by Laura Anne Gilman
The base idea of Practical Meerkat is, and always has been “learn from my mistakes so you can make better ones.” And normally I’d be giving you examples from that exploded-career-landmine past. But this time I’m pulling it from what’s going on now.
So, here’s the deal. I’m launching a new series next month, which is an…odd thing, because after a decade writing fantasy novels, I’m suddenly seeing myself as a mystery writer, too. And since we’re going out under another name, there’s this sense of not so much reinvention (Laura Anne Gilman is still quite here, thank you very much) but uncovering an entirely new Me.
And with this New Me comes, well, panic. New Writer Panic, yet. I know I have readers for my fantasy. But this? This is new! Yeah, I wrote mystery plots for the UF, but they were still fantasy, and that’s who bought them…fantasy readers. Fantasy readers won’t always go to the mystery section! They won’t see my name and think “oh, I like her!” I’m starting all over again!
I’m not proud to admit that I had a long moment of utterly freaking out. And then my inner Practical Meerkat came along and dunked the cold caffeine of common sense over me.
And I thought “ok, share this.”
We get into a certain career pattern, we figure out how to do things, we get comfortable with what we can do. And the thought of abandoning that seems like it should be scary, yeah.
The truth is; we start all over again all the time, in our career. We start new projects, we start new series, we start new publishing relationships. It’s all scary.
But here’s the thing: when we do that, it’s not a ground-up endeavor. The short fiction writer doesn’t go cold into publishing novels – she brings along a certain reputation and readership. The novelist doesn’t simply appear under the cabbage at their new publishing house – he’s been through the process before, and it’s just a matter of learning the quirks and preferences of a new partner.
All experience counts. It carries over. Everything we’ve done before then informs us, and connects us, teaches us how to act, and react.
No, writing a novel isn’t like writing a short story. But you’ve already got the chops to sit down and start writing, and keep writing until it’s done. You already know how to let go of the story long enough to send it out, and to keep sending it out until it’s either accepted or retired. You know how to behave in a professional setting, and won’t let the inevitable disasters and missteps send you into a whimpering, yowling heap…
All right, you will. But you’ll know to do it at home, in the company of your trusted friends, and not go public until you can laugh about it gracefully. Right?
(go, read the applicable section in Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits. Commit it to memory. Then come back.)
It’s the same with starting in a new genre. I know how to tell a story. I know the genre. I know how to put myself forward and approach new readers. These are skills I’ve already got.
Yes, it’s true, my established readers may not know to look on the mystery shelves when the new books comes out. But I know how to tell them, now. And many of them will say “oh god, no, I don’t read mystery.” That’s okay. Not all my mystery readers are going to read fantasy, either. But some of them might. Some of them might discover they like both, after all.
I got this. And so will you.
Just take a moment, and think about all that you already know.
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than twenty novels, most recently DRAGON JUSTICE (PSI #4) and the forthcoming COLLARED (a Gin & Tonic mystery) under the name LA. Kornetsky. She is also the author of Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful info for Young (and Old) Writers. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)
She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).
And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.