Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: genre


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

If the Shoe Fits

In Cinderella, the glass slipper only fit Cinderella’s foot. As the story goes, of all the girls in all the castles in all the kingdom, the shoe fit her foot and hers alone. No matter how hard they tried, the other girls couldn’t wear the glass slipper.

If the Shoe Fits
Oliver Herford, Public Domain

Your synopsis is the shoe, your story is the foot. Stick with me now…

So, you’re working on your first (or next) Great American Novel. You’ve written the first few chapters, and you’re dipping your toes into contests and even getting brave and submitting to agents and editors. Or, you might even be selling on proposal, a short synopsis and a chapter or two.

If you’re at this stage of the writing game, then you’ve written the dreaded synopsis. There are great articles here in Seekerville and all over the ‘net to help you determine what goes into a synopsis and what doesn’t, so I’m not going to rehash that today.

If the Shoe Fits

But what I am going to address is whether your synopsis reflects the story you’re writing. Sometimes we writers—intentionally or maybe unintentionally— sensationalize our synopsis to the point that it doesn't even resemble the actual chapters, similar to the practice of padding a resume.

How many times have I dumped every conceivable plot device into my synopsis because a critique partner or contest judge suggested it, and I thought it would be cool? I wonder how many times I gave the "snake oil" sales pitch in the synopsis, but the story didn't live up to the synopsis and that's why contest judges and editors said no?

Some examples to make my point…

If I write a synopsis that sounds like a very dark 90K romance that deals with drunk driving, a family feud, long-lost love, and two main characters dealing with all this traumatic back story, but if my opening chapters feel and sound like a 20K novella, there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or, how about this…

If my synopsis describes the lives of Bonnie and Clyde, but my chapters are the light-hearted, knee-slapping antics of Lucy and Desi, I’ve got a problem.

The best example I can give of my own writing would be my debut novel, Stealing Jake. Stealing Jake started out as a light, sweet novella and went through several rewrites that kept upping the tension.

If I had sent the lighter novella version of the story in with a synopsis detailing shipping street kids across the country in crates, sweat shops, a coal mine explosion, the traumatic incidents from both the hero and the heroine’s pasts, it just wouldn't have really worked together. And I’m afraid it would have tanked in contests, as well as been rejected by industry professionals.

It’s important to make sure a contest judge, critique partner, agent or editor gets the same jolt from the chapters as they do from the synopsis. Either the tension in the chapters need to be ratcheted up, or the tension in the synopsis ratcheted down. And, you, as the author, are the only one who knows which direction you need to turn the ratchet.

If the Shoe Fits

So, how do you do that?

Is your manuscript in the early stages or is it completed? If it’s completed, then you’re ahead of the game. Write your synopsis to fit the story and you're good. If you’ve just started this story, determine the genre and the tone. Do you write light-hearted contemporary romance, or dark historicals, or women’s fiction with snarky leads?

Read books that are similar to what you write, then describe them in your own words, just like giving a book report. See if you can hit the tone of these books. And, as an additional exercise, maybe look at some good professional reviews of those books. Do some of them describe whether the book was light, or dark? Do you agree with the assessment?

If you have a critique partner, let them read both. If they’ve worked with you a long time, they might be able to tell you if the two pieces are simpatico.

And, lastly, trust yourself. If you got it wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep tinkering with it. Eventually, you’ll get it. Over the years, I've submitted multiple proposals for historical romance novellas to Barbour Publishing. The proposals were extremely short, but I’ve been writing historical romance for a long time, and I’ve written a lot of proposals for novellas, and read my fair share. 

I knew enough about the process to keep the synopsis sharp, clean, and free of secondary plots. I sold FOUR proposals to Barbour in one year because I nailed the synopsis. As expected, the novellas have a lighter tone than my full-length novels, and the one (Shanghaied by the Bride) even had a bit more of a humorous tone than is my norm, something that was clearly spelled out in the synopsis and was also clear in the title, which Barbour kept.

Bottom line, know the story you want to tell well enough to make the synopsis fit.

Otherwise, that shoe's really gonna pinch.

If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in
Mississippiand spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

Are You Thinking About a Change?

 One of the basic rules for new authors is to stick to your genre. 

That’s good advice. When we’re just breaking into publishing there is very little that is more important than building a relationship of trust between you and your readers. Establishing your “brand” and sticking to it is key to acquiring a loyal readership.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

As we publish more stories, we can start broadening our brand. Many authors are able to wiggle to the right a bit or wiggle to the left and publish books that are almost like the stories their readers expect. They’re staying true to their brand, though. A Ruthy book is still a Ruthy book. A Mary Connealy book is still a Mary Connealy book. Erica’s new regency romance series is still all Erica.

We love that, don’t we? We know what to expect from our favorite authors. It’s like going to our stand-by restaurant and ordering something we’ve never tried before. We can do that because we trust the source. We’re pretty sure we’ll enjoy something new from them.

But what if an author wants to completely change genres?

Let’s explore this a bit.

All but two of the twelve books (soon to be thirteen) that I’ve published have been in the genre niche of Amish Historical Romance.

One of the two exceptions was “A Home for His Family,” but it didn’t wiggle too far away from my original niche – it was still Historical Romance. I call that a one-degree difference.

Are You Thinking About a Change?
This book is available here!

In the novella that was published in a collection by Bethany House in 2019, “An Amish Christmas Recipe Box,” I went one degree in a different direction, to Contemporary Amish Romance.

Are You Thinking About a Change?
This story is available here!
My readers followed me to those side-steps, but Amish story fans are a little different than other fans in that their loyalty tends to follow the genre rather than the author. So if I try to go very far afield, I risk losing them.

For example, what if I tried a story with a two-degree difference? Instead of Amish Historical Romance, I wrote Contemporary Western Romance? Do you see the two degrees?

If I did that, I would need to market my new story heavily because I’m not sure all my readers would follow me. Some would. After all, I would still be writing for the Christian market, and I would still be writing Romance.

But what if I took a completely different track?

Right now, I’m working on a Cozy Mystery aimed at the secular market.

What??? No Amish! No Romance! No Historical!

Doing something like that takes a LOT of deep thought and planning, and even more prayer.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

I had to ask myself a big question: How committed am I to this change?

When the idea first hit me a couple years ago, it sounded like fun. I’m a true Agatha Christie fan, both in print and on video. Some of my favorite authors are Dorothy Sayers and Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite television shows include Murdoch Mysteries, Monk, and Midsomer Murders. I love picking up a new cozy mystery and curling up with it for an evening or two. Maybe I could try writing one!

That fun idea turned into an obsession. I’ve researched how to write mysteries, and cozies in particular. I’ve read every new title I could get my hands on. I even started planning my own cozy mystery series.

That’s when I knew I was hooked. Somehow, some-when, I would write this story.

But was I committed to starting my career over from scratch? That’s a scary proposition.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

Then I realized I wasn’t going to start MY career over. Jan Drexler would still write Amish Romances. Someone else was going to be the cozy mystery writer…I would need to adopt a pen name for this new genre.

Do you see how I skirted the problem of trying to take my readers with me from one genre to the next? My Amish romance readers will still be happy with my installments of Amish stories, either contemporary or historical. (I love those readers and don’t want to risk losing them!)

And this other person – I haven’t settled on a pen name yet – will be my alter-ego, happily murdering people in light-hearted stories.

By the way, that is the very weird thing about cozy mysteries – they are light-hearted stories with murder on the side.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

So, how do I market this new author?

First, I need a pen name (still in progress.)

Then a new website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, Amazon page, Bookbub… you’ve got it. All the marketing tools need to be re-done for this new author name.

Finally, a new marketing strategy. Breaking into the secular market is different than the homey world of Inspirational publishing I’ve enjoyed for the past nine years. I’ll have to learn the ropes in this sometimes cold, sometimes friendly world of secular publishing.

But before all that can even start, I must finish writing the first book.

And no, I’m not going to tell you who-done-it.

Are You Thinking About a Change?

So, I have to ask myself the big question again – how committed am I to taking on a new genre?

I knew I was going to follow the first story to the end when a plotting tangle kept me awake one night.

I was even more convinced I was sticking with it when I started writing the story and realized I was hiding details from my sleuth that I already knew – like the murderer’s name, method, and motivation – and thinking she would never guess.

When the setting and side characters became real in my mind, I knew I was ready.

Yes, I’m committed to giving this a try.

What about you? Have you ever changed genres, or thought about it?

Or if you are pre-published, have you decided which genre your stories fit in?

And let’s have a bit of fun in the comments! Every commenter will have their name in the drawing for a copy of “Convenient Amish Proposal.”

Are You Thinking About a Change?

If you include a suggestion for my new pen name in your comment, you’ll also be in the drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. So suggest away!

Are You Thinking About a Change?

Taboos in Christian Fiction

by Pam Hillman

So I got to thinking. I switched days with another Seeker because of a conflict on my regular day to post. Then I forgot that I’d switched and scheduled an appointment for this morning. All is well as I shouldn’t be out more than a couple of hours. (I’ll be back, so y’all behave!!!)

In addition, today is the 16th, and I blog in Heroes, Heroines, and History on the 16th of every month, rain or shine, much like the postman makes his rounds.

My topic on HHH today is taboo foods. I started mulling over the topic when thinking about why it is that the five whites (sugar, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes) tend to be shunned in American society these days. Is it a fad or truly that these foods can be detrimental to our health and our waistline?

Anyway, today’s post here in Seekerville isn’t about taboo foods, but more about writing-related taboos, and I’m not just talking about taboo topics. There can be all kinds of taboos, and they change as often as the foods that it’s currently hip to avoid.

Taboo Language. It’s no secret that there are certain words that many Christian readers would prefer not to see in their reading material. It’s not that we’re prudes or that we like to pretend we don’t hear or see those words in the world around us. But you can’t unsee a vulgar word. Sure, I can get past one or two here or there, but when my reading material is riddled with them seemingly just for the shock value, then I notice and I remember and I can’t unthink them. Same with the spoken word. I’m visual and soak up the written word more than what I hear, but I’m not a fan of being around people who curse with abandon or anything that comes over the “tube” that’s riddled with obscene language. I’m not even a fan of “potty” humor. It’s just not funny to me.

So it’s a balancing act. And words that were frowned upon ten, fifteen or twenty years ago would probably pass muster in a lot of Christian fiction these days. But in some cases, not, depending on the publishers guidelines, and each reader’s personal preferences.

Taboo Topics and Visuals. When I searched the internet for this, a blog post by Steve Laube from 2017 was one of the first to pop up. In his post, Edgy Christian Fiction, Steve says, “There are three main areas of dispute: Sex, Language, and Violence,” regarding taboo topics in Christian fiction. The post and the (very civil) comments are enlightening as visitors to the blog discuss what is “too much” or when it’s “too sanitized” for real life. I suppose we all have our hot buttons, but depending on the skill of the author, the purpose of including violence, etc. in a novel and the set-up leading up to the questionable scenes, I might accept or reject accordingly. Case in point: There were a lot of scenes in Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers that in many novels would have made me stop and never read that book again. However, the skill of Ms. Rivers to portray the subject matter in a tasteful, believable, and sympathetic manner made the book memorable, not stomach churning.

Taboo Styles. Maybe not taboo, but third person, first person, omniscient pov, and/or a mix of all the above has been in vogue or out of vogue depending on the season and which way the wind is blowing. While omniscient pov is out of style right now, a mix of third and first person within the same novel can be found. It’s not common, but it’s out there. Third person is the most common (at least in the novels that I generally read), and first person is a bit more rare.

Taboo, or rather, out of favor, genres. In 2005 (give or take a few years), publishers didn’t want historical romance. Women’s fiction, Chick Lit, and Lad Lit were all the rage. Three days later, the pendulum swung and historical fiction was on rise again and Chick Lit had sprouted wings and flown away. In the last 19 years, the pendulum has swung back and forth hitting all the genres, mixing them up, combining, and spitting them out again. Time slip is popular now. This is not time travel. It’s two (or more) storylines from different timelines within the same novel with some thread that ties the stories together.

One thing is for sure, change will swing again. Just as tomatoes were frowned upon in 16th century Europe, words, topics, styles, and genres will change, morph and grow.

Taboos in Christian Fiction
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Ten Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying

That title is an example of click-bait.  Click bait is a title or blurb that tempts you to click on the story... and then you often find out that the bait wasn't as it seemed.

That's true here. In my opinion there is no way to succeed at writing without really trying, but if you want to try... if you want to succeed... read on, my friends! Because there are tried-and-trued ways to do this thing!

Everyone wants to be an overnight success. Everyone wants to be The Next Big Thing... but no one knows what that is.  Unless it's really Bitcoin!!!!


Who expected those spinner-things to take the world by storm? And how many parents and teachers have thrown the things away because they're a mind-draining annoyance?

Who expected a great story about a forlorn, magical boy that lived beneath a staircase to become an international sensation and catapult the author to amazing heights?

Who thought in a country that claims to be 75% Christian (according to a poll asking questions of self-definition) that  a book about sexual bondage would sell over 50 million in the USA alone and hit 100 million by 2014 worldwide?

Why am I tossing these facts out there?

Because there is no sure thing. There is no baseline predictor that would have put Harry Potter, Sweet Valley High, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey and James Bond in the same exclusive high sales categories...

So do you have to copy one of these formats to ensure success?

No. No, because by comparison you've already lost. And to be yourself, to be your best writing self, you need to produce the best possible work that makes you happy. 

So where do you focus? How do you choose?

1. What do you like to read? This is the first step toward what you write because you should start with something you'd like to read. If you love romance, write romance. If you're big into fantasy, then create your own netherworlds. If you love fearing for your life in the dark of a storm-filled night, write suspense or thrillers. WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE, FIRST. This doesn't mean you're locked in, darlings. It means you've begun. And if you never begin, well... no one goes anywhere without starting somewhere.

2. Prepare for disappointment. It is sure to come. My first book was a brilliant SAGA that went on forever. The first chapter was all telling. No dialogue. No action. Just emotion, how the hero was feeling. DEAD IN THE WATER. That's how bad it was... because I didn't know better. I knew I could write. I didn't know how to naturally just tell a story... Now I do.

3. Is this a hobby? Or a job?  If it's a hobby, that's fine. You can write when you want, as you're able, but if it's a job... if this is your career path, your career change, then you need to shake things up a little. Think of the first four years as a college course load in creative writing. You don't have to spend a lot of money. You do have to invest time. You have to write. So set a goal. A reachable goal. 500 words/day for 5 days of the week. 

4. Plan your work time. If you were selling Avon or going to a job or free-lancing for someone's firm, you would SET A WORK TIME. That's what we do when we have a job. So set a work time. Before work is what I do... I get up early, I write when no one's around or awake, even the resident mice are generally asleep (although not always) and I write. That way no matter what happens, that job's done.

5. If you're a night owl, then disappear for an hour or ninety minutes when others are watching television or doing puzzles or yelling at the football game, baseball game, basketball game, Olympics, Stock Market exchange, etc., etc., etc. 

6. Don't make excuses. Just don't. I pull my hair out (luckily I have really thick hair, birds have been known to make nests in my hair) when people list the reasons they couldn't write. No pencils. No pencil sharpener. The house was too hot. The house was too cold.  The stool's too high. The chair's too low. Standing to type hurts my back/side/leg/heel/fill in the blank... If you don't have the burn to do it, that's okay... Trust me, not everyone is meant to do this. And there's nothing wrong with letting it go, retiring, moving on, whatever you need to do to stay sane... If you can quit writing, do it. If you can't... then you're a writer. (R. A. Salvatore) although I've heard this in multiple places... but he's a clever Star Wars writer and I love Star Wars so we'll give R.A. the nod!

7. BUT IF YOU LOVE IT... if there is that dag-blasted burning desire inside you to make up stories, to weave tales, to invest in characters and fix their sorry existences, the existences you created for the poor slobs.... then keep going. 

8. Develop self-discipline. THIS MAY BE THE HARDEST PART. If you're a self-disciplined person, then this won't make or break you. But if you aren't... Ouch. This is where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls because if you don't push yourself... no one else is going to do it for you! That's the difference between this and that college course load. No one's grading you. You are self-motivated. You're not even guilt-ridden because you are paying big bucks to a liberal arts university to get five people's ideas of what makes a good writer...  Without the self-discipline this is Not A Fun Job... if you have to drag yourself to the laptop daily.... and make every excuse not to sit down.... then this is Not A Fun Job.... 

9. Can you teach yourself self-discipline?  DUH! Of course you can. With practice. Sit down. Write. Sit down. Write. Sit down. Write. Remember that anything you make yourself do for THIRTY DAYS becomes a habit. Make writing your habit!!!

10. Love yourself. Love yourself, the amazingly wonderful creature God created you to be no matter if you succeed at writing or not. No matter if you never get that first book done, or you write five and they all stink (Ruthy raises hand on that one). Love yourself because you are special. You are a child of God. You are one of the siblings of the Most High. Wonderful. Counselor. The Prince of Peace. The Everlasting Father.  You have it in you to do anything... but it does not have to be this.

And that's it. After publishing 44 novels and novellas with six more on the way in the next eighteen months... and almost 2,000,000 copies sold.... trust me. I know whereof I speak. 

Ten Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying
My 45th book and my second mystery with Guideposts... Thank you, Susan Downs for thinking of me with this crazy fun series!

But even saying that, there is no one right way to do this. There are plenty of wrong ways, and most of us learn from the school of hard knocks, but there are many correct ways... because if you get results, then you're doing all right! 

So are you a writer? And what's your stumbling block?  Let's chat, just us... :) And maybe a few dozen others, chiming in!

I've got a copy of my newest Mysteries of Martha's Vineyard book "SWEPT AWAY" looking for a home today, but you have to tell me you want it, darlings.... 

And a quick shout out to Amazon/Waterfall Press whose current $2.00 promotion drove "Welcome to Wishing Bridge" to #1 in three Christian genre categories! And #144 overall out of millions of books. To say I'm excited and thrilled is a gross understatement... What a fun thing to celebrate today!

Ten Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying

And there's fresh coffee, tea, hot chocolate and a big ol' pitcher of sweet tea for youse!

Come on in. Visit with The Yank... and we'll talk writing. Just like it should be.

Ten Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying
Bestselling, Award-winning inspirational author Ruthy Logan Herne loves to write and eat chocolate, a disparate conundrum of lifestyle factors that make her welcome the coming of spring and farm work, garden work, donkey detail and lawn work... because a short gal who likes to eat and write, well... we all know how that one goes! She lives on a pumpkin farm in Western New York, she's got 6 kids, an extra one thrown in, and 14 grandchildren, with a couple of Ruths and Logans in the mix... that makes her smile, of course! Friend Ruthy on facebook, follow her on Twitter, add her to your BookBub faves or your Amazon favorites... all of this makes her editors very happy, and Ruthy loves happy editors! And that picture is nearly five years old, but of course, Ruthy hasn't changed one bit! :)

If the Shoe FitsAre You Thinking About a Change?Taboos in Christian FictionTen Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying

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