Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing For The Only Audience That Matters

What audience is that? I have an easy answer:

You.

There’s a lot of focus in publishing on selling. Will this sell to an editor? Is it in a category or genre that’s in demand at publishing houses? Are you at the beginning or the tail end of a fad? By the time you finish writing your book, will the demand for your genre even exist?

Genre-breaking books are rarely followers; they’re leaders. They’re the first to do what they’ve done. Sure, sexy vampires were around before Twilight, but Meyer was the first one to make them mushy and moral and concerned about their everlasting souls; Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made it because they put a new spin on dead source material; even Fifty Shades broke open the pop culture acceptance of erotica in a way that it never had before.

Not giving a rat's butt.
What I think all these books have in common is not giving a rat’s butt about what’s selling

The reason I mentioned Fifty Shades, despite this being a YA blog, is that the series started out as fan fiction (more info here)—the purest form of writing for one’s self.

I’ll confess: I wrote a lot of fan fiction when I was young. It taught me how to write; it taught me how to tell a story; it taught me how to be prolific. But the most important thing about fan fiction is that you don’t write it for anyone but yourself. It’s a way to play out scenarios you’ve always wanted to see happen with characters, settings and stories that already exist.

You are, essentially, writing the movie/TV show/comic book/fiction book that you’ve always wanted. It’s liberating. It’s satisfying. You’re the executor of your own perfect story.

A lot of agents and editors would look askance at the notion that you shouldn’t write for a specific audience. But it needs to be age-appropriate, they’d say. You need to know the young adult market to write for it. Sure. Okay. Not too much sex. An appropriately aged voice. I won’t disagree with any of that.

But what I disagree with is writing for a specific genre/category/audience.

I used to write exclusively young adult, because that’s where I felt there was the largest void in the market; the easiest way to get into publishing, and of course a market I knew I could write for. And that book has crashed and burned like a meteor blazing through the stratosphere.

A little while later, I had a story that wouldn’t leave me alone: A story about a twelve-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy that become best friends. It wasn’t young adult. It was middle-grade.

I knew nothing about the middle-grade market. I wrote it anyway. I read books in the age group as I was writing; I went back and changed the voice and cut the length to fit it into what was acceptable for the category.

But I wrote my story. Nobody else’s. I didn’t think before writing it, what genre or category are editors looking for?

Alan Rickman does what he wants. Like write middle-grade.
Since then, I realized that writing original fiction was exactly like writing fan fiction: the more passion I had for it, the more I could feel the story in my bones, the more I needed it to play out on paper in order to feel satisfied—the better the result.

Not to bring it back to Twilight, which I would not call a stellar example of young adult fiction, but is a stellar example of genre-breaking fiction. This quote says it all:

I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately. … 
Though I had a million things to do (i.e. making breakfast for hungry children, dressing and changing the diapers of said children, finding the swimsuits that no one ever puts away in the right place, etc.), I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. I was so intrigued by the nameless couple's story that I hated the idea of forgetting it; it was the kind of dream that makes you want to call your friend and bore her with a detailed description. …
From that point on, not one day passed that I did not write something. 
- Stephenie Meyer (source)

So write the book you want to write; the story that you have to see finished or else tear out your hair. That’s how you finish a book. That’s how you sell a book.

Write for yourself!

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.

8 comments:

  1. If you don't enjoy telling yourself the story, then who else is going to like it?

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    1. Right?! Exactly! Great point. Should have addressed that.

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  2. When I wrote Touch of Death, I wrote it because I wanted to. I didn't stop to think that necromancers aren't big, and it was before the zombie craze hit. I will always write the stories I want to write, even if no one reads them because they are only interesting to me. lol I just can't imagine writing something simply to sell books.

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    1. Right? What a boring life that would be! Keep following your passion Kelly!

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  3. Sometimes I think the worst curse would be to be a super-successful writer, a la JK Rowlings, because people expect more Harry Potter out of her, rather than what SHE wants to write. Not exactly, of course, at this point she could write ketchup labels and they'd sell, or, if they didn't, she wouldn't be compelled to write ANYTHING to keep the lights on.

    I'm having fun writing things that interest and challenge me, and while (eventual) commercial success isn't completely off my radar, I enjoy the freedom to write what calls me. I know some writers who prviately have expressed they feel trapped writing in certain genres, 4-6 books a year, and I think, if that's success, I don't want any. I want to write what I love.

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  4. Great post, Kiersi. I have to fall in love with what I'm writing or it's no good. When a writer's characters and lives come to life that's when I know it's good. Maybe not for a big seller, but for me.

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  5. I've heard some writers lament about the publishing industry and what it wants/doesn't want ... and I just feel exhausted for them. I know what I want and I'm going for it. That's all.

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  6. I never write what is "in", because I like to write what speaks to me. If a story comes to me, I never wonder how I can make it follow trends, and I don't change my characters to be like the ones that are already famous. I write what I want to write because there is a chance (a pretty big chance) that there will be readers out there who will like it.

    And someone has to create the new trend. It minus well should be YOU! ;)

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