Should authors produce similar content?

similar content

This was one of my problems when I first published an adult novel and then switched to Young Adult.


Should authors produce the same kinds of stories? Personally I loved reading Maria V Snyder’s Poison Study series and then the Healer series and finding them both basically the same kind of story, with the same type of heroine, love interest, and even a pair of allies who treated the heroine like a sister.

The same with David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy novels – mostly starring loner former heroes past their prime (Druss, Waylander, Jon Shannow) or young outcasts (Skilgannon, Gaelen) with a token warrior woman who will still need rescuing, often with some kind of man-beast hybrid that would have to be murdered eventually. I could pick up any Gemmell book and know exactly what I would be getting. There is always a quiet swordsman, a brute, and an archer in the team novels.

John Green writes manic pixie dream girls and boys as love interests.

Rick Riordan writes about descendants of mythological gods.

Cassandra Clare writes thinly veiled Harry Potter fanfiction.

Richelle Mead writes YA heroines who are smart and sassy and go-getters.

Stephanie Meyer specialises in weird love triangles.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Personally I like being able to say, “I feel exactly like a David Gemmell novel” and being able to pick up one that hits all the right buttons.

My own writing

Both of my full-length novels are wildly different.

  • Adult vs teen protagonist.
  • POC vs white ‘goth’ girl
  • Sci-fi vs paranormal.
  • Established relationship vs new love interest.
  • Deep space vs suburbia.
  • Limited characters vs larger cast.

But there are certain similarities:

  • Strong/powerful female lead
  • Diverse cast
  • Feminist slant on the storyline
  • Both heroines overcome their own issues and are the agents of their own stories
  • BUT both heroines need the help of their friends/allies to do so
  • Both characters’ actions propel the storyline forward.
  • I like to think of them as both active heroines, not passive.

That is what I’m aiming for in my ‘branding’.

In all of the stories I write, I want those similarities to be there. I want someone to be able to identify a Lissa Bilyk novel and be able to say, “Yes, I recognise those elements from her other novels” even though I’m writing in different genres with different plots and different characters.

I want my books to be different but familiar.

Close-up of woman typing on keyboard of laptop

Write What You Know: Knowing More Than You Put On The Page

knowing more

As a writer, I feel the need to really know my characters, their situations, their props and settings.

For The Edge of Darkness, that wasn’t so hard. It was largely a made-up world, set in deep space on a spaceship and the weapons used were also made up.

Internet-Based Research

I did some research on amputees and prosthetics to try to get a feel for what Max might be feeling as a cyborg with a robotic arm. I researched what kind of food could theoretically be grown on a spaceship. I researched some other science-y things. But when I wrote the story, I probably knew a lot more than I was putting in to the book.

With Winter Witch, one of my characters wears a monocle. I had no idea how monocles stayed put, so I did some research to better understand my character. I found out how someone inserts and wears a monocle, and I felt like I had a strong grasp on the eyepiece and I wrote it into the book.

When I mentioned the research to friends, another author piped up that she was interested in how people wore monocles. I was surprised, because I was sure I’d read one of her characters in one of her books I’d read actually did wear a monocle. I was surprised because this author didn’t know how her character wore a monocle and she clearly hadn’t done the research into finding it out. Maybe she didn’t care. Maybe it wasn’t important. The character wore a monocle and that’s all we needed to know.


Write what you know.

“Write what you know” is probably one of the most repeated pieces of writing advice out there. And it’s true, you should write about what you know. But you can always expand upon what you know by research.

As for me? I didn’t feel comfortable writing about a character who wore a monocle until I knew exactly how a monocle worked. I think it’s an issue with my perfectionism that I needed to research something so foreign to me. But I didn’t want to make some basic mistake that a monocle-wearing fan might point out in the book.

My character doesn’t even take his monocle off or put it back on, so I’m not quite sure why it was so important to me to know these things. Maybe for future reference? I’m sure I only mention the monocle in passing.

The research I did certainly wasn’t earth-shattering, but as a writer I felt like I needed to know more than I was putting on the page.

I think that’s why we’re told to write what we know.

NaNoWriMo Prep in October – The Writing Playlist

Every year I prepare a writing playlist specifically for NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I need absolute silence to write, other times I can do with some tunes to get me in the right frame of mind.

I find that film soundtracks work best of all.

This year I discovered Spotify. It’s a free web player with a massive library of albums. The only downside is that sometimes they put in ads, but that’s OK because they tend to only last for about 30 seconds. It can be frustrating interrupting your music flow, but for a free web player i won’t be complaining.

NOTE – I tried using the Spotify app on my phone, but it’s not the same. Selecting a playlist led to other random songs being played as well. Only on the web player and on tablets does it actually do what you want it to do.

Here is this year’s playlist, thanks to Spotify:

Spotify says it’s about 6 hours worth of music. It’s remarkably different to my 2011 NaNo soundtrack which eventually consisted of one song played on repeat.

NaNoWriMo Prep in October – Planning

I’ve been super busy this year producing work under a couple of different pen names, but I always find November’s NaNoWriMo to be a good writing exercise and time to produce something under my real name.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2010. Two of the books I completed and self-published under NaNoWriMo were highly praised. The third is currently being looked at by a publisher. We’ll ignore the year my cat and computer both died and I lost half the novel I was writing. I still haven’t quite recovered from that and can’t bring myself to re-write the lost novel.

downloadMy advice? BACK IT UP.

But anyhow, it’s October again and time to start my NaNo prep.

A few months ago I won a pre-made book cover in a giveaway, and I decided to build a story around the cover.

I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do for NaNo 2014, but I pretty soon managed to settle on a character, figure out her goal, throw some obstacles in the way and develop a plot.

I’m a planner. If I don’t know what’s going to happen in the novel I sit there staring at the screen.

Conversely, if I know how the story’s going to end, I normally don’t feel the urge to complete it.

(Which is probably why I have so many unfinished novels.)

I’m planning my new novel using the three act plot structure.

Act 1 ‘Exposition’:

  1. Setup
  2. Inciting incident
  3. First turning point – where the hero accepts their new calling

Act 2 ‘Rising Action’:

  1. Obstacles and progress
  2. Mid-way point – a major setback
  3. More obstacles and higher stakes.
  4. Second turning point – what I call ‘the point of no return’.

Act 3 ‘Resolution’:

  1. Stand up and fight – the final push.
  2. Climax
  3. Resolution

This is the structure I’ll be following in writing my novel. Let’s hope I can stick to it!

My Five Literary BFFs

Cat from The Night Huntress series (Jeaniene Frost)

imageHmm Cat… what can I say about Cat except that she totally kicks ass? Cat would make a great BFF because she’s totally tough, not afraid to go after what she wants, yet still totally tender and caring. She had a hard upbringing, hunting vampires, and has slowly grown into her gaining powers with every book. I wouldn’t mind if she were to bring that Bones over to hang out, either.

Rose from the Vampire Academy series (Richelle Mead)

imageI have a deep, deep love for the Vampire Academy series. I think it is the most concise, well-written YA  novel I have ever read. I think Rose would make a great BFF because she’s totally devoted to the people she loves and risks her life over and over to save them. Rose has demonstrated time and again how she is there for her BFF, my namesake, Lissa. We could totally bond over late night movies and the fact that I have the same as her old best friend. Also, I would never make her choose between me and the love of her life, Siberian hottie Dimitri. She can totally keep him. We’ll all hang out together.

Rachel from the Animorphs series (K.A. Applegate)

imageThis is the book series that defined my growing up. It shaped my adolescence and my reading expectations. I know half of the books were ghost-written, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve had an Animorphs-related dream. Rachel was my first kick-ass girl heroine after Xena, but she was different: she was a teenager. She was so young and fearless and totally without mercy when she needed to be: she was also fiercely protective of those she deemed weaker than herself: her BFF Cassie and her boyfriend Tobias. I totally cried when she died. In MY reality, we’re eating pizza and talking about boys, because I’m totally not allowed to know about the Animorphs – but it was that very adventure that unlocked the Amazon warrior goddess inside the mall rat airhead, and allowed her to flourish into my number one guiding factor when it comes to my own heroines. (Brooke Nevin played a short vegetarian gymnast captain Rachel in the Canadian TV series, whereas the book version was tall, ate cheeseburgers, and sucked at gymnastics).

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

Come on! How can I not have the cleverest witch of her generation as a BFF? She’s totally awesome! Even in the beginning, when she’s portrayed as a snotty know-it-all, she’s still totally awesome. Yes, she may require the occasional rescue, but she also stands for bloody magical torture and doesn’t break. She figures out almost every puzzle, always has a spell up her sleeve for every situation, and if she doesn’t know the answer to the question, she’s bound to know where to find said answer. She even falls in love with a ginger! What a woman! (Emma Watson portrayed Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series)

Jane from Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)

imageJane is my favourite classic heroine. She doesn’t let anyone stop her from getting what she wants, even when she’s not entirely sure what she wants. To compliment that, she’s not afraid of walking away, either. It’s a very powerful dichotomy that we don’t see very often in modern heroines unless they are damsels in distress. Jane is no damsel – she’s not even pretty. And the man she falls in love with, Rochester, isn’t handsome, either. This isn’t an epic tale of the two most beautiful people in the world meeting and falling head over heels – this love takes time to develop, to see past physical appearance and blossom into a love that we know will stand the test of time. I always found it a lot more believable than Elizabeth and that stick-up-his-arse Darcy, anyway.

August is the Book Birthday month for my first novel, The Edge of Darkness, a deep-space cyborg dystopian.

Please go here for your chance to win a paperback copy.
Ends September 30.