Why would a mystery writer who’s already successful decide to switch genres?
I’m so excited and pleased to get these luscious take-me-away stories out to you, but it’s been a bit of a journey. First of all, the question I keep getting:
Why would a mystery writer who’s already successful decide to switch genres?
Well, I’m not switching. I’m adding. But there’s no short answer to this, so here we go.
Writing is, first and foremost, a creative enterprise. Yes, for me it’s an “enterprise,” and if you want to be successful at it, choosing a genre and writing a series is a great first step. But, we grow and evolve as artist/writers, and I’ve found that if I don’t go where the creative juice is, I get bored, restless, constipated if you will. And over time, I worry that might lead to the dread writer’s block, which I believe comes from obligation, fear, boredom, and pressure to make money.
So, I’ve given myself permission to write whatever the heck I want to, one of the great privileges and freedoms of being an indie author. This decision does fly in the face of great advice from my friend/mentor Russell Blake, whose blog post How to Sell Loads of Books is a great summary of what it takes to succeed in this business, but I believe there’s more at stake for me personally than just having every book make money.
For that reason, I follow the creative urge and so far it’s led me into YA fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, police procedural mystery, spy suspense, romantic suspense, and now romance. Who knows, I might even write science fiction too!
Because I believe multiple explorations keep you fresh and creative, AND that there’s a reader for every well-written book, releasing these romances is just another expression of my creativity, and a fun one that many of my readers will enjoy.
There’s so much I love about writing romance, but mainly this: there’s no plotting. As a mystery writer, you have to plot.
There are clues, and subplots, and red herrings. It’s a lot of organizing. And then, there’s the research. Half the time I’m writing about something I’ve never heard of before, so there are experts to consult, and Google searches on things like bomb deactivation, arson, and the best blade to dismember a body with. I love it all, but sometimes I just want to show up at the page and ad-lib until a happy ending!
I’m a “plotter” going “pantsing” and the freedom and fun are dizzying. I start with the female character. I see her clearly, her wounds, hopes, and dreams. I develop her on the page. And then, dear reader, her love appears, and he’s just absolutely right for her, but like life, there are other guys, choices, and conflicting agendas. Complicated stuff begins happening that I never planned or imagined.
It’s kind of like being a magical bartender. I decide on a main liquor, and turn on the blender, and suddenly ingredients start hopping in. The drink takes on a life of its own as the story emerges. Organic. Emotional. Mystical, almost.
My romances are about the triumph of love, which is one of the themes that I feel put on the earth to explore. All of my mysteries have this theme too. We writers, no matter what genre we’re writing in, tend to explore the same themes over and over in different ways, and the ability of love to heal is one of my personal thematic lodestones.
But first, I crashed and burned in the learning curve. I was squeamish about how “sexy” these two new stories are, so I did them under a pen name as novellas. I used the word “vagina” in them, which I thought was a feminist issue, and which turns out my beta readers told me was a turnoff. (Heck, I never liked the word “vagina” either. It rivals “penis” in lameness.) I spent thousands on a new website, multiple different attempts at covers, and promotion for the pen name.
I learned the hard way that the market is FLOODED with wannabe romance writers trying to get established, and the competition is fierce! Not only that, I needed shirtless man abs on the covers if I wanted to sell, and I found I just couldn't do that kind of branding. I needed to go back to my original truth: these romantic stories are creative expressions of Toby Neal writing. They will appeal to some, not all, and that is okay. I need to do writing (and marketing) that feels fresh and true to me even if my main audience is mystery readers, and not be overly concerned about how any one book sells.
So I made the difficult decision to pull down the pen name, cut my losses, and rebrand and republish the books as a continuation of the Somewhere Series, begun in my first book, Somewhere on Maui, which has been beloved by a subset of my readers since it came out in 2013.
That said, these new ones are very different in tone and feel, written in an immersive first-person voice as the coming-of-age and finding first love stories of sisters from the little island paradise of St. Thomas. I absolutely loved writing them, and I hope you’ll enjoy them too.
So, dive into a Toby Neal romance. You’ll find it page turning in its own way, sensual, descriptive, emotional, and a total escape into another world. That’s what I love to read when I read romance, so that’s what I’m writing.
Leave a comment and be entered to win the Somewhere Series book of your choice!
I read ‘Somewhere on Maui’ and enjoyed it every bit as much as the Lei mysteries. Such a fine writer.
I loved “Somewhere on Maui” and am looking forward to reading more in this series. I found the books to be charming and interesting. The plot and character development were miles beyond most other romance novels I’ve read. Toby, you’ve proven your writing is not limited by genre!
I love your retort “I’m not switching, I’m adding”….I love your “human-ness” to be able to admit that you didn’t get it right the first time! I think many readers forget that many authors “crash and burn” before a phoenix arrises and becomes golden!
Yea! More books to read and love.
I am intrigued! I am not a romance fan, not enough story usually for me, I feel like the authors just rely on bodice ripping. Toby Neal romance tho…. now we are talking! I am definitely going to give it a whirl. Love Toby, so… thinking it has to be good! Loved reading your thoughts as well on why you write what you write. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading! 🙂
Writing is exercising your creativity cells. Writing mysteries is a whole new thing to me. I normally writer historical fiction, but I also write memoir essays, articles and one novel that is probably should be in historical romance.
I haven’t had a chance to read Somewhere in Maui yet, but all three sound fantastic. Love Lei & look forward to reading these too.
I have enjoyed the Lei series and look forward to a new book!!
While I love, love, love the LCS and all the companion novels, Somewhere on Maui is currently the only one I’ve read more than once. I really love and relate to those characters.
Looking forward to reading Somewhere in Maui. I love your books, Toby!
I LOVE your romances! Great stories with interesting characters–none of the cheezy stuff. Keep the creativity going–your books are great!
I would love to read your romance novel. I have all the Lei books, many of the Kindle World & even loved the Young Adult Novel. Even though it has been many many years since I was a young adult.
I love your Lei Crime Series-best series ever.But I do love a good romance,and I love
anything taking place in Hawaii.So I am excited about your additions and can’t wait to
read your Romance novels.
Karin, you win your choice of ebook of the Somewhere Series!
Toby, if you start writing sci-fi, my life will be complete. I can die happy. I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole.
I adored Ruby and I really need to get into the rest of these. Hopefully the library will pick them up – may look appealing to them since it’s a smaller series (so far!). 🙂
I’m so glad you are writing books of different genres – then there is something for everyone – and why be limited! You’re right, as an indie author you have more choice and we readers benefit!!
I think you’ll be a rock star based off your current success and how professional your books are. I like Russel Blake’s approach, and I think a new author should use it. But an established author like you can venture out into other genres and not hurt their brand. Elle Casey comes to mind. She’s writing Sci-Fi, Romance, Dystopian and a couple other genres too. She sends out one newsletter for ALL of them.
I am glad that you gave yourself permission to release these under your own name Toby. Some authors who chose to use pen names can slip by un-noticed on the hunt for new novels. I loved the Maui one, and would love to win one of the others.
So excited for you, will be reading these books, soon. Loved Somewhere in Maui and I look forward to the new “romantic” Toby. Your career as a therapist has given you so much material to work with, and the love of your surroundings, that you describe so vividly, giving us such beauty to read about.
Thanks for what you do, Toby
i love the Lei Crimr series and just read Somewhere on Maui. I’d love to win Somewhere on St. Thomas.
In this post you capture for me the essence of the writing process. From life experiences, a fertile imagination, and the willingness to leave a ‘comfort zone genre’ and explore all shades of reality, a ‘plotter going pantsing’ can have a lot of fun and create memorable works of art… All the best to you, Toby
You write both equally well. Thanks for reaffirming my thoughts on trusting my creative muse.
I’m learning to like romance novels again! Also, I feel like I’m learning more about you, Toby! I’m envisioning you as a therapist. A sly therapist!
Toby Neal: Author, therapist, artist, traveler, blogger, wife, mother, takes time to answer emails and now confessing to writing in multiple genres. And does it all without coffee! Talk about setting a high bar! Loved this post… Mahalo, Toby!
Congratulations for your candid post. It is so good to see writers following their own voice and instincts.
I had read Blood Orchids a while back, then Bookbub had books 1-4 offered and I got those and fell in love with the characters, so of course had to keep reading the rest. I am reading the whole series for the second time and it’s even better than the first time I read them. It’s a great series, the crimes are so very interesting and real, and since I will never make it to Hawai, I’m enjoying my “vacation” there. You are a great writer and your stories a joy to read. Thank you.
Thanks so much for letting me know!!