Friday, March 10, 2017
Now I do enjoy writing short stories. They're excellent for exploring theme or a particular character dynamic--and I'm good at them! So I had no objection to that article. I thought it was interesting. And I think in this publishing environment, authors do need to think in practical, i.e., businesslike terms. There's nothing wrong with identifying and analyzing your target audience. Nor is there anything wrong with understanding Amazon's algorithms.
But yet I still felt a little depressed after an afternoon of...authorial self-improvement.
Which is probably illogical because writing is a business, and I'm the first one to get impatient with people who don't conduct themselves like professionals. But writing is also an art, and lately everything seems to be about the business of fiction writing and very little, if anything, about the art.
Even the rare posts that are ostensibly about writing, are usually thinly disguised promotion.
And I get it. This is an insanely competitive market. And by "this" I mean any genre you can think of. There is no sub-genre of commercial fiction that it isn't swamped with new books and new authors, so it's only natural that we're all looking for an edge. It's like the Olympics. Now days winning is determined by a fraction of a fraction of a second. Your sunscreen can make a difference.
It makes perfect sense that we're all studying formulas and algorithms and trends like we're searching for a cure for cancer. I don't care how good you are, when the market gets this crowded and this competitive, you have to run a lot faster just to stay in one place.
But writing is also still an art.
I don't care how many of these marketing courses tell you it's not about writing, it's about productivity...if you consider yourself to be a real writer, if you take pride in the idea of being a writer, then you need to care about the work. You need to care about the words.
And that means you need to have the courage to experiment. To, yes, fail. Because it's through trial and error that you get better. That you get to the goal--at least, I think it should be a goal--of excellence. Excellence doesn't happen through copying what everyone else is doing. It doesn't happen through homogenization.
I mean, think for a moment about the numbing sameness of what's being published in this genre alone. The same covers, the same blurbs, the same promo tactics--and yes, even the characters and plots all sound the same. For. The. Love. Of. God.
Last year I wanted to experiment. I wanted to try something new. I was eager to push myself to try something new. So I put out two books that had some readers scratching their heads. Murder Between the Pages was a semi-satirical take on classic locked room mysteries. Some readers got it -- but a disconcerting number of readers did not get it. Were actively hostile to the very idea of it. HATED it.
It was one of my least successful titles -- joining the ranks of other not terribly successful experiments like Blood-Red Butterfly.
The other experiment was a monster mash-up. The Curse of the Blue Scarab. An Edwardian murder mystery with supernatural overtones. Some readers got it -- some did not. It too was not as successful as my contemporary crime thrillers. Several one or two star reviews. Genuine grievance at the idea that I would turn out something like that.
IT'S LIKE A DIFFERENT PERSON WROTE IT!!!!!
:-D :-D :-D
(It's okay, by the way. I don't expect everything to be a huge hit with every single reader. Hell, even the most enormously successful of my books have a few people screaming they can't understand why anyone ever reads me.)
The point of writing is not to never get a bad review. The point of writing is not for every story to be a huge financial--or even critical--success.
What is the point of writing?
This is not rhetorical.
Why do you write? If you don't know the answer, ask yourself: why do you read?
What is the point, the purpose of all this literary exercise?
If the answer is...to make a lot of money fast...well, okay. Whatever. This is not the post for you. But if you actually care about the work, care about what it means to be a writer--versus just another author--you can't be afraid to experiment, to try new things, to push yourself a little further. You must not be afraid to fail.
Don't sacrifice art for the algorithms.