What to write?

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Monday musings on an author’s decision by bestselling author

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Raine Thomas

I’ve never met an author who didn’t have at least five stories running through their minds at any given time. I’m no different! I hear characters in my head whenever I’m not focused on anything else…while I’m walking the dog, washing the dishes, taking a shower, or riding in a car, for example. (I’d say I never heard them while I was driving, but that would make me a bald-faced liar.)

With so many stories to choose from, how do I decide what to write? Do I follow the trends? Listen to reader demands? Or do I cave into the loudest voices in my head and share their stories first?

In my career, it’s really been a combination of all of the above. I started writing my Young Adult Fantasy series about the Estilorians back when my daughter was a toddler. I had just lost my job and it was the perfect time to finally sit down and write the stories of sisters Amber, Olivia and Skye. It did so happen that YA, in general, was really popular at the time thanks to series like Harry Potter and Twilight, though I would have chosen to write the Estilorian books first in any case. They were simply the stories in my head begging to be written most.

Thanks to the popularity of my first Estilorian trilogy, it made the most sense to write more books in the series. Thus, the Firstborn trilogy came next. I got to know new characters in the world I’d spent years creating, which made it a fun writing journey. I’ll admit that the reader feedback (reviews) from my first books helped shape some of the characters in the Firstborn trilogy, and I’ll always be grateful for that. They’re some of my absolute favorites!

After publishing my sixth Estilorian book, New Adult fiction was all the rage. It was a new genre pioneered largely by indie authors and it called to me. I wrote For Everly (a New Adult baseball romance) in six weeks. It was the fastest and easiest I’d ever written a book, and it’s still one of my most popular and well-reviewed. I made more from sales of For Everly in the span of four months than I’d made in two years of my full-time job’s salary. I was sure I’d be writing full-time in no time!

Unfortunately, the New Adult market, like many others, quickly became saturated. Millions of new authors published books that year. I published Meant for Her (another New Adult baseball romance) five months after For Everly. Sales fizzled across the board and they’ve never bounced back. I heard the same story again and again from my fellow authors everywhere.

After that, I realized it was foolish to write to trends unless it happened to align with a story I want to tell. Now, I write the stories I want to write when I want to write them. It’s been remarkably liberating!

I published my seventh Estilorian novel, Deceive, the year after my baseball romances came out. From there, I moved on to my House of Archer series (New Adult rocker romances). Now I’m working on For the Win (a New Adult baseball romance). I’ve got plenty of other stories waiting patiently in the wings too…and I can’t wait to share them with the world!

Raine Thomas

Raine Thomas, new adult, young adult and romance

is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen.

Raine is a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

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If I Lead, Will You Follow?, by Raine Thomas

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BecomingShadedWhen I finished the last book in my YA fantasy romance series, I felt ready to move on. After six books, it was time to stretch my wings and fall in love with new characters and a new world. Then I actually sat down to write.

 

And froze.

 

It turned out that it wasn’t as easy for me to make the transition as I’d thought. I was so enmeshed in the Estilorian world that I had trouble removing myself from it. It made me wonder if my readers would have the same reaction.

 

Eventually, I realized that the problem lay in that the story I wanted to write was entirely different from my other books. Rather than it being a young adult fantasy romance featuring a female protagonist, the new concept centered around a futuristic dystopian world with a male sleuth as the protagonist. Romance would only be a small part of the storyline. As I wrestled with the outline, I sensed I was moving in the wrong direction.

 

Shortly after this epiphany, the characters in my upcoming release, For Everly, started yammering at me to write their story. So I did. It flowed so easily that I finished it in six weeks. Considering I work full-time as well as write, this was quite the feat. It told me I’d made the right decision.

 

For Everly is a New Adult Contemporary Romance, so it’s still a departure from my other books. However, one of the key elements loved by my fans—the romance—is still present. In a way, this is a baby step toward writing that other book. I’m “conditioning” my readers to accept that I can write more than just one genre. The pre-release buzz has reinforced that this was the way to go.

 

Some well-known authors have switched genres with mixed success, and I think this trend ties in with my above decision. J.K. Rowling, for example, followed up her Harry Potter series with The Vacancy. The book shares nearly as many one-star reviews on Amazon as five-stars, with the average being three. Ms. Rowling went from writing YA fantasy to writing a darkly-themed adult contemporary. In so doing, she managed to upset a rather large segment of her fan base.

 

Stephenie Meyer, however, went from her popular Twilight (YA paranormal romance) series to The Host, a YA sci-fi thriller. While The Host is a departure from the vampire books loved by her original fans, it still retains a number of the elements that made Ms. Meyer’s work so popular. The Host’s four-plus star average on Amazon and the excitement around the recently released movie support the conclusion that Ms. Meyer successfully transitioned between genres. It therefore seems that the way to effectively switch genres while retaining your fan base is to retain the core elements that drew your fans to you in the first place.

 

As a reader, have you taken a leap of faith in books by your favorite authors that differed from their usual work? Did the new genre work for you? Why or why not? We want to know!

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Raine-Thomas-Headshot-small-233x300

Raine Thomas is the bestselling author of an award-winning series of YA fantasy/romance novels about the Estilorian plane. She became truly passionate about writing when one of her stories took an Honorable Mention in a fourth-grade writing competition (who would have thought a story about a dancing spider would garner so much attention?). Carrying that passion with her, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, then her master’s degree in Humanities from Central Michigan University.

Residing in Orlando, Florida, Raine is a hopeless romantic with a background in the fields of mental health and wedding planning…two areas that intersect far more than one would think. Her years working with children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges inspired her to create young protagonists who overcome their own conflicts. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America and a contributing blogger on The Writer’s Voice. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

 

 

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Young Adult Romance: Not Just for Kids Anymore, by Jesi Lea Ryan

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ArcadiasgiftShadedIf you would have asked me a few years ago what I thought about Young Adult literature, I might have said something like, “Sweet stories with stereotypical characters, living sugar-coated lives.  Not worth my time to read, but okay for thirteen-year-olds.”  Of course, I would have been basing this opinion on the last YA books I’d read which were The Sweet Valley High books when I was twelve.  Once I graduated into my teens, I wanted more substance than YA could give me, so I moved on to adult fiction.

My reintroduction to YA lit was similar to a lot of women my age…Twilight When a friend of mine suggested that I read this teenage vampire series, I thought she was nuts.  Hadn’t I outgrown YA ages ago?  However, the friend insisted, and I was weak, so I bought the box set read the whole thing…in four days.  When I was done, I read it again.  I enjoyed the Twilight series so much that I began seeking out other YA books.  I read books by Laurie Halse Andersen, Neil Gaimen, Alyson Noel, Richelle Mead, Maggie Stiefvater, and others.  As my rekindled interest in YA literature grew, I noticed many other adults reading YA as well.  I began to realize that the new YA books have evolved the genre into one of mass market appeal, not bound by generation or age limitations.

What is it about today’s YA books which make them so much more appealing to adults than the YA books of the past?  For me, it’s all about the emotion.  The teen years are such a dynamic time.  We experience our first loves, get our first tastes of independence and make decisions about what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.  On top of this, teens experience heaps of social pressure, a rigid caste system of cliques and the seriously messed up hormones—no wonder there is so much to write about!  While I couldn’t wait to get my teen years over with as fast as possible, I now look back at that time with a different perspective, one of wonder and hope.  Reading YA books lets me enjoy the teen years in a way that I missed the first time.

This led me to wonder if other adult YA readers felt the same way or if they read these books for other reasons.  I sat down with several adult readers to get their perspectives.  First, we discussed their motivations for why they read YA.

ya“I read and write both adult and YA.  I don’t prefer one over the other, but yes, they each have their own feel.  Good YA lit has a near-constant fast pace, and since the word count is generally lower, the wording is much more punchy and efficient.  Adult lit sometimes feels over-worded to me, especially after just finishing a YA novel, but there are times when I’m in the mood for a slower read.”  Lydia, age 32

“I’m in a stage of life where I prefer YA lit to adult. I think this is because my youth was painful, and I like reading about teens going through hardships and coming through them. I’m grappling with pieces of my past, and YA helps me to see that these issues are real, they exist for other people; and just like me, these characters do the best they can. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not, but they survive.”  Schuyler, age 40

YA lit gets to the point! They don’t mess around with 30 pages of introspection and 100 pages of back-story. Sure there is angst and (occasionally) very silly emotional mistakes, but usually the stories are better written and better crafted. Kids won’t cut writers any slack so they better get into the story and keep it moving.”  Jennifer, age 45

            Next, I asked readers how YA has changed since they were teens.

I think they’ve gotten more specific regarding technology references, clothing/pop-culture styles, etc.  Also, I think the YA books that deal with more controversial subjects (teen pregnancy, suicide, sexuality) are now more likely to be mainstream books, rather than something that a librarian would have to point out to a kid.” Victoria, age 33

“The main difference is that there are many more YA novels published now covering a wider range of genres. The best YA authors continue to deal with difficult issues with sensitivity, honesty and respect for their reader’s intelligence.” Mike, age 42

“I think authors are daring to put more controversial issues in YA these days, and I say, “Heck yes!” There are so many topics that used to be taboo in the YA genre, that now are becoming more common. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and all those right/wrong, black/white/gray topics. I think books have a lot of power to change a person, and I think they can be extremely influential, especially in teens. I’m loving how today’s YA is bringing up topics in a real, honest, and open way.”  Shannon, age 23

So now I would like to turn this blog over to you.  Why do you read YA books?  Were there particular authors or topics that drew you into the YA genre?  How have these books changed since you were a teen?

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JesiJesi Lea Ryan grew up in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa. She holds bachelor degrees in creative writing and literature and a masters degree in business. She considers herself a well-rounded nerd who can spend hours on the internet researching things like British history, anthropology of ancient people, geography of random parts of the world, bad tattoos and the paranormal. She currently lives in Madison, WI with her husband and two fat kitties. On Twitter? Feel free to say hi! @Jesilea

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Dear Reader, What was Your Gateway Book? by Raine Thomas

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Raine Thomas Headshot (small)

Raine Thomas

Whether or not we realize it at the time, readers have “gateway books.” I’m talking about those books we read as kids that resonate with us and shape our reading preferences for years to come. Think back to those books you remember reading again and again in your youth and I’m sure you’ll make this connection.

My gateway books were fairytales. Not the dark, Grimms’ versions—and seriously, how were those ever children’s tales?—but the happily ever after, Disney-esque versions. I loved reading about heroes and heroines who found themselves in some kind of predicament, then managed to get out of the predicament only to have all of their dreams come true.

Realistic? Of course not! But why would I want to “escape” to reality?

I think it was this love of fairytales that made me such a history buff. I could sit and listen to my World History teacher discuss the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and their mythical stories about gods and goddesses for days on end. When my classmates dozed during European History, I sat, mesmerized, as the teacher told us about real kings, queens, princes, and princesses. Even history lessons about war and dissension held my attention. I wanted to know what people fought for and how those battles shaped our world.

It probably shouldn’t have surprised me when a college professor suggested that I major in history, but it did. I’d never considered that path and had no idea what I could do with such a degree. In the end, deciding that a history degree required too much time conducting research (and my parents would probably disown me if I went down that path), I majored in English with a focus in Creative Writing and minored in Criminal Justice.

The irony is that my first six books all required extensive research. My YA fantasy/romance novels feature a multitude of different mythologies. Because the concept of the stories blends today’s human world with the more antiquated Estilorian world, I wanted the fantasy elements to be based on known human myths and Becoming_coverlegends.

Enter unicorns, six-armed giants, dragons, shapeshifters, elementals, ghosts, labyrinths, blessed weaponry, fierce battles, and beings old enough to have built the Great Pyramids and shake hands with Apollo. Ta da! You have a glimpse of the Estilorian world…a world I wouldn’t have created without first having been snared by history.

Oh—and lest I forget, my books all contain swoon-worthy romances. However much my interest in history influences my writing, my initial love of romance and fairytales will always win out. Just like I did while reading my gateway books, my readers will experience stories that end happily ever after.

So tell me…what was your gateway book?

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Raine Thomas is the bestselling author of an award-winning series of YA fantasy/romance novels about the Estilorian plane. She became truly passionate about writing when one of her stories took an Honorable Mention in a fourth-grade writing competition (who would have thought a story about a dancing spider would garner so much attention?). Carrying that passion with her, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, then her master’s degree in Humanities from Central Michigan University.

Residing in Orlando, Florida, Raine is a hopeless romantic with a background in the fields of mental health and wedding planning…two areas that intersect far more than one would think. Her years working with children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges inspired her to create young protagonists who overcome their own conflicts. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America and a contributing blogger on The Writer’s Voice. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

 

Stop in on Monday, February 11, when Frederick Lee Brooke, bestselling author of the Annie Ogden mystery series including Doing Max Vinyl and Zombie Candy, explains in “I Was a Laundry Virgin” how patience and persistence, traits shared by all authors everywhere, served him well doing laundry for the first time in his life.

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