Monday Morning Stepback: At What Point in the Writing Process Do Writers Think About What Will Sell?

1. Links of Interest

Post of the week: Super Wendy’s DNF review of a historical that tries to be many things but succeeds at none of them

DABWAHA has begun. Put on by Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author, it’s “a tournament of books that mimics the March Madness tournament of basketball. We’ve picked a slate of 64 books in 8 different categories to compete against each other through the next few weeks.” Entrants can win amazing prizes, including an iPad for the grand prize winner.

Laura Vivanco at Teach Me Tonight has posted the PCA romance section program. Check it out, and see if you can spot:

1 erotic romance author who also happens to be a librarian
1 author who describes their work as “gay porn with plot”
1 mastermind behind a leading romance blog
1 romance author and multiple RITA award winner
1 koala hugger

A great post at the Millions: What About Genre, What About Horror? (hat tip Ann Somerville)

let’s admit that literary fiction is a genre, too, shall we? Expectations guide its readers, that of respect for consensus reality and the poignancy of seemingly ordinary lives, of sensitive character-drawing and vivid scene-painting, of the reversals and conflicts characteristic of the several sub-genres of literary fiction: the academic novel, the comic novel, the adultery novel, the comic academic adultery-novel, the experimental novel, the novel of foreign travel or inward journey, of unexpected encounter, of breakdown, of alcoholism, of youth, of middle age, of a hundred different things so well-known and encoded that the fonts used for the titles and the authors’ names tell you as much as the flap copy.

Heather at Galaxy Express is Mad As Hell At Double Standards in Science Fiction Romance and She’s Not Going to Take it Anymore.

The F-Word is talking about the possibilities of self-publishing and POD:

Can print-on-demand and self publishing help feminists today continue the legacy of the suffragettes & the women’s liberation movement?

The Ecological Case for Ebooks at the Guardian Books Blog:

I’ve only managed to find one report – on the Kindle (by The Cleantech Group) – but it backs up suggestions that so long as e-readers are used as book replacements rather than supplements, they soon start to pay back in carbon terms.

Lynn at All About Romance is defending the first person narrator.

A cute feature at The New Yorker’s Book Bench, determining what your book shelf says about you. I’m thinking of sending in a picture of mine.

An interesting post on American Indian dress of the nineteenth century at Petticoats and Pistols.

2. How do art and commerce intersect in the writing process?

Let me preface this by noting that

(a) I don’t think this question applies only to genre fiction writers, and certainly not only to romance writers (It’s not just a question for “commercial art” in other words. You can hardly find an art form more steeped in class, money and celebrity than modern art, for example, which is considered very high art indeed. But I am asking it about the romance genre because that is what I am interested in.)

(b) I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing, among other reasons, to sell books, nor that doing so diminishes a book’s quality, although it might (people write for all sorts of reasons in addition to creating art, like being loved, avoiding boredom, revenge, impressing someone, etc. In this post I am focusing on writing to sell books, but I don’t for a minute think that’s the only possible non-artistic motivation.)

I was reading an erotic romance recently. It was a story I liked by an author I like. Then I noticed that the romance arc was pretty much resolved and I was at the halfway point. Hmmm. Sure enough, part 2 involved the introduction of another man, and the development of a menage relationship as an HEA. I felt the hero, as he had been portrayed, would never have consented to this, beyond maybe a one night experiment. I also felt the massive negative social and psychological consequences of arranging their lives in a way that most of society condemns were minimized in favor of several sex scenes. I kept thinking, “this would have been a great story if it had ended at the halfway point.” and I speculated — maybe unfairly — that the author wanted to throw in a menage, even though it did not fit the narrative, for other reasons. Like that menages sell.

I have this simplistic idea that thinking about sales (packaging, using social media to promote your book, marketing, etc.) should happen after the story is written, but I know that’s not possible. For example, suppose you want to write a Harlequin category romance. You would look at the guidelines of the particular line. And those guidelines are written based on what sells. So already, as a writer, the commercial aspect of writing is intertwined with the writing.

Also, you have to get an agent if you want to publish outside of categories or some e-pubs, don’t you? And an agent is looking not just for good stories, but good stories that sell. Same for editors.

Finally, if you go to RWA meetings or have any involvement with local chapters, you are being exposed to a culture of thinking about what will sell as a part of the writing process. For example Emily Bryan gave a workshop on adding humor to your books at RWA 2009 called “Neurotica: How adding Humor Can Jumpstart Your Career like Crazy”. The first bullet point is “Why Write Funny?” and the first reason is “market demand”.

Romance writers are artists, with all the good things that implies (all the things we value about art, like beauty, creativity, insight, pleasure, communication of emotions, values and principles, community building, etc, etc). And romance authors see themselves this way. When authors are interviewed, they talk about “giving birth to the characters in their heads”, and “being true to their own voice” and such. They rarely say “well, menage/BDSM/YA/zombies (name your trend of choice) is selling like hotcakes so I thought I would write one of those.”

So, I wonder where in the writing process writers think about this. (What makes it an even tougher question is that it is not easy to disentangle “writing for readers” from “writing to sell”.)

Does saleability function like a limiting set of pre-writing conditions, which, once determined, leave the writer free to forget about them, as long as she stays within their boundaries? Or is sales always one of the voices in a writer’s head as she types away?

Possibly it also matters where one is in her career. I wonder if a never published or early carer writer has to pay more attention to what sells. We all make fun of certain kinds of stories (think of the subjects of #romfail, for example), but if a veteran successful writer, named, say, Nora Crusie-Kinsale were to tell her editor she was penning a story about a leprechaun and his unicorn lover, would they balk?

I feel that as a reader I do sometimes detect “bandwagoning” when it is in conflict with art: when it is not true to an author’s voice or the story. But maybe the only difference is in how skilled the writer is. Maybe Nora Crusie-Kinsale could shrewdly look at the trends and write to them, and I wouldn’t know the difference.

What do you think?

3. Personal

Now that the transition to Read React Review has been completed, and spring break is over, I’ll likely return to my 3-4 days a week blogging schedule.

Our masks finally arrived from South Africa, (although only one of them is actually South African):

(This isn’t where we’ll keep them. We are in the process of redesigning of our first floor. Exciting stuff, I know.)


4. On the blog this week:

A review of Carolyn Crane’s Mind Games (early Wed)

A TBR pile historical review for Keishon’s TBR Challenge (late Wed — this will probably be Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran).

A post on ethical criticism late in the week.

HAPPY WEEK!

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