How I Balance Science Fiction and Chick Lit Writing
I’ll begin with a note of honesty and admit that I don’t balance them all that well. Last year I wrote and sold exactly one science fiction story while I did two chick lit/YA novels, but I get that this question focuses on the general. How do I be a science fiction writer, for which I use the name Emily Mah, and a chick lit writer, for which I use the name E.M. Tippetts.
To start with, a brief history of how this happened. Emily Mah is my maiden name and I always wanted to be a science fiction and fantasy author. That’s where I did my training, at the Clarion West Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy and in the Critical Mass Writer’s Group. That’s the genre in which all my stories fit. I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico; what other people consider science fiction is just normal life for me, and I’ve always loved a good fantasy book. All of my sales in this genre have been short stories.
But when I turned thirty, I decided I wanted to publish one novel somewhere, so I chose the LDS market. There is a small group of publishers and bookstores in Utah and the mountain west who cater to Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and because it’s a smaller market, it’s much easier to be published there. I used my married name, Tippetts, and abbreviated my first two names to initials because I liked the sound of it: E.M. Tippetts. Using this name I wrote a chick lit novel which sold to the second publisher I sent it to, and a year later I was a published novelist, but I ended up in so many contract bickerings with the publisher that we parted ways and I called that all good. I’d go back to being Emily Mah and move on with my writing.
Still, chick lit novels kept itching at my awareness, so I wrote a couple and just left them on my hard drive while I began to sell science fiction short stories to some of the bigger, more prestigious markets. And then my Clarion West classmate, Susan Ee, decided to indie publish her novel, Angelfall, and I couldn’t help but notice that this looked like a ton of fun, being your own boss as a novelist. I didn’t want to go indie as Emily Mah, though, because traditional publishing still can look down on the self published. I wanted to preserve my good name, so to speak, so I thought instead I’d indie publish my chick lit novels.
I turned this into an exercise for myself, to learn marketing. Without any publisher or publicist, it was all up to me, so I decided to see if I could do enough on my own to sell books. The answer appears to be yes, as I made a lot more money as E.M. Tippetts last year than I ever have as Emily Mah.
This is the situation you find me in now. It’s been a year since my crazy experiment to try indie publishing and I’m loving the process. That’s what keeps me writing as E.M. Tippetts. But in my heart, I’ll always be a geek and love science fiction. Science fiction stories still ask to be told, so what I plan to do is take time between each novel to work on at least one. How well will this work? I have no idea. This is still very much the beginning for me. Later on this year or early next, I may dust of my last science fiction novel and submit it around to agents too, but only once I feel like I’m in a good rhythm with my chick lit writing.Let me say this to any aspiring writers, though: give a lot of thought to names. Do you write one kind of story, or do you have a clear line of demarcation? If so, take on a second name. This is a branding issue. You might have no trouble hopping from one genre to another when you write, but it’s surprising how conservative readers can be. Many don’t stray very far from one genre they love, so don’t ever put one in the situation of thinking they’ll get one genre when they pick up a book and ending up reading another. I’ve spoken to several authors who wish they’d taken on a pen name for a different venture. It isn’t always necessary, if you always write romance and have a fantasy element in a romance novel, that doesn’t require differentiation, but if you write a hard science fiction with robots and a big space battle, you’ll probably want to use a different name for that one. The names don’t have to be all that different, either. Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks is a good example there. You can still be you, just give your fans a clear signpost.
E.M. Tippetts grew up in New Mexico and now lives in London, where she raises two boisterous toddlers, designs jewelry, and writes novels. A former attorney, she used to specialize in real estate and estate planning, specifically literary estate planning. She currently has five novels out, Time & Eternity, Paint Me True, Someone Else's Fairytale, Castles on the Sand, and Nobody's Damsel (Fairytale 2).
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