muse.