Under the pen name Anna Schmidt, Jo Schmidt has written over thirty novels that have collectively sold over half a million copies. She is also the author of Parkinson’s Disease for Dummies and several books on eldercare published by AARP. Her latest novel, The Winterkeeper (March 2019) is her first literary fiction release. A former marketing and communications professional for two international corporations who has also taught at the college level and run a Mom-and-Pop adult daycare business with her husband, Jo is now retired and focused only on writing. She splits her time between Wisconsin and Florida.
Breaking out of the Genre Pigeonhole: Tips From a Romance-Turned-Mainstream Novelist
When the love of my life died seven years ago, it was like losing half of myself. Aside from the deep emotional toll grief takes, it brought professional challenges. As a career romance author, writing love stories suddenly became downright painful.
For years I had been contemplating breaking away from the genre fiction mold I’d been embedded in for decades, but now, moving away from romance fiction felt vital. I no longer wanted to write ‘happily-ever-after’ stories. I wanted to write ‘what-happens-next’ stories. I was fascinated with telling the story of a marriage after the honeymoon—years, even decades after. I now knew that story—the laughter and the tears of that story.
Many writers, myself included, start their careers with a singular quest: to get published. It follows the outline of the “if a tree falls in the woods” adage: You can work day and night on a manuscript, but if it never reaches readers, did it ever really get written?
If you’re lucky, you might get published. You may even have a bit of success, as I did. And I learned an important lesson: With success comes restrictions. I had sold over 500,000 copies of my romance works. How hard could it be to pivot away from romance, to be able to tell the more complex stories I wanted to tell?
The answer: Hard. Very, very hard. In the end, publishing is a business. Turning out romance novels for the legion of readers is big business. Having worked in the corporate world for two international companies, I understand that bottom-line philosophy. I don’t have to like it; I just understand it. And the bottom line was that these publishers needed me to keep writing the stories that would feed the appetite of genre readers and drive consistent, predictable sales.
So when it was time for a change—or at least a shift—my agent pitched my new novel concept to a number of publishers…and I got some of the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received in all my years doing this writing thing. They liked the story, the writing, the characters. But they couldn’t see a viable route to cash in.
Luckily, my skin was thick, and I learned a lot. If you find yourself in a similar position, hoping to reinvent yourself as a writer and storyteller, here’s what you can do: [Read more…]