I just left New Mexico, where I attended the Women’s Fiction Writers Association annual retreat. I was there for four days and the question asked at nearly every restaurant was “Red or green?” This, of course, is because Albuquerque is home to Mexican food in pretty much every way you can imagine, and which sauce you want to put on that food is important.
While I was there, I also had the chance to attend a session wherein authors got to test the waters of reading parts of our book out loud. It was a chance to experience our words in a different way. But what happened as I sat there waiting for my turn was I got to experience the brilliance of 9 other authors and became completely aware of the flavor that each writer used.
Women’s fiction is defined as a book that follows an adult protagonist’s emotional journey. A lot of times, when people hear this, they think it means emotional like when we reference someone who is emotional: that the story is sad, solemn or somber. But in nine five minute sessions, I heard women’s fiction that was suspenseful, comedic, mysterious, magical, and paranormal. This was particularly noticeable because the whole retreat was focused around one genre.
There can be a temptation, when we are reading and writing, to try and mirror someone else. We try that flavor, think that it’s awesome, tell our friends about it. But I can tell you that after three days of eating nearly every meal with a southwest flavor, I found myself craving something else. Something unique.
I think our writing is the same way. We know genre, we understand the nuances of it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to exactly match what is out there. Our uniqueness, our writing voice, the way we see characters, the ideas we have regarding settings are what people crave.
But it can be difficult to identify our flavor. The first thing to do is identify what it is about your writing that you are the most proud of. Is it the emotional arcs you can create? Maybe character depiction is where you are the most strong. What about your prose? Are you snappy? Eloquent? Humorous? Do you have a way to increase tension, to push your audience to the edge of your seat or do you write something that makes people weep openly and in public?
Then, look up books that are similar to yours, comps you may have used when describing your book to others. But figure out what it is about yours that makes it different from those comps. Why would a reader want to pick up your book instead of another by the person you are comparing your book to?
Identifying your flavor of writing will help in drafting, editing and discussions of your book, and will offer readers something different enough to feel refreshing.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.