This week, authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain talk about studying a new genre, whether you want to dive into it completely or just bring elements of it into another work.



Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn.  

J: Hey, Crys! Here we are, batching again. 

Crys: Batching again, three minutes after we finished the last one. So no new news, no new updates. I’m getting slightly more caffeinated as I down my coffee. That’s the only difference.  

With no comments, no changes, we’re just going to go straight into the question. And this was asked in a couple of different ways in our Slack group, but we’re going to attack it from a general point of view. And that’s: how do you study a genre?  

This is useful whether you are thinking about getting into a new genre or you want to incorporate elements of a different genre into your current work. The second is what you’re currently looking at because you asked for resources on romance.  

Everyone, J Thorn writing romance.  

J: Everyone was like, wait, what?  

Crys: But what it is, is you have a romantic plot line that you’re trying to incorporate, correct? 

J: And the other part of that is I’m not a static writer. 

I can’t write the same book over and over. I try to find areas where I know I can improve or learn and that’s different for every book. And so for this particular project that I’m probably not even starting until next time, I want to do more romance elements in it.  

 I looked at the art, the movies, or the books that I’ve really enjoyed over the past couple of years and there’s some love element in there somewhere. So I think that’s an important thing.  

But this question is a hard one. It’s more complicated than it seems on the surface to me. Like, if you Google that or if you go to the author boards and groups, people will say you have to be a super fan of the genre and you have to read everything and you have to know all about it. 

I think that’s true to an extent, but it’s complicated for me, because if you do that you will start to mirror those things in a way without really processing them. I feel like there’s almost a danger of doing too much research or knowing too much about the genre, so that whatever you write just comes off as a bland replica of the aggregate of the stories you’ve consumed. 

So I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s this fine line, and I don’t know where it is, between knowing nothing and coming out with something that’s really fresh and innovative, and knowing so much that it just falls to the bottom of the slush of all the other stories like it. 

Crys: What I think that you are describing in that particular issue is what I would describe as writing to genre without heart. 

J: Explain.  

Crys: So in Chris Fox’s, what is it called?  

J: Write to Market?  

Crys: Write to Market. Write to market without heart is the idea of writing to market only for cash. And honestly, some people can do that and write entertaining stories without it being emotionally draining for them. So if that’s you, this is not against you at all. A lot of us are not that, however.  

I was able to do it for a while, because that was the new challenge. The challenge was the writing specifically to the market that people wanted, not necessarily that I was super interested in, because I like learning new things, and learning to do that? Super fun and interesting for me. And then it became not fun and interesting, so we need to move on to other things.  

You can get a lot of money that way. I don’t know if you can do that long-term if that is not the style of person you are. 

So that’s the without heart. So if it’s not something that you actively have an interest in, for the story itself, not just the challenge and writing of it and the money of it, then it’s becomes without heart.  

J: And maybe this is a more practical approach. I don’t know if it works, but this is what I’m doing. I could have started reading like all the most popular best-selling romance and take notes and deconstruct those. But again, I was worried I’m just going to learn what the most common tropes and conventions are. 

And because I don’t read and write romance on a regular basis, it’s not going to be anything special. And I think you had mentioned it, I think Cathy may have mentioned it, or somebody else mentioned Romancing the Beat. And I thought, okay, I like this because this is this is an expert in this genre. This is an author who knows what she’s doing. It’s clearly something that’s resonated with other authors of the genre. And it’s just enough.  

Her beats are just enough to give me the framework without going too deep into what everybody else is doing. Maybe I’m just justifying not reading all that romance, but I like that sort of approach is you take some genre specific resource, but not all of the genre specific resources. 

Crys: Yeah, Romancing the Beat is the quintessential guide to writing romance. And as I said in our Slack group, the only difference from when that book was published that I’ve heard Gwen Hayes, the author, say that she tells people differently is similar to the hero’s journey. There’s the dark night of the soul. 

She said that currently readers prefer more of a gray night of the soul. They don’t really want to feel like all is lost, but they do want to feel like, oh, this is not good. So minor difference, just a little less angst. We’ve had too much angst lately and trends will show that. But you do need to have a downward dip in every story, every plot line. 

J: Yeah.  

Crys: I do like to read a bunch when I am looking at a particular genre. I am not the kind who will read like all hundred of the top books. Some people do, and they do tend to be the more market without heart people, and they are very comfortable just pumping out book after book and often making bank. 

J: Yup.  

Crys: That’s a great way to internalize what the readers are currently expecting. You do also have to continue to do that so that you don’t stray too much from what the readers are expecting. But Kathy’s question was about YA, fantasy I think specifically, and I don’t know that there are any guides out there for writing something like YA. So how would you approach that instead? 

J: That’s interesting.  

I think maybe in that case I would pick two or three of the most popular best-selling YA books and then just do the deconstruction of those. I don’t know, that really is a good question. And I think you and I are, in different ways, we’re in a similar situation. In that you spent years and wrote dozens of books in a genre that you’re now like tired of, and I didn’t produce that same volume, but over an extended period of time I was immersed in a particular genre.  

I still like the post-apoc, but I don’t think I can write another straight up post-apoc book at this point. I’ve written it out to me. And because of that, I think once you get outside of that, you don’t feel the pressure to put out two or three or four books a year. 

And therefore you don’t feel as guilty about learning and experimenting and maybe even mixing genres, as Chris Fox called a flagship a few years ago at the Sell More Books Show Summit where you have a primary genre, but then you bring in these other elements.  

So I think it depends on your situation. For me, the rapid release, and for rapid release I’m talking about three books a year, to me that’s still rapid release. 

Crys: Three plus books a year.  

J: Yeah. I mean, I’m not interested in doing that anymore. Like I did, and I aspired to that, but I don’t think that’s what I want to do now. And I think that’s a factor of my age too. I’m starting to realize I don’t have unlimited books to write and I don’t want to write books that I’m not just totally excited about. And I think I’m to the point now where like putting out a post-apoc series, a couple a year, like I just don’t have a big interest in that.  

Crys: One thing I want to point out to listeners if you’re at all familiar with the Clifton strengths, which is something that Becca Symes works a lot with. We’ve mentioned her before J and I are both high in Intellection, which often means that we do prefer to work slower because we just have more time to think deeply in ways that make us happy. If you don’t have that, you’re not gonna feel the same as we do about speed.  

J: Good point. 

Yeah. Perfect example, this sort of romance time-travel dystopian project that I’m thinking about right now, that I’m thinking about for 2022. Over the past month and for the next couple of months, I have 15 to 20 books on my Kindle that I’m moving through. They’re philosophical and physics books about time travel and the nature of time. 

If you’re doing rapid release, that’s not something you’re going to do. And these books, like a small fraction of what I read is going to show up in the story. But this is the type of education and research I need to do to fill out this world for myself.  

Crys: I had a thought for when there’s not a genre book that you could look to guide you, especially in YA, this one in particular. There are so many YA editors who have written reams upon reams of blog posts that they have not collected into a book. So that is probably where I would look for guidance. Especially more current trends, because YA changes so quickly about what is allowable, what is on trend.  

The YA books of today have more graphic descriptions of things that the kids are dealing with more. Drug use, when you have sex, anything about sexuality, all of that is far more prevalent in today’s YA than it was 10, 20 years ago.  

So I think that blog posts, because they honestly are timely, versus a book that is more set in stone, better for genres that are more set in stone like romance, thriller, mystery. Those all have very set plots, patterns, expectations. Whereas YA is more of a description of currentness.  

And just thinking through what defines a genre? Commerciality.  

Genre definitions are going to change as we go on. And Agatha Christie, if it were not an Agatha Christie, would not sell traditionally right now. 

J: Good point. Good point. I apologize for the neighbor’s yard work that’s happening right now. I know that’s getting into the recording and there’s nothing we can do about it. So sorry guys. His lawn looks great by the way.  

But yeah, it’s funny, when you’re talking about blogs I was also thinking this might be where an online course could serve you too. I don’t know of any off the top of my head. That might be an option too.  

Crys: Yeah. And I don’t know specifically, I don’t have a list of people that you can go to for genre courses. But I will say that Margie Lawson has great courses. Holly Lisle has great courses. I know that there’s a million more people teaching out there that I don’t know of. You’re welcome to leave them in the comments because I am a learner and want to learn all the things. So yeah, please do that.  

But yeah, courses. And one of the best ways I’ve found to find courses other than through author communities and knowing people one-on-one like we have in The Author Success Mastermind is Facebook where you know that people are listing courses. And that will require a bunch of trial and error, facebook groups, particularly. I think that’s where I keep up to date with K. Tempest Bradford’s courses. They and… Cynthia? No… Nisi Shawl? I cannot remember who they are partnered with in teaching. They do a lot of courses on diversity.  

And so if you’re writing YA, it might be that you’re not taking YA specific courses, but you’re taking related courses like diversity courses, or like, how do I write about sex in YA fiction or just in fiction. So you might be looking for adjacent courses, not directly genre courses.  

J: Yeah. And this sounds self-serving, I guess it is in a way, but author communities are also great resources. Especially with ours, where we have such a diversity of people and interest in genres, there’s someone in there who knows the genre well and can immediately point to a resource or help you out. Or even recommend like an editor or a book coach. And you might have to invest a little bit of money, but they can really guide you and help you in a way that doesn’t require a ton of reading or extra work.  

Crys: Yeah. And if you know a particular author or editor, you can look on their website and see, do they offer like a power hour where I could just ask them all my questions. 

That might be the best use of your money, maybe a hundred bucks, maybe 200 bucks, and then you get to ask the things you specifically need to know.  

All right. My question for folks is: if you are a genre studier, how do you study genres? And, did we miss a tip that you find really useful? 

J: Excellent, good question.  

Crys: If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.