Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Turning Your “Idea Factory” into a Writing Career

Ramona Richards, fiction editor for Abingdon Press, started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. She’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books and an avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.

This morning, I had a new idea for a book. I scribbled down the 50-word pitch for it, then went back to work. Yesterday afternoon, same thing – and I was sick as a dog.

In my storage bin, I have more than 300 unpublished short stories – unpublished, in part, because those wild writings weren’t really short stories. They were ideas for novels I didn’t have the guts to write.

I can get an idea for a new novel by walking around the parking lot at work. The numbers go up if I read bumper stickers and peer into backseats. Good ideas bounce around in my head like ping-pong balls on a daily basis.

 This is why editors, and a lot of writers, cringe when they’re approached by a non-writer who glows with excitement, announcing gleefully, “I have an idea for a book! Want to help me write it?”

Uh, no. To be blunt, having a good idea is the EASY part.

In fact, this has become a recurring joke between my agent and me. She’ll call and I’ll exclaim, “I have a new idea!” Sandra will then make a noise halfway between a scream and a growl, finishing with it, “Will you PLEASE focus!” Then we both laugh, in part because she’s learned that I really can.

Focus, that is. But that wasn’t always so.

House of Secrets is my fifth book for Love Inspired Suspense. The first book, A Murder Among Friends, was submitted along with a complete manuscript for a Love Inspired, as well as ideas for two single titles and seven ideas for other series books. In other words, my editor thought she’d opened a flood gate. Within a month, I hit her with two books and NINE pitches.

Needless to say, Sandra wasn’t the first person to beg me to focus.

The problem is that I want to write EVERYTHING. I read it all; I want to write it all. Mysteries, romance, women’s fiction, mainstream, science fiction, etc., ad nauseam. Problem is, that’s no way to build a career. Wanting to do it; being able to do it, is not the point.

The real point, for me, was finding the best way to share this incredible gift God had dropped in my lap. And hitting readers with a shotgun blast of ideas isn’t the best way to achieve this.

With a lot of prayer and even more guidance from the wise folks who’ve been down this path before, I began to, ahem, focus.

Find Your Best Voice

Because of my background, I can write in a lot of different voices. I’ve studied and loved most genres. Each has its own tone and structure. My own personal “voice,” the one I use to interact with friends and family, is a cross between lightly serious and snark. Anyone who’s heard me speak knows that as passionate as I am about craft and professionalism, I don’t take myself seriously. Life is too short not to laugh a lot along the way.

Thus my best writing voice has a lightly serious tone. Too serious for ChickLit; too light for most women’s fiction and mysteries. Best for suspense, science fiction, romance, and some mainstream.

Find Your Best Brand

After trying to sell more than 300 short stories, I finally got the message that science fiction isn’t my forte, no matter how much I love it. Mainstream fiction is the hardest field to break into and the hardest to brand. I couldn’t seem to sustain the plot of a straight romance because, well, dead bodies keep showing up.

In fact, every time I get another plethora of ideas, dead bodies appear . . . in barns, cars, houses, creeks. Even when I attempted a mainstream book, it usually started with a demise of some kind. I love great villains, too, the kind that make you cringe if you turn out the lights while reading. So…suspense. Or a romance with dead bodies.

Ah, she said, the light dawning: romantic suspense.

Find the Reader’s Expectations

Once I had my voice and my brand, I turned outward, toward editors and readers. Who buys romantic suspense? Who reads it? What do they want from it?

Ever wonder if Karen Kingsbury once wanted to be the next Tom Clancy? What if Jan Karon’s fans picked up her latest and found that it was a rip-roaring suspense tale set on a cruise ship and in downtown Miami. I suspect she’d find herself faced with many miffed fans.

The writer/reader relationship is an incredibly powerful one, and if you decide to write in a particular genre, then you need to remember what the readers want as well as following the story in your heart. They’ll be there for you if you do, every single time.

The Story of Your Heart

Does this go against the sage advice of “write what’s in your heart, then find a place for it” and “don’t write to the market”?

Not really.

You see, the story in your heart drives your voice, and your voice will show you the brand and the market…the path to your reader. The rest is the nuts and bolts of craft, of polish, of pushing your heart song to the next level: publication To be a successful writer, heart art must blend with business craft. When these two blend smoothly, your words can reach the world.



Sheriff Ray Taylor always had a soft spot for the former minister’s widow, June Eaton…until he found her standing over the current minister’s dead body. She claims she’s innocent—and after a string of attacks against Ray and June, he’s inclined to believe her. So who is the real killer, and what is he after? Ray knows that the parsonage has to be the key. The old house is hiding a dark secret, something the pastor’s murderer is convinced June knows. Something that murderer will do anything to keep buried.


Ane Mulligan said...

Thanks, Ramona, for stopping by NOvel Journey. Your advice is sound. :) Good stuff to remember.

Ramona Richards said...

Thanks, Ane. I felt honored and privileged to be a part of Novel Journey today. I appreciate y'all inviting me to stop by.

PatriciaW said...

I love this post. I thought you were describing me (except the part about being published). Focus is my new mantra.

CLH said...

This was a great post, and helpful to boot! The black hole of great ideas plagues me every day- and my new strategy was just to sit down and write something, ANYTHING! I never thought of FOCUSING!!! I think for an unpubbed writer who is shackled to the large commitment of a bill-paying job, it's hard to take what little time I have to write and actually figure out WHAT to write. Thanks for the guidance. I love this blog.

Kathy Harris said...

I needed to read this today... actually, I need to read this once a week. Thank you, Ramona!