Thursday, January 30, 2014

Soapbox Series #8 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- Write What You Love, Even if it's a Vampire Werewolf Dystopian Love Triangle?

My goodness, I haven't ranted in a while. Let me rectify this oversight! :)

I have seen the following question asked in a couple of different places. It goes something like this: "I'm working on a novel, and (a) it's in a genre everybody  knows is overcrowded but I love this idea, or (b) I just found out that two books very much like it are coming out next year. Should I write it anyway, or should I shelve this book even though I love it?"

It probably comes as no surprise that the usual, very passionate, advice is "Write what you love!"

And I couldn't agree more! What troubles me, though, is the implied corollary: "If you love it, you must write it. If you love it, that's justification enough." I dunno. I wonder if it wouldn't be more accurate to say "Love what you write!" As in, yes, I will commit to a project only if I love it. Only if I think it's "mine" to write. Only if it really taps into my heart. But does it follow that if I feel this way about a project, I must write it, even if there are reasons to consider not doing so?

No. In the first place, most writers are already in a position where they will never write all the ideas they love: There are too many for one lifetime. So while love is necessary, it's not enough to assure that any particular idea moves from the "great ideas" file to the "finished manuscripts" file. To wax mathematical for a moment, love for an idea or story is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Unless you know you are writing a practice novel, I don't see how "Never mind the market and just go for it!" is the best advice. In days of yore, after selling a MG series written in third person, I started a mystery series in first person. The MC decided she was going to speak for herself, thank you very much. "No," my editor on the first series said. "We don't do first person." Period. Even if I loved the project, or had done it well, it still wasn't marketable to that house. Fortunately, I was able to sell it elsewhere, but that doesn't change the fact that love doesn't conquer all. It's a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

More recently, I caught "the last train out of the station" with a certain genre. I wasn't thinking about what was popular or unpopular in the market. I'd just found a great idea and dove into passionate work on it. I was about 3/4 done with the book when I started hearing that this genre was saturated. What's more, I found out that two other books on my specific subject within that genre were scheduled to come out within the following year to year-and-a-half. No, those agents were not going to take on what was essentially a competing book, nor were those publishers. My book's competition was too direct, and there wasn't room for another, especially since it was a latecomer. My love for the project could not change that.

Many would encourage the writer to stick with a project by saying, "Your book will be completely different from the other book because you are a different writer!" Well, maybe it will and maybe it won't. No one can blithely promise you that your book will be completely different. There can be uncanny resemblances between your work and somebody else's. And some topics in themselves are too specific to stand much competition.

I think "Write what you love/write what will sell" is a false dichotomy. I insist that the twain shall meet. I want to write salable work, and I'm willing to tweak both the love and the market aspects so that I'm writing something I love and that isn't market-handicapped. It just seems to me that since I love a lot of different books, there's always a new idea to love, and in the end I can have my story and (hopefully) sell it, too.

20 comments:

Kim Van Sickler said...

Yes, but Marcia, you are a businesswoman at heart. You are looking to publish and make money. And lots of writers are. And you are right, this is great advice for them (although not what you want to hear when you're 3/4 done with a book you love.) But there are also writers who are juggling writing with jobs and life and aren't writing and revising so fast. I would just say for those writers, by the time their work is ready for an agent/publisher, it might be back in style again.

Barbara Watson said...

This is tough subject. I think 'love what you write' is essential regardless of anything else. I have to love it, because if I don't, no one else will either. Sometimes there's so much to focus on when writing, so much to wrap my head around, that I can only keep going unless I love it, no matter the end result of salable or not.

Marcia said...

Kim -- Wow, your first sentence stopped me cold. I actually have a business degree, and had pretty much concluded I do NOT have a head for business. I had also pretty much concluded that my degree was a great thing because it shored up a weakness -- at least sort of. Shoot. I love what you said! Thank you! This is great food for personal rumination. :)

Barbara -- Maybe a good way to say it is "Love is for openers." Gotta have it. No question. And salable is never a sure thing. But once I put an idea through the love test, I try to put it through the market test -- to the best of my ability.

Marcia said...

Oh, and absolutely work can come back in style.

Bish Denham said...

I'm kind of going with Kim on this issue. If I were near finished with a book I loved and discovered it wasn't salable I'd probably finish it and put it away for the day when it might be.

However, you are so right about all the ideas out there what are waiting to written. Just last night and this morning I started furiously scribbling down notes for a novel. Thing is, I know I probably won't write it as there are other stories I'm more "in love" with.

Laurel Garver said...

I think the very tricky thing the "write what you love" then hang onto it until it's no longer a saturated market is that like clothing styles, when things cycle back they need to be a bit different from the previous iteration. And also like clothing, re-emergence of literary trends can take decades.

I think you're right that there's wisdom in trying to align your passion with projects that are most likely to "have legs" so to speak.

Vijaya said...

Great post ... you should rant more often! I love how you put it -- love is necessary but not sufficient. I have put aside projects that I love because *my* book was already published. Now I usually do a bit of market research before diving into a project. And there are many ideas clamoring at me, so I don't worry.

Alas, it's heartbreaking when you finish a project and then discover someone else beat you to it. This recently happened to a client of mine. She worked to make her PB pitch perfect. Three months later, I see an announcement for the exact book in PW. I let her know right away, but tears, tears, tears. I suggested she try submitting, but to be prepared for rejections as well. I just don't know whether the market can support two such books. Sigh. I hope she will resubmit after a couple of years.

Marcia said...

Bish -- I love how ideas can come at any time, and the furiously scribbling notes phase is fun!

Laurel -- I agree. When clothing comes back into style again, I don't think you can drag out your miniskirts or gaucho pants from the last go-round and expect they will look like you just bought them -- even if they fit and are in good condition. We can maybe update a book, though. And maybe not.

Vijaya -- Fortunately, I'm not sure I'm enough of a complainer-at-heart to rant REAL often. Yes, yes, and yes to what you've said. I do think it's possible to find a book that is TOO TOO much like yours. The thing is, if she can resubmit after a few years, it may be because the book didn't do well... But, a few years later, and promo etc. being different, completely different things could happen.

Mirka Breen said...

Sometimes I think you are inside my head Marcia. Maybe you heard my mumbling to self as I mull over this very issue? ;)

"If you build it, they will come" is a line from a movie, not to be confused with reality. It is not how the world works, though one can get a distorted perception from the stories of those who succeeded in the commercial sphere.

Rena Jones said...

I've seen this work both ways. I had what I thought was a great, unique idea, and bam -- there's a book just published that's basically the same thing. Then yesterday I saw a book that came out a few months ago that was just like MY book that came out a few years back. I don't think you can ever really win. There's obviously no clear cut answer to this. I mean, when I started writing PBs, all the editors were yelling "No more squirrel stories!" And well ... look at the recent winners from the ALAs. :)

cleemckenzie said...

If you're writing to publish, you have to write what the market is looking for. If you're writing because you love to write and could care less if you publish or sell, then write what you love is the only way to go.

Very nicely crafted post, Marcia. Excellent.

Marcia said...

Mirka -- We may indeed share brain space, 'tis true. :)

Rena -- It's kind of alarming how much alike two books can be in many details. Just another occupational hazard, I guess.

Marcia said...

Lee -- I wonder if this is part of the reason that writers who really start to take their work seriously and have even begun to publish find writing less enticing than they used to. I think that's a multi-faceted situation that has a lot to do with "NO job is fun and games 24/7," but our subject at hand may figure in at times.

Kelly Hashway said...

I had an idea last year that I knew would have trouble selling, so I sat on the idea. I tried to come up with ways to take that idea and make it into something different that could sell. And I did figure out how to do it. Now I haven't subbed it yet, but I don't think it will have the roadblock the original idea would have.

Janet, said...

Writing is a business to the publishers. It is sad that good books don't have a chance just because it's not what they publish or there are too many of those type of books out there already. If a certain type book is popular, then I say the more of them out there, the merrier, because there are lots of readers. Well, that said, I write what I write because that is what I love and those are the stories or ideas that come to me and I just have to put them to paper. Hopefully, some day my manuscripts will be just what a publisher is looking for.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I love that you were successful. Figuring out how to adapt an idea is a great creative exercise.

Janet -- I hope they are too! Enjoy your writing!

Medeia Sharif said...

I believe in writing what one loves. If something doesn't sell, I believe in storing it for a day when it will. Now if I wrote as a full-time job, I might think differently, because the fact is I have a day job and write on the side. If money were foremost, I'd think about the market with every current project.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- Yes, whether you have a day job and how you view your career mix as a whole are definite factors. I also think how many unsold mss. you have in your drawers or computer files makes a difference. I have plenty and don't want to add to the collection -- you know? I haven't found that most will ever sell as is, but they can be GREAT for 'spare parts.'

TC Avey said...

Enjoyed the passion and practicality. I think it's smart to be aware of our passions, the market, and how we can fit into the busy book publishing world.

Marcia said...

TC -- Yes, I think that's it. We have to find our fit.