Wednesday, June 07, 2006
"That's what sells": From an author's point of view
I recently read a letter to a book review editor lamenting the fact that the reader’s favorite authors so often change the kind of book they write because “that’s what sells”. The reader said that she would just get to know and like an author who was writing, say, historicals, and then the author would switch to chick lit. I read the letter with a certain amount of sympathy because I’m an avid reader myself and I have had the same frustrating experience.
However, I want to say a few words in defense of those genre-switching authors. When they say they have switched genres because that’s what sells, the authors are referring to selling their work to a publisher. It doesn’t mean they’re being soulless money-grubbers who just want to shove more copies on the reading public; it means that they want to continue to see the books they write being published. Having one or two or even ten books published is no guarantee that the writer’s work will continue be bought by a publisher. If you don’t write the kind of book editors want to buy, you can’t get your work into print or e-format for readers to enjoy.
Of course, by extension, these are also the kinds of books the editors believe they can sell to the reading public. Publishing houses want to maximize profits, just as any other business does. They buy books which they believe will appeal to readers’ tastes somewhere between six months and two years in the future, a tricky prediction. They study market research and try to forecast trends. It’s a tough job.
It’s tough on the writer too. However, sometimes being forced to write “to the market” is a useful challenge. I recently completed my first romantic suspense novel. It took three tries to get it right but I am incredibly proud of the finished product. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and I discovered the joys of creating a really nasty villain. Although I had to push myself to plan the plot far beyond anything I’d ever done in previous books, there were times my fingers just flew over the keyboard because I was so caught up in the story. That’s when you know the challenge was good for you.
There are some authors who change what they write because they themselves decide they are stale and need to try something new. However, many writers reinvent themselves because they have to if they want to continue to see their books on the shelves of their local bookstore and in their fans’ hands. So, gentle readers, I hope I have tempered some of your exasperation with your favorite authors who seem to randomly wander into new fields. Keep in mind that they may be as frustrated as you are!
Posted by Nancy Herkness at 7:00 AM