Thursday, June 26, 2014

Genre Focus Disorder - is it real?

I've said it before: I have Genre Focus Disorder (GFD). I called it by another name before, but GFD seems more appropriate. The experts in the publishing business say you should stick to one genre. Make a name for yourself in it, carve out a niche, become known, build an audience, and you'll do better. If you write in multiple genres, fans from one genre most likely won't follow you into another genre, and you will have to build separate audiences, carve out multiple niches.

On the other hand, some publishing veterans say experimenting with different genres during your pre-published time is acceptable. Once you sell something, however, use all your efforts to concentrate on that. This is said more from a trade publishing perspective than a self-publishing perspective, but it somewhat applies to the latter as well.

For me, however, I've found I have to write whatever I have inspiration for. I have mapped out books and short stories into the future that will probably consume all my writing time till old age claims it. I write sort of how water, when released from a container or hits land during precipitation, runs downhill or seeks its own level. That's good for productivity, but probably not so good for audience building and sales. Since I'm self-publishing, when I complete something, I publish. The 16 items I've self-published so far are in ten different genres. Of course, genre definition is difficult to pin down. Another person reading all my pieces may say they are in only eight genres.

Only eight?

So what has happened this year in my GFD? In March I published Thomas Carlyle's Edinburgh Encyclopedia Articles. This was not for sales, though I've sold three copies. It was for practice at editing, formatting, cover creation, all things publishing, and it helped fulfill my fasciation with this Victorian behemoth. It was good practice. But what happened afterwards? Ideas for four different follow-ups to it came to mind, one of them book-length. That one wouldn't let me go. For three weeks I worked feverishly at it: researching the subject, contacting people, obtaining copies of documents old and new, and putting a bunch of stuff in a MS Word document. At the end of the three weeks time I had a book diary with many entries, and a file that is probably 70 percent of the eventual book, though subject to formatting. At that point I said "This is madness" and went back to other projects. But by that time the GFD attack had run its course.

So I completed three other projects. One was my novel, a sequel to In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I had been working on it since October (I think), so it was good to get it out of the way. Then I did the work of formatting The Gutter Chronicles for print and publishing it. That was okay as it was always on the schedule. The next thing on my publishing schedule was to add "It Happened At The Burger Joint" to my items for sale, which I did. My schedule then was a little imprecise. I could pick up the novel sequel, Headshots, and edit it. I could work on the next short story in the Danny Tompkins series, or the next short story in the Sharon Williams series. Those were on the to-do list, and made sense. I knocked out the Tompkins story, and published it this past Monday. Even made my own cover.

But then, GFD reared. Actually it reared even before I had finished the short story, "Saturday Haircuts, Tuesday Funeral". I was in Little Rock last week for a two day conference, and was in the hotel room in the evenings without much to do. I had brought a number of things with me to fill my time, as I always do, not knowing for sure what I'll want to work on. One of them was a volume of the Annals of America series. I used this series to find source material for my book Documenting America. When I published that in 2011 I saw it as the start to a possible series. I thought the next one would be from the civil war era, and the one after that would be from the pre-constitution era, focusing on the development of the constitution. But I had no hurry in doing either. Well, I suppose the civil war one could be considered subject to a deadline, since we are in the period of the civil war sesquicentennial and books about it might do better if released then.

But really, it wasn't necessary to work on this. I had my completed novel manuscript with me, and could begin editing in the quiet of the hotel. But the civil war book wouldn't let me go. I spent the first evening scanning documents in the Annals, and figuring out which ones to use as source material. I know how long I want the book, how long I want each chapter to be, thus how many chapters I need, and, knowing a fair amount of civil war history, know what subjects are needed. In one long evening, including getting to bed much too late (but who can sleep when GFD is at its strongest), I had the whole book planned, all but six or seven of the source documents identified, and even some specific parts of some source documents marked for extraction. I thought, Ah, GFD has now run its course. Back to my publishing schedule.

Not so. Monday and Tuesday of this week I was prohibited from working outside (I have much yard work to do) due to a combination of rain and a fall resulting in minor injuries. So what did I do? Instead of picking up and editing the novel, I worked on finding more source documents for the civil war book! And this morning I created the Word file. It is now officially a writing project. The pull of this book has become very great over the last week. What's going to happen for the rest of the week?

I really need to get back to my novel. I'd like to have that published in July, and need to give it two full rounds of edits before doing so, maybe even three rounds. I'm hoping to begin editing it this weekend, maybe by reading it aloud with my wife. So that gives me only a couple of days to allow GFD to run wild. I can handle that. Perhaps it will burn out. Then, when the civil war book comes up in the publishing schedule, which is maybe in October, I'll have a nice start to it and be able to build on. GFD flare-up concluded.

Except, I may have found a cover illustrator for my poetry book, Father Daughter Day. Which means I'll have work to do on it. Argh! Is there no end to it?

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