Changing Genres

Have you ever considered changing genre? I hadn’t before last year when the decision was taken out of my hands. My debut women’s fiction novel, Forgive Me Not, is out two weeks today. It’s my tenth book. The other nine are romcoms, the latest being One Summer in Rome, all of them published under the wonderful HarperCollins umbrella. I now have a new publisher, the amazing Canelo – so also a new editor. After all most five years of being a published author this is quite a change.

Next week I’ll be blogging about the mental health challenges I’ve faced over the last couple of years that brought about this new direction. I reached a point where I said to my agent I just don’t think I can write romantic comedy any more. It’s not in me. The spark has gone. Deep within I felt a seriousness, a weight, even though my mental health was improving. And a kind of clarity that something inside me had shifted and my writing needed to reflect that.

That’s the thing. Us authors write from the heart. I’ve passionately written all of those nine previous books but just didn’t have the same motivation as the weeks became months in 2017. It would have been impossible. Which is kind of ironic as I’d always thought of myself as a very commercially-minded author, but if you’d offered me a million pounds I couldn’t have come up with the goods.

However I did have an idea for a book with characters I could relate to. A mental health problem can create turmoil within a family – and with friends and sometimes the community, as is the case with the protagonist Emma in Forgive Me Not… before I knew it I’d sketched out character profiles and a plot.

But the story wasn’t funny. The main thrust of it wasn’t romantic. I wasn’t sure how my writing style would fit this new genre. I wasn’t sure if I was up to writing in a new way with no one-liners, nor a humorous tone. I didn’t know if my readers would follow me along my new path.

But I had to do it. So with the guidance of my incredible agent I started. And it was tough. The first draft virtually needed to be scratched and I almost gave up. But a writer’s heart is a powerful tool. It kept nudging me and eventually I began again with renewed passion.

It was a nerve-wracking process sending out the manuscript to editors and a particularly emotional moment came when I read the email in which my new editor, Michael Bhaskar, expressed his passion for, and belief in, my new project. With his expertise the manuscript was polished further. When I saw the fantastic cover the Canelo team created everything fell into place and I felt that this genre was where my work – at the moment anyway – should be.

Now the whole creative process for that story is over I can see that the new book is still “me”. I feel there’s an underlying warmth that is the signature of my previous books. And I’m absolutely thrilled with the early reactions I’ve had to Emma’s story. It’s early days but perhaps this is going to go okay!

So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to follow your heart. I’ve always believed that someone’s greatest achievements don’t come from the comfort zone and that an author must continually set themselves challenges. It is too easy to become complacent, especially if you find a degree of success. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean changing genre – for example, in One Summer In Rome a character is blind, and it took research and care to write their story. And my author friends and favourite writers never cease to amaze me with the innovative story after story they come up with.

It’s been a scary twelve months. I’m an author with bills to pay, it’s my career, and I have a lovely loyal readership for my comedy writing. One might say this change of direction is something of a risk. Yet I feel it’s too easy to become pigeon-holed as a writer. I recently attended an evening with Matt Haig who has written fiction, non-fiction, children’s stories… and I find that very inspiring. I’ve written many stories from a child’s point of view for The People’s Friend magazine and have often felt a hankering to write a novel for youngsters. And now I’m thinking well… why not?

Humans change over time – I’m not the same person I was twenty, ten, five or even two years ago – so it’s perhaps, naive, to expect our writing not to change as well.

 

 

 

13 comments

  1. Terry Tyler says:

    Congratulations for having the courage to take this step, Sam – I did see that you’d moved away from Big 5 and wondered why. I can totally see that it must take a certain mindset to write romcoms. Also interesting is that you thought you were more commercially minded than you maybe are… I do think that when writers start churning out the required formula because their contract demands it, when they’ve perhaps fallen out of love with the genre/series, it shows.

    Although different for me because I am self-pub and do not have a multinational publisher to whom I must answer (!!), I know exactly what you mean. YOU change, so obviously your ‘art’ will, too – it’s the same with every form of creativity, isn’t it? But I found that when I wanted to start writing about end of world scenarios, instead of family wrangles, a good number of my readers came with me, as they will with you – and you will pick up new ones, who wouldn’t have read romcoms. Also, I think it’s becoming more usual for writers to write in several different genres – I’ve noticed that some who used to use pen names for alternatives are no longer doing so.

    I hope your new venture is massively successful for you, as well as the other avenues you want to explore! x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much, Terry – although I think you have misunderstood part of my blog post… there is a misconception, perhaps, that writing for a big publisher and writing romance/romcoms means writing to a set formula. This is not the case at all. All of those books of mine were written from the heart, and inspired by themes very important to me and they cover lgbt, being disabled, addiction… all sorts of themes. And they have certainly never been *churned* out. There is no such thing as a formula in a contract and editors – at least in my experience – are not prescriptive. I have only ever heard of this in certain areas of Mills & Boon, in the past, which used to be a very specific brand but is also changing and is certainly not representative of all the other romance publishers – Orion, Aria, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin etc etc . (And having said that I see nothing wrong with that brand being prescriptive if the authors and readers are happy – those books still require great skill to be written and sell in their thousands!) The only way in which my mindset has changed is that I can’t write comedy at the moment.And I think anyone can fall out of love with their genre for a while, be it thrillers, romance, fantasy, whatever – although I still love the romcom genre and have huge respect for it and might return one day! Like you so rightly say, we change and therefore so does our art, so it’s great that today it is easier to be more flexible. Wishing you continued success with your amazing career, Terry! x

      • Phillipa Ashley says:

        Thanks, Sam, as I was about to reply, saying pretty much the same thing to Terry. I totally understood what you mean in your article. I have a big publisher and they are fantastic to work for and I never feel pushed to write something I don’t want to. I certainly never ‘churn” anything out and I’m writing what *I want to* and I’d like to see the ‘required formula’ – not that it ever existed, certainly not for me..I write for a Big 5, and I follow MY heart and write with passion and dedication. Commercial novels – and I have to say that your cover, title and theme look just as commercial as any of your others just in a different way – are as hard to write as any book of the heart because they ARE a book of the heart. Mine are, anyway and I’d hate anyone to have the misconception that commercially successful means selling your soul.

  2. Melissa says:

    Hi Sam, thanks for an interesting and illuminating post. I think your last sentence really sums it up – writers are so absorbed by the actual job of writing, it is easy to forget we are human beings too. And human beings, like all living things, need to change and grow and follow the creative path wherever it leads. Good luck in your new adventure!! xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks for popping by, Melissa! Yes, I think it is too easy to label ourselves as well – “I am a romance author”, “I write thrillers” – at the base of it we are just writers and shouldn’t limit ourselves. Good luck to you to! xx

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