Monday, October 3, 2016


It’s Monday morning, and as I sift through the many submissions in my in-box, as well as those by my own clients, trying to plan the week ahead, I can’t help but think of Evan Marshall. Evan Marshall is a literary agent and author of several novels, as well as The Marshall Plan series of writing books and writing software. I’d been a fan of his for years, but I had the good fortune of meeting him in person not long ago, and that encounter has stayed with me.

I was at the Writers Digest Conference in New York City, where I moderated a panel with the congenial Mr. Marshall and fabulous authors JaneK. Cleland, Libby Cudmore, and Reed Farrel Coleman. The “You Know My Methods, Watson” panel was billed as the “Secrets to Succeeding as a Mystery Writer.”

But the words of hard-earned wisdom revealed there applied to stories of all kinds, not just mysteries. But perhaps the most intriguing story was the one Evan told of his own path to publication. He’d been a big success as an agent, but was not having much luck selling his own work.  When his wife asked him what he’d tell himself if he were his client, he said, “Give the people what they want.”

Evan had been writing whatever he wanted to, without regard to his audience—and failing to sell it. As opposed to giving the people want they wanted—which is what he always told his clients to do (and the aspiring writers who read his writing books, of whom I was one). So Evan changed his strategy, gave the people what they wanted, and went on to sell several traditional mysteries.

If you’re writing commercial fiction, you can figure out what your people want.  Study the conventions of your genre, and then play with them. Tweak them, twist them, turn them on their heads—but do not ignore them. Becasue you ignore them at your peril.

I often meet writers who know their craft and tell a good story, but have not found a publisher, or if they have, they’ve not broken out of mid-list. Often this boils down to a failure to take the audience for their work seriously. They’re not acknowledging the conventions of the genre; they’re dismissing the expectations that the readers of the genre bring to the reading experience. (Note: If your work is often called “quirky,” this could be you.)

So respect the readers you’d love to call your own. They know their genre, and they’ll reject those writers who think they are “transcending the genre” (a phrase bound to annoy the devotees) when all those writers are really doing is playing without a net.

Which is another way of saying: Give the people what they want. 

PS: For more on Evan Marshall, see

PPS: For more on my upcoming Well-Sold Story intensive at the Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference, see

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At October 7, 2016 at 7:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fabulous post and excellent reminder! Thank you, Paula!

At October 7, 2016 at 3:14 PM , Blogger Jack Getze said...

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