Writing to a different drummer

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.


I write the type of historical romance that I like to read, with strong determined heroines, heroes that almost deserve them, and villains who are more than paper cut-outs. I like complex plots with real issues at stake, and I enjoy a sense of the rich tapestry of life, with characters galore. I especially like writers who create fictional worlds that they revisit time and again, where each book stands alone as a story, but where we meet characters we’ve known before from other books.

Quite early on while writing Farewell to Kindness, I had a few critiques from book industry people that suggested I was skirting too near to the edges of the historical romance genre. I should remove the villains’ POV chapters. I should simplify the plot. I should soften the heroine, who starts the book by threatening to shoot someone. I should remove some of the action and add in more about the romance. I should move the meeting of the hero and heroine closer to the front of the book. I should remove the two secondary romances, the heroine’s older sister, and a number of other characters.

These critiques were kindly meant. My advisers wanted me to write a book that would sell. Writers need readers. The story isn’t just the one I tell; it’s the one you hear, and until you hear it, it doesn’t live.

I didn’t ignore them. I tightened my writing a lot. I did remove some characters and ‘unnamed’ others to make them less distracting. But I didn’t completely rewrite my book, either. The book these advisers wanted me to tell could have been written by any competent writer. It wasn’t one I could throw a year of my life at.

I launched Farewell to Kindness last week, with over a hundred books presold and the reassurance that prereaders had enjoyed it. And I am finding readers, and I love that they’ve enjoyed the book, and cried in the right places, and argued over whether the hero’s cousin is an arrogant so-and-so, and written me some wonderful reviews. Maybe my audience will be small, and a different book may have reached more readers. But this is my book, and I love it.

Yesterday, a couple of things happened that prompted the following private message conversation with fellow Bluestocking Belle Mariana Gabrielle. The trigger was a series of comments from another writer about how we need someone experienced in the industry to comment on our books so that we can tailor them for the market.

Mariana: This laying down the law about writing for the market just bugs me. Silly, really, but true nonetheless.

Jude: It must be nice to know everything.

Mariana: LOL. Exactly. LOL really is one of those days!

Jude: Short weeks are always crazy. And I got a 3 star review on Amazon that pointed out the ways I don’t comply with industry norms. (Not a bad review — quite a fair one – but just a reminder of why I went indie.)

Mariana: I hate the fair ones.

Jude: This review started “This book is pretty good, but it’s not a good match for my tastes,” and went on to suggest cutting out a lot of the plot twists and spending more time on the romance. Which is fine, but this was not that book.

Mariana: ‘Not a good match’ says it all. At least that was acknowledged.

Jude: I get cross with those who pontificate about the one right way.

Mariana: Me, too; about anything, not just writing.

Jude: Yep. Makes my skin crawl. I’m fine with ‘right for me’; just not ‘my way or no way’.

Mariana: That’s why I trained myself to talk about what works for me. Much more palatable.

Jude: If I’d responded [on the post that triggered this conversation] it would have kept the point off topic. But I’m tempted to do a new post on how ‘the industry’ inevitably plays it safe by doing what has worked, and therefore is doomed to playing catch up when readers follow something new and different.

Mariana: That sounds like a good point, and I have opinions on that. Trying to be “the next XXXXX” is incredibly stupid. By the time you think it, you are too late.

Jude: If I let others shape my writing I might be mildly successful but dissatisfied.

Mariana: Many of my friends say, “You could write the next 50 Shades…” They don’t get that there is no next 50 Shades. No next Twilight or Harry Potter. Trying is a fool’s game.

Jude: If I write what I want to write, I will be satisfied, and if people like it they’ll need to come to me to get it.

Mariana: Yep. And my integrity will be intact.

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5 thoughts on “Writing to a different drummer

  1. Yep, yep. You aren’t the next anything but the new Jude Knight and you’re damned good at it. Good writing is one thing, narrow rules about what readers should want is another thing entirely.

  2. Thank you, Jude. Finally someone has talked about that gorilla in the living room of the romance genre.

    I’ve long believed the genre rules are too many and too rigid. That they preclude many themes and plots that I find romantic, and allow and encourage many I don’t.

    I’m writing a romance according to my idea of romance. I must deliberately break the rules. It would have no chance at all with a Big Publishing romance editor, and very little with a small-press one. I’ll have to self-publish it and hope for the best.

    But at least self-publishing is a viable option. I can remember a time when it wasn’t.

    Good luck with the release of “Farewell to Kindness”.

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