Guest Post: Refuse to Niche—Love, ghosts, and vintage clothes
by cross-genre author Sandra Young
“I refuse to niche. In life and in creativity.”
An author based in Northwest Indiana, Sandra’s love of vintage fashion inspired her to write her debut novel, Divine Vintage. She’s researched and gathered an impressive fashion collection spanning from the late 1800s to 1990s, wearing pieces onstage and performing in community theater. To round out her love of the arts, she sings with the Blue Sky Music trio and a praise band. Her other writing influences come from decades of nonprofit management, including heading initiatives and chairing coalitions to support the homeless and at-risk.
Sandra and I met in my weekly Writers’ Support Group that I co-host every Thursday on zoom with bestselling author, Lainey Cameron. Sandra inspires me to get out of my comfort zone and to have more fun with my book and looks.😉
And now, a word from Sandra to you.
Refuse to Niche
Yeah, I refuse to niche. In life and in creativity.
That’s become even more evident with pubbing my debut novel. Though it released in February through a small traditional press, Divine Vintage isn’t a typical “trope-driven” book.
Like many aspiring writers, I wrote the first draft of my baby a dozen years ago. Using great insights and knowledge from webinars, classes, articles, etc., I continued to refine and improve my writing, and the manuscript, over the years. Which meant expanding from romance and ghostly visions to a full-on cross-genre joyride.
You see, the book wasn’t a mystery when I wrote it. The modern-day heroine knew exactly “whodunnit.” Tess’ goal was to prove her visionary revelations to the hunky, skeptical descendant of the accused murderer—and hopefully clear his name.
But as time wove on, I realized how much I love a good mystery. Treating the book like a patchwork quilt, I had a blast piecing in three new suspects for the 1913 crime of passion.
Wait, I also love historical fiction. I next began the surgical process of enhancing the dual-timeline. (Kind of like adding collagen to lips?) Because the heroine, Phoebe, is a great, plucky character who wants—and deserves—her say. After all, she lost her life way too young.
I’m a major social justice advocate, having managed nonprofits for several years. Suddenly, another new character emerged with a homelessness backstory.
Lastly, I’m a major social justice advocate, having managed nonprofits for several years. Suddenly, another new character emerged with a homelessness backstory. Jake is a veteran whose PTSD triggers addiction, and he becomes a reluctant but necessary addition to solving the mystery. Without being preachy, Tess also was able to show an important side of her character by standing up against another business owner determined to derail a planned homeless resource center. (Yes, give those characters agency!)
So now we have a stew of slow-burn romance with mid-level heat, balanced against a historical mystery, a homeless side plot, AND the ghostly interventions.
The latter, at least, never changed from the early days. Phoebe’s 1913 story was told through her diary entries and visions into the past, introduced by the catalyst of her vintage clothing and accessories. Among all these other elements, vintage clothing remained the thread tying the storylines together.
In writing the initial novella-length story, I drew from my passion of collecting garments and jewelry over three decades. My stuff fills a small bedroom, and now offers the fun advantage of helping anchor my social media and book branding. I really enjoyed sharing one of my favorite hobby topics with the world through the novel—which is the start of a series.
Then the concerns began to niggle. Would I be able to sell a mixed-genre book?
When I’d rewritten and re-edited the work for the umpteenth time, I finally pronounced it “done.” Then the concerns began to niggle. Would I be able to sell a mixed-genre book? I imagined the refrain, “Where would I shelve it?” from publishers, bookstores, etc. etc.
But I loved this story. I believed in it. And randomly tossing it into a couple of pitch contests landed me two small press offers. Woohoo! I sought out a third, and signed with The Wild Rose Press, which published the book in February 2022.
Many writers are overly sensitive internalizers. I am, anyway. My inner voices built to a crescendo…
Many writers are overly sensitive internalizers. I am, anyway. My inner voices built to a crescendo again, to ponder how the cross-genre would be received by readers. Thankfully, reviews over the past eight months have been overwhelmingly positive. Many have commented on the strong balance between all the facets of the story. I just finished the sequel, with a tad more confidence in maintaining the mix of romance and historical mystery plus ghostly / otherworldly elements and abilities.
Meanwhile, I also decided to flip the concern about multiple genres to my advantage. I’ve been able to slot Divine Vintage into promotional opportunities for romance…for cozy mystery…and for historical. (InD’Tale Magazine placed it into the latter category for its review, kindly awarding a “5-star crowned heart of excellence” rating.)
Do your thing. Believe in it and blaze your path.
The core takeaway of my rambling today is: you don’t have to niche. Do your thing. Believe in it and blaze your path.
Whether self-pubbed, indie / small press, or Big 5, you got this!
Author of Divine Vintage
Follow Sandra Young on Instagram.
Do you resist or embrace “niching” in your own creative work?
Let me know in the comments.
This is the 5th Substack in my guest post series. In my head, I call this series Creatures of the Lagoon, because life is kind of like a swamp, but if we make it a cool spot together, with good vibes, we can transform the swamp into an inviting lagoon.
If you would like to pitch me a guest post, please get in touch. I’m looking for think pieces, controversial op-eds, personal essays, and literary or science fiction short stories. Embrace refusing to niche!
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