My friend, author Marj Charlier, is branching out. Her energy and can-do attitude inspire me. Here’s her story.
Marj: As a writer who is well into my seventh decade, I’ve started taking more risks.
I don’t mean taking physical risks (like jumping off cliffs into the ocean, which I SO wanted to do when I was younger) or stupid risks (like walking down dark alleys at night, which I’ve never wanted to do anyway). Neither am I taking big financial risks. I’m not selling my home and joining the Peace Corps. (Hey, do you think they’d take me?)
But the older I get, the more I am willing to take risks with my writing.
Let’s face it: putting your first book out into the world to be evaluated, criticized and judged by total strangers is darn scary. Now I have published six novels, putting nearly two million words out there to be ripped apart, I’m starting to get comfortable with that fear.
Now I’ve taken on a new risky venture: The other day, I published my first romance. (One Way to Succeed, on Kindle). All of my novels have had some love interest, but this was the first time I wrote a novel that adhered to the “boy meets girl, girl meets boy, and in the end boy and girl are together” formula. I’m calling it “smart girl” romance, because I made the “girl” smart and career-oriented, and I set the novel in a business environment. But, whatever qualifications I may make, it’s still quite clearly Romance with the capital “R”.
Given that romance is the top-selling genre for self-publishers and especially e-book publishers, why is this risky?
A publisher once told me to never confuse my readers about who I am as a writer and what I write. ‘Stick to your genre and never leave it’ (until you’re John Grisham, and they’ll buy anything you write), she told me.
Second, I used to work with a woman (she was an accountant by day) whose agent dropped her because her romances changed from sunny to dark, and her agent “didn’t know who she was anymore.”
And third, a successful romance writer I met at a conference relayed how she introduced some minor mystical elements into one of her Highland Romance (a subgenre of romance) novels. Her readers sent her angry letters for violating their trust and said they’d never buy another book she wrote.
Clearly, dipping my toes into the romance waters risks confusing my writers about who I am as a writer. Up to now, my novels have rested comfortably in that broad category of contemporary women’s fiction. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take now that I might not have before. What’s the difference between now and then?
As I thought about taking this “risk,” I realized as I’ve gotten older, I am less concerned about not living up to other people’s expectations. I’ve got a new perspective on risk: after menopause, health issues, big financial losses, and long-term unemployment—not to mention watching jowls form under my jaw and bags under my eyes—many bad things I used to worry about don’t seem terribly scary anymore.
Here’s an example: The other day, a friend asked me if I’d be willing to talk to a USA Today reporter about ageism. My first reaction was, “God, no! What if I say the wrong thing?” And then I remembered: I don’t have to worry about saying the “wrong thing” anymore. I used to worry that I could get fired, or not be considered for the next job I wanted. But now that I’m retired? Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!
Likewise, when it comes to writing romance, what do I really have to lose? Suppose no one likes the novel, and it never gains readership. Well, then, no one’s perception of who I am as a writer is going to change. Or, suppose it gets a big readership and suddenly, everyone thinks of me as a great romance writer. Hmmm…. Somehow I don’t see that as a great big problem either. I’ll just write a sequel!
Lynne here: Marj and I meet for lunch occasionally and we can’t stop talking about the craft and business of writing. It’s very exciting to both of us, and I’m lucky to have a friend who inspires me. What about you? Have you found yourself taking more risks now that you’re older? In what way?
More info about Marj
Her romance novel is published under her new romance pen name: Marjorie Pinkerton Miller, a combination of her name, her mother’s maiden name, and her grandmother’s maiden name.
Her Facebook page is here: www.facebook.com/marjcharlier
And her website is here: www.marjcharlier.com