A few people have asked what genre I was referring to in my most recent blog (“Which Is It: A or B?”) when I was told by a well-respected agent in NYC that a genre I wanted to publish in was dead.

I love old movies. TCM is one TV channel I cannot do without. I don’t, however, care much for contemporary movies. I’m not sure I can remember the last movie I saw in a theater. I suppose we go maybe once or twice a year.

Part of my fascination with old movies extends to the history of movie-making in what many call Hollywood’s Golden Age: mostly the 1930s, 40s and 50s. So, on my bucket list for some time now has been the hope of helping a movie star from that era tell his or her story. Preferably a person whose story has a strong faith element.

Some of you know that I had a great shot at this a few years ago. I worked for a year with a well-known actress from that era on her autobiography. It was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on. She not only had a fantastic story, but an inspirational angle that the market I write for would find rewarding. But alas, we couldn’t find a publisher and eventually the actress called off the project and paid me a “kill fee.”

I’ve not given up on the idea though. I have several other people in mind who have stories I think are worth telling. But this time, before I invest in all that work, I want to find an agent who is confident we’ll find a publisher for the book.

The agent I mentioned in my previous blog told me in his response to my query that I was wasting my time. He said, “My advice is to drop the golden age star book project ideas. The whole category has been killed off by the internet, and the proliferation of fan sites on any and every personality and phenomenon. One of my clients is one of the leading music and film star biographers in the business, and I’ve watched his sales decline from millions of copies (literally) to tens of thousands.”

But despite this agent’s advice, I remain hopeful. I still have my short-list of possibilities and will see what happens as I move forward, well aware of the risks of continued failure—and as I said previously, not putting all my eggs in this one basket. I have many projects in several genres that I’d like to write. I’m not dependent on any one genre.

Some of you are probably asking, “But Nick, don’t agents and publishers want to ‘brand’ you as a writer? How does writing in several genres help brand you?”

That’s a great question. Here’s my answer. Because I have varied interests, I’m pursuing the doors that open for me and if that results in branding, it will be because God has opened the right doors for that branding to happen. In fact, I think I may be finally finding out the “branding” that God may want to occur in my writing. My new book (coming out in January), Power in the Promises is very much in keeping with my previous well-acclaimed books Magnificent Prayer and His Victorious Indwelling. And I just turned in a draft of a proposal to my agent that’s also in keeping with this “brand” and she loves it. Maybe this, then, is my brand. If pressed, I would describe it as helping Christians return to some of the deep truths of the faith by writing in a way that makes those truths more accessible to the modern reader.

Maybe nothing will ever happen with my desire to help someone write their story. And, by the way, although I’ve mentioned the Hollywood thing, please note that my desire to work in this genre extends beyond Hollywood. There are any number of people I’d enjoy helping write their story. Or even work on a bio of a past person—hopefully a hero of the faith. I would love to have written Bonhoeffer, but that nice assignment from God went to Eric Metaxas.

God knows my writing desires. And I have no reason to complain with the doors He’s both opened and closed. But until I know for sure that helping a person whose story I resonate with is never going to happen, I’m going to keep knocking on those doors.

14 replies
  1. Amanda Dykes
    Amanda Dykes says:

    That last paragraph captured such an important truth: when God puts something on our hearts, all we can do is pursue and see what He does. And as to odds and impossibilities, it brings such a smile to my face to know that God isn’t bound by them~ all He’s looking for is servant-hearted obedience, faith to take the next step. And He will do what He will do. Thank you for a post rich in this truth! I had to learn this in a different area of my life, but I’m so glad for it- I did a short blog post on what He’d been showing my reluctant heart a few years back: http://amandadykes.com/the-beautiful-truth-about-numbers/

    Bravo, and thank you for the inspiration!

    Reply
  2. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    You bring up an important point about avoiding the temptation to focus on one genre, especially for an aspiring published writer like myself. I actually first considered this seriously when I read your post about keeping an ongoing idea list, which I have taken to heart and been adding to often.
    Also, I would love to read a book about a Golden Age star, so I hope you find a willing publisher for that idea!

    Reply
  3. Michael K. Reynolds
    Michael K. Reynolds says:

    I am a huge biography fan. I would tend to believe it takes most of a lifetime to have an interesting life. Which means there is only a short window to have readers alive who have lived in that time period. I’d get it written and out there! Maybe the books are intended to be read by tens of thousands as opposed to millions. Look what happened to David when he stared counting his troops before the battle.

    Reply
  4. Camille Eide
    Camille Eide says:

    Nick, I shared your post with my agency-mates because the subject hits too close to home for me.

    What you’re describing in your Golden Age actor/faith thread topic is extremely similar to a novel I’m working on. But it’s fiction, so I’m not sure how much your discovery applies. (It’s about a woman (in 1953) helping an ex-actor from Hollywood’s Golden Age write his memoir, a story he wants to tell because his is an amazing story of God’s amazing, transforming power what was seemingly an incorrigible life.) I consider mine a “historical romance” even though I am not yet sure if it qualifies as pure romance (categorically) or Women’s Fiction with Romance (which I understand is still not an actual genre…)

    So I guess I have two things to ask: do you feel the Hollywood/faith story you long to write must be written regardless of whether or not a publisher believes they can sell it, and will you continue to write it (which I think is what you’re saying) because the timing may not be right now, but perhaps one day will be?

    I guess that’s a matter of whether or not our writing is our bread and butter now, or if we can afford to write what’s on our heart, pitch it, shelve it if needed, then move on to the next story. Is it about making a living, or expressing stories our hearts are stuck on?

    Thanks for sharing! I am rooting for you & your commitment to write what you long to write!

    Reply
  5. BrendaLou
    BrendaLou says:

    Nick, I would think with all the hoopla about “the Mad Men” era, etc that the Golden Era would be the next thing. I would love to be able to read biographies from this era as well as novels taking place in the 40’s & 50’s. I want to read stories about people who lived in the US during WWII…both in the country and the city (back when there still was the country). How did they cope, did they put their dreams on hold while loved ones were overseas, did families pull inward? These would make great stories. Where are the book-versions of “The Wonder Years” TV show? Nostalgia is where it’s at, so how come we aren’t seeing the late 40’s & 50’s in print? Just a few of the questions rolling around in my head this afternoon.

    Reply
  6. Sue Harrison
    Sue Harrison says:

    Nick, I feel the pain pouring through your words and it flays me. I’m old enough to have lived through many changes in the book industry, including the ascent of my original genre of choice, which brought me a huge advance for my first book and millions (not a lot of millions) of copies sold.

    Within 15 years, that genre was declared dead, my last hardcover sold only in the thousands, and my publisher politely asked me to write something else.

    Just last fall with all 6 of my original genre novels laid to rest worldwide except in Spain and Japan and France (go figure) I received a call from an Ebook publisher in New York that was republishing “classics” in Ebook format. Their authors include Pearl S. Buck, Marlene Dietrich, and Erma Bombeck. Would I be interested? Hmm, let me think about that for a microsecond.

    After my author interview, one of the company publicists commented, “It’s so great to work with an author who isn’t dead!” Ummm, yeah, okay. It’s good for me, too.

    Meanwhile, I’m trying so hard (and my agent is trying so hard) to place one of my new novels with a publisher of inspirational fiction, a publisher who would take a chance on a “new” author. And God is teaching me all over again that He opens doors in His own good, wise time.

    (And by the way, I think you have a brand new genre there just waiting to be discovered – historical memoir.)

    Reply
  7. Kathy Boyd Fellure
    Kathy Boyd Fellure says:

    Well said, Nick and I feel your pain. How I would have loved to see that movie go to screen! I’d have been one of the first in line.
    You offer both wisdom from experience, and hope. You temper both by lining every aspect up with the Lord’s will and timing.
    There is much to learn from what you share here and I am grateful for the lesson.
    The desires of my own heart have experienced similar disappointments but leaning on God’s understanding and timing make it easier to walk forward and not look back.
    I appreciate your frank honesty and your brand ~ “Helping Christians return to some of the deep truths of faith by writing in a way that makes those truth more accessible to the modern reader,” is much needed thought perhaps not so sought after.
    Still wisdom reigns.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Judith Robl
    Judith Robl says:

    Thank you, Nick, for sharing.

    Your brand/goal “helping Christians return to some of the deep truths of the faith by writing in a way that makes those truths more accessible to the modern reader” says pretty much what my goals are as well. But you said it better and more succinctly that I could have. You have my prayers and well wishes for your project.

    Reply
  9. Judy Vandiver
    Judy Vandiver says:

    Nick, I think you have expressed what lies within a writer’s heart. We all have passions and those are the things we want to write about. I too love stories from the era you mentioned and would especially love a faith-based memoir from that age. I say write the book, it may not sell now, but (do I dare say this) when the golden-age star passes away, they’ll all be clamoring for your book. And if you have someone from that age you can interview “later” will be too late.

    For most writers, writing is not about what sells. That’s a publisher’s job. Writing is about what moves us and makes us want to get up every morning and breathe. Just as you said we can write in more than one genre, we can write for the market at times, but we must also allow time to write for ourselves.

    The tag line I chose several years ago is Writing for God’s Glory. I write from the inspiration the Lord puts in my heart. I have written some things that only a handful of people have read. But when I get feedback that what I wrote helped one – just one person – then God is glorified. The book you wish to write may become one that inspires one person to live for God. One person that will make it to heaven because Nick Harrison dared write what God told him to.

    You, your book and God’s movement are in my prayers.

    Reply
  10. Janalyn Voigt
    Janalyn Voigt says:

    Nick, I agree with you that a brand is something that can transcend genre. Because I write in more than one genre and also engage in more than one art form, I worked with a publicist to develop an overarching brand to act as an umbrella over everything I offer. I had to dig deep to discover that I offer readers escape into the creative worlds I create. Of course, there’s a spiritual concept to escape as well.

    Because my readers may not be as eclectic as me, I’ve developed a system of interlinked sub-domains from my website to engage readers of each genre separately. I blog from each twice a month and offer the option to subscribers of picking and choosing which they follow. I also offer a monthly newsletter with an author journal update and links to all posts.

    It’s hard when what you feel called upon to write doesn’t jive with interest cycles. It was a walk of faith to keep writing my allegorical fantasy novel, but it’s proved out. DawnSinger is now reaching readers, many of them young adult readers of secular fantasy. That thrills me no end. Sometimes God asks us to step out when it’s scary.

    Reply
  11. Karla Akins
    Karla Akins says:

    Bottom line, I think is this: Agents and publishers aren’t in control. God is. And it is His purpose that will prevail. Don’t give up on what God has on your heart. Timing is so strange. So is God. He never does things our way, does He? And there’s no way we can see the big picture.

    I was told by several people that my novel coming out in August wasn’t desirable because I had a character with Autism in it and other reasons. I shelved it for a year and a half before digging it out again and re-subbing it to an agent who believed in it and sold it.

    I’ve been writing since I was 9 and am just now selling my first novel. That’s a long wait! (I’m, uhm…over 50?)

    Thanks for this encouraging post. It’s never about us, is it?

    Reply
  12. Nick
    Nick says:

    Thanks for the response. To those who wanted me to write the story anyway, I have to tell you that part of my kill fee was based on agreeing never to write about her. When she passes, I may mention her on Facebook. She’s a terrific lady with a powerful story that will, alas, stay largely unknown. Brenda, I’m with you, but apparently our demographic isn’t large enough (so they say). Camille, thanks for sharing the post. Sue, I will look up your books on Amazon. Great comments, all.

    Reply

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