This post is for a dear friend of mine. Or maybe two. Or three. Or yeah, you too, you know who you are.
At some point in every author's career -- usually at the beginning for most -- an author asks what he should be writing, or where is it most advantageous to be writing, or what genre is selling and so forth. I want to premise this blog with another blog article, from a woman I've not met personally, but consider a mentor in many ways: Kristine Kathryn Rusch. You should read This Blog Entry -- where she discusses this same topic, far more eloquently, and from a different standpoint, than I do.
We, as insecure authors nurturing children, want guidance. We want to up our chances at becoming the next bestselling author, the next #1 NY Times Bestseller, and the next big deal. Maybe we don't conceptualize the question that way at the time--we just want an agent to sign us!-- but it's there, lurking, and wanting satisfaction. And that satisfaction never comes.
So what should you be writing?
I can answer that without hesitation. Write what you want.
Argh! Yes, I know, you'd like to smack me right now. But it's the truth, and if you're working with an editor or agent who isn't telling you what you should be doing, count yourself as blessed. Because that editor or agent is telling you, in so many words, write what you feel compelled to write, then we'll see if we can do anything with it.
In today's market that is a gift. An author has never been more free to make choices about his or her writing. Tired of being branded "like Evanovich"? Would rather be branded "A must read for Grisham fans!" This is your time to shine--the playing field is wide open.
Write that book that is calling to you, and then think about what you can do with it.
Don't believe me? Let me illustrate what happened to me for a little while. I'll start by saying, however, I have never been pressured by my agent or editors to write anything specific. I've never been told.
But I did open my mouth and ask my agent what she thought had the best chances after a bit of a pitfall on a particular idea. She gave me her thoughtful and very insightful opinions. I learned a lot in that conversation--about what the market was doing at that time, about where my potential books had possibilities (and didn't), and I walked away from the conversation totally energized...until it came to writing the first word on the project we agreed was the most marketable.
You see, I had another idea surging through the back of my mind. And I didn't want to be working on that project that we mutually agreed was the best option. Every word became a nail stuffed under my fingernails, until I didn't want to sit down at my computer and do anything.
One evening, on pins and needles, I communicated with her my frustration and my desire to work on this other project we had barely discussed. And I set aside the painful project and that block came undone. Words started to flow. I completed what I think is the best novel I've ever written, threw myself into a brand-new market, and my agent loves the story. (I must mention too that when I sent that letter I got nothing but support in response.) Am I worried about it selling? No, I'm not worried. Of course I want it to sell, and sell big!! But this book rocks, and if an editor doesn't feel the same, it will find a home somewhere and do well.
So you see, by seeking out "what the market wants" you aren't really following your passion for being an author. You're writing someone else's project, not your own, and while it's completely plausible to do an excellent job, if your heart isn't behind what you're writing, you'll stall out.
In today's market, writing from your heart has little to no bearing on your sales potential. If you want to write something for a niche market, you can conceivably corner all the sales in that market and still do quite well for yourself. Your "risk" which scares traditional publishers might end up the next "50 Shades". There is nothing holding you back.
Is it good to seek a little guidance?
Sometimes it can be helpful. In my case, when we had the initial conversation, I had about three ideas I liked equally as well. I just had a fourth come in and sideswipe me. If the fourth hadn't happened, the project we agreed on might have been just as fulfilling personally. But stop looking for someone to tell you what to do.
This is your career. You went into it with hopes and aspirations. That hope, that passion, carried forward to the book you published. Don't let it go, and don't get stuck in someone else's mold. Particularly if you have a project that you believe in, that may not fit a nice and tidy label.
What's a freelance editor's role?
I wanted to mention this too as an editor, because, with the wide-open horizons of self publishing, I see a lot of "non traditional" books. That's the upside of self publishing. You can publish whatever you want. But I believe that if I see a book come in under one label, and it doesn't fit the expectations of that label, it's my job as someone who's taking your money to say "I think you would do better if you market it this way." The opposite of that is, someone pays me, I work through the book, let it go, don't say a word, the book flops, and suddenly the editor is blamed. And the editor should be blamed, so I say.
It's not good business in my opinion to take on a project that's say, labeled romance, when I know that romance readers aren't going to get what they're expecting if they plucked this off the romance shelves. That can lead to negative reviews, which will ultimately lead to poor sales, and it can seriously damage a budding author's name. You've paid someone to make the words work right. Shouldn't that someone also offer their expertise on where what you've composed will likely grant you the best return on your invested dollar?
A freelance editor isn't "rejecting" your work in a conversation like this. She's not saying "You can't publish this". She's saying, "I see some inconsistencies for this market, that are not inconsistent in this other market, and if you make a small tweak here with your plot, you can fit this other market and have better earning potential."
To me, that's far better than letting a book go out to the world with aspects a hard-core reader will scream about, and passively set a book up to not do well.
Back to my point:
Write what you want -- there is no should be. The passion you have for the project of your heart will prevent you from completely stalling out. If it sells, the energy you've created in those words will carry it over mountains. Should you discover the book won't fit into a traditional publisher's line-up, then you have a multitude of options in front of you. Figure out what to do with the book after it's written.
And if someone involved with your career is telling you not to do something because it isn't marketable, then seriously, take some time out and evaluate whether this person is working for you or against you. I offer this simple anecdote from my years of raising horses:
If I hire someone to promote my medal-winning stallion, and that employee tells me he's not pushing the horse because his coloring isn't flashy enough, I will be finding someone else to promote my stallion. Instantly.