3. Choosing The Right Book For You To Write.

What sort of books do you like to read? Most writers are, as I said before, also avid readers. The reason I ask this question is that most people, when deciding to write, have no idea what to write about. This applies to all types of fiction writing but we'll take novels as an example - short stories are a little different and we'll discuss them later.

This is what a great many people do: go into a bookstore and have a look at what's on the blockbuster lists. At the time of writing, conspiracy thrillers are quite hot - Dan Brown has his imitators! So why not write one of them? Why not indeed - they're pretty formulaic, aren't they? Just throw in a few plot twists and puzzles and away you go!

Wrong on a few counts.

Don't forget that Dan Brown was selling books over ten years ago for a start (Digital Fortress). Wind another year back from that for getting it published and another year or so for the writing and you begin to see that this kind of book may be hot now but may not be by the time you could reasonably expect your particular offering to hit the bookshelves. The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, so probably began life somewhere as far back as 2000-2001. So what's hot now (OK, last year if you count the movie) may not be even warm two years from now.

So we go back to the original question - what books do you like to read? If you love Dan Brown-type thrillers, you may well be good at writing them (forgetting for the moment the question of timing!). If, on the other hand, you like reading someone like Iain M. Banks' brand of modern science fiction, you may well be wasting your time. Chances are that you're just not familiar enough with your chosen genre to write it well.

So what do you do?

Answer: write what you love to read. If you're a sci-fi fan, write sci-fi. If you love bodice-rippers, write for Mills & Boon (just remember that romance is impossible to fake - if it's not sincere it won't work).

Why would you write what you read?

Answer: because you know how books of that type are written. You know when and where they are set, the kind of names to use, how they might dress, how they might speak - it goes on and on. The point is that you're familiar with it all and that, trust me, puts you instantly streets ahead of those novice writers who cast about in aimless fashion for something to write about .

You really do have to possess a passion for what you write about (hence the remark that romance can't be faked). If you aren't dedicated to your genre it will come through in your writing - and any editor will spot it a mile away.

Here we touch on what, for some writers, is a distasteful subject. Commerce. Would that we could live in a world where writers could write books about any subject they fancied and have them published. So what if you're into time-travelling crime thrillers with aliens as the good guys? I'm sorry to disillusion you but the fact of the matter is this: modern novels must fit a recognised category or they just will not get published. Period.

Now before all the Harry Potterphiles start trumpeting, let's remember one thing - those books are the greatest kind of fluke. Only the relentless dedication of J. K. Rowling and her cast-iron belief in them got them going - and even then it was very, very close. For every J. K. Rowling there are thousands of writers whose work languishes in the bottom drawer of their desk along with countless rejection slips - 'Sorry but this is too cross-genre...' - 'We feel at this time that we cannot go forward as the MS does not fall into a recognised category...'

And so on. So - if you want to be a professional writer, act in a professional manner. Please don't think that writing for a genre will stunt your artistic ability. Far from it. The real challenge is to identify the genre you wish to write in, then turn in a saleable novel about it. This is another thing that separates the 'author' from the 'writer'. OK, all work is 'authored', but I know a few 'authors' who will never, ever be published simply because they will never bow to commercial pressure as they think it somehow beneath them.

Speaking frankly, publishers are out to sell books and make money. If you find this somehow distasteful - get real. The great Dr.Johnson once said that 'no-one but an idiot ever wrote for anything but money.' You may or may not agree but the fact remains that, in our commercial, consumer-driven society, a book that isn't classified as being within a recognised genre or sub-genre will not get published because, according to the publishers, it will not sell.

Take a bit of time, therefore, to identify exactly which category you wish to write in. How to do this? Again, it's pretty simple. Go to a good bookshop and look for the kind of book you like to read. Let's say it's main genre is 'Suspense' with its sub-genre being 'political thriller'. How many of this kind of books are on the shelves? Are there any featured new books? If the genre looks well-populated and there's a couple of new big-hitters on show, chances are that your kind of book is, if not the most popular genre, at least one that's alive and well.

There's a flip side to this, of course. Say you like a type of book that's now out of fashion - maybe disaster thrillers. What then?

At times like those you are faced with a decision. Either choose the nearest genre to your original and adapt your writing for that - or go for something totally different. This may well involve you in reading-up on a whole new genre and will take time - remember, you should write books about subjects you love to read. You may have a few false starts but I'm willing to bet that, quite soon, you will land on another genre that you like. From there it's a case of becoming familiar with it and the way it works. Only then, as I said before, can you hope to write within that genre with any degree of authority.

Once you have chosen your genre, try to stay focussed upon it. It may well be that you're tempted by some new blockbuster, thinking 'That's hot! I can do that!' - just remember what I said previously: stay tight, stay on your genre track and  keep to your schedule. It's the only way.

Just a quick recap:

Now let's take a look at the next topic.

Index page 1. Necessary equipment. 2. The importance of the workplace  4. Ideas and how to get them.  5. How to plan a story.  6. How to make characters come to life.  7. Plotting your story. 8. Self-editing and the final draft. 9. Agents and Publishers 10. Writers' groups.  11. Writing competitions.  12. Reference works.