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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shin-Extensions, Botox, And Finding Your Niche

**Disclaimer- I am in NO WAY opposed to changing one’s physical appearance if it makes a person feel better about themself. I don’t necessarily plan on going under the knife or doing Botox, but you never know. Just wanted to make it clear that the following mention of plastic surgery and shin-extensions is not a judgment of any kind; I’m just highlighting the practices to bring up a point.**

Several months ago, there was a special on the news about the plastic surgery phenomenon taking place among women and men; people interviewed claimed that it was basically a job requirement in some cases, because people want to do business with good-looking blokes and ladies. Some actresses do it because they believe that it’s simply what the American public wants to see on screen. Like I said, I’m very happy to let people go about their own business and do what they want to make themselves happier (as long as they’re not spending the kids’ lunch money to do so).

I pretty much forgot about the show and was doing some genre research (reading MG/YA books) when I came across the term “shin extensions” in an Artemis Fowl book (The Lost Colony). It reminded of the height surgery that some people get done nowadays (they basically have a doctor saw through their shin bone and insert a metal piece that can be lengthened bit by bit—in about a year, you can end up several inches taller).

Some of these procedures seem pretty extreme, but the whole topic got me thinking about the idea of writers changing themselves to accommodate marketing trends and how they find, make, and/or change their niche.

There are quite a few people over on AW (the Absolute Write website/forum) who write quieter books for a middle grade audience; they are understandably frustrated that agents aren’t taking on many of these smaller concept books (to defend the agents, they have to pick something they think will sell in today’s market). Should they consider changing their style/genre, and whipping out a paranormal/fantasy novel, even if it goes against what they write? I don’t know, but as someone who started out with quieter concepts, I can attest to the frustration.

A lot of us define ourselves by a very narrow scope—“Hi, I’m Reggie. I write realistic historical middle grade” or “My name’s Dan—I write space mysteries for kids,” or “Delia here—I write YA urban fantasy. Period.” Maybe we’re locking ourselves in and missing out by not exploring genres that are not specific to our likes.


In terms of vegetables, maybe you like spinach and spinach only. Maybe broccoli has always left a nasty residue in your mouth and you have taken a vow never to eat it. Is that being a little rude to broccoli? I mean, lots of people like broccoli, so there must be SOME redeeming quality about it. How about this—you’re a brilliant cook, right (or trying to be)? Maybe, just maybe, you could come up with a recipe to make broccoli palatable—would that be awesome or what?!

You’re a writer. Maybe you don’t like something, but you either have or are learning the skills to write something besides the topics/storylines you’re in love with (unless those topics/storylines are bringing you incredible success, in which case don’t change a thing, in fact, yipee, go buy yourself a congratulatory drink or dessert from me because you are my HERO :0). It might add to your experience level to try something new—you might find that you’re fantastic at a genre you never considered writing.

Also, as blogger Corra McFeydon points out (see the link to her post at the top right), trying something outside your genre can highlight mistakes and weakness in your overall writing approach. She compares it to a negative in photography—all the shadows stand out brightly in contrast.

I started writing MG because it’s my favorite genre to read, and I feel like I missed out on a lot of great books when I grew up and moved on. Returning to children’s literature has been a gift. That said, is it the genre that I’m best at or most suited to write? Hmmm…I don’t know about that. As an experiment and to appease an annoying idea that wouldn’t leave me alone, I have spent the last several weeks writing a YA thriller. That’s THRILLER, i.e., scary stuff with multiple deaths. Ewwww, just writing some of the scenes made me feel a little creeped out.

You know what though? It wasn’t as hard as I thought; in fact, suspense for an older audience than MG’s 8-12 was FUN to write. I’m not sure if I’ll polish and send this baby out to the world, but I feel good about branching out a little. If nothing else, it solidified my love for middle grade novels and gave me even more respect for the YA writers out there.

So there it is—if you have time between manuscripts and are hurting for ideas, why not try something outside your norm?

Happy writing :)