This February, my seventh book came out—a historical fantasy called TSARINA, which I wrote under the pen name J. Nelle Patrick. TSARINA is set in Imperial Russia; it’s about a young noble named Natalya who must find and use a magical Fabergé egg to save both the love of her life and her country.
It’s something of a far cry from my other books—which are a series of retold fairytales, a contemporary story about a girl losing her virginity, and a story about a girl falling in love with the genie granting her three wishes. I’ve also got a middle grade spy series coming out next year.
So, what I’m saying is: I write a pretty wide variety of stuff! For this post, I thought it might be fun to discuss the challenges—and the pleasures—of writing somewhat up and down the kidlit spectrum.
Let’s go ahead and discuss the good stuff first. The number one advantage to casting your genre net wide? Never feeling hemmed in by a “brand”.
My first book was AS YOU WISH (the genie one). My second was SISTERS RED (a darker fairytale book). And then I wrote PURITY, the contemporary. I often wonder if I would have been able to sell PURITY with a long-established reputation for fairytales or paranormal fantasy. I’m really glad that from the get go, I committed to writing the books I wanted to write rather than writing the books I thought best fit the market/my name. I’m by no means saying I can write and sell whatever I want, whenever I want, but rather that any restrictions I may face exist because of the market or the quality of the book, not because of a pre-conceived notion of what type of book I write.
Secondly, writing such different stuff means I always feel challenged. That’s not to say writing ANY book isn’t a challenge in and of itself—but it’s sort of like working out, I guess. You work out different muscles in different ways, so that your body doesn’t get used to the activity. Writing TSARINA was hugely different than writing the books that came before. I felt an obligation to and sense of stewardship for the real people of Imperial Russia. I didn’t want to mess with their lives for the convenience of a story if it could be avoided, which meant lots of long nights studying the layout of the Winter Palace, reading biographies on each of the Romanovs, and deciding what was flexible and what was sacred. I wasn’t always able to take the most obvious path, plot-wise, if I didn’t feel that path meshed with the history. Similarly, writing PURITY was very, very different than writing retold fairytales. For starters, I couldn’t drop a werewolf action scene in to spice things up; all the motion had to come from my very-not-magical protagonist. But secondly, PURITY is probably more “me” than my other books, which meant writing it forced me to address some personal demons rather than address the demons of fictional characters. I felt like I emerged from both projects a stronger writer for being forced outside of my comfort zone. It’s nice to look back at a project and feel proud not only of the final product itself, but of how you changed and grew through writing it.
So, what’s the big downside? It’s not having a “brand”. I know, I know, this is the exact opposite of the first thing I listed as one of the “best things”. But the truth is, there are huge benefits to having a brand—Sarah Dessen is an excellent example. Her books have the same look, the same feel…when I see a cover with a certain layout/typeface/type of image, I KNOW it’s a Dessen book. And readers do too—so when they grab one of her books, it’s easy for them to find all of them instantly. With my books? Not so much. TSARINA is under a pen name. PURITY is often stocked on in “Teen” while my fairytale series is stocked in “Paranormal Romance”—except for the first one, which is sometimes in “Teen”. I also had a cover redesign halfway through that series, which complicated things a bit further. AS YOU WISH has appeared in both the aforementioned sections, and my upcoming middle grade series will be on another shelf entirely. It’s flatly hard to find my books sometimes.
Despite all that, at the end of the day, I’m glad that I have a wide variety of books out. I’m glad that that I feel like I can show my publishers anything I want without hearing “But your brand!”. My advice? Write the books you love, and if they fall into a handy dandy brand, woohoo! If they don’t? You’ve still written books you love.
Visit Jackson's website: Jackson-Pearce.com
Jackson is generously offering a free, signed and dedicated copy of TSARINA to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below!