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!


Milady Insanity said...

I think that's unfair to the authors.

Whatever the reason, it is still their decision to make. It's not like it doesn't cost them.

Certainly, readers will drift away, and if it's a business decision...Well, what author likes writing something that they don't LOVE LOVE LOVE?

Nancy Herkness said...

Milady, you are so right about writers not wanting to write something they don't love. However, sometimes you can learn to love something that you might not have wanted to do at first. Sometimes forcing yourself to write something different can make you grow. Of course, sometimes it can make you miserable. And then, as you say, it's hard on the writer.

Patti O'Shea said...


I always write the characters that are clamoring loudest, so each of my proposals/books has been a story that I've loved, but 99% of my ideas are NOT futuristic romance. My first sale, though, happened to be futuristic. I love the subgenre, but writing something else doesn't mean I'm following the market. I'm just listening to the voices in my head. :-)


Allison Brennan said...

I can't see myself NOT writing romantic suspense because I love to read it and I love to write it. However, I have lots of other ideas clamoring for attention. I'd love to write more than one genre. Not switching genres per se, but writing two different things.

Nancy Herkness said...

Patti and Allison, thanks for the input from the other side of the coin.

Here's a question for you both: now that you're writing successfully in a particular subgenre, are you getting pressure to keep writing in that form? Have you floated the idea of writing other things by your editors? Were they receptive? Inquiring minds want to know.

Allison Brennan said...

I haven't gotten pressure one way or the other. I think that for my career, it's smart to keep writing romantic suspense as long as I love writing it and it's selling. I haven't broached anything with my editors yet, but I have talked to my agent about other projects and she is very supportive.

Nancy Herkness said...

Thanks for the response, Allison. It's good to have your agent in your corner about writing something different. I completely agree that you should keep writing romantic suspense because you love it and it's successful. Why mess with a good thing, right?

Patti O'Shea said...


My first paranormal release--THROUGH A CRIMSON VEIL--came about because one of my editors specifically asked me to take part in the series, which I thought was really cool because I was dying to write this story about two half demons and they fit really nicely into this world. :-)


Nancy Herkness said...

Patti, now that's serendipity! It must be very flattering to have an editor invite you to write something for them.

Colleen Thompson said...

I originally wrote frontier/Civil War historicals. As much as my readers wanted more of these, the book buyers at the big chains -- who are also under pressure to forecast future trends -- absolutely did not.

Because my writing has always been heavy on suspense and my reading tastes had gravitated to romantic suspense and mystery/suspense, I chose to write contemporary romantic suspense instead, where I've connected with wonderful new readers (and brought along more than a few of my historical readers, in spite of a name change.) I'm also enjoying this new genre immensely because the mystery element and the balance of romance and suspense are such a challenge.

When my old readers ask for more Civil War historicals, I wish I could accomodate them -- as I'm sure most writers would love to do. But unfortunately, we don't always have a choice in these matters. And even when we do, authors' work evolves over time - it's either that or stagnate.

Scope Dope Cherrybomb said...

It is interesting that you chose this topic Nancy. Bob Mayer weighed in on it to on the crusie/mayer blog He Wrote/She Wrote, titled Writing for the Market.

Bob's main point is that you should write what you feel passionate about and I gather from the other comments here that most of your writers do.

I think it would be very difficult to write something that you do not like or feel passionate about.

I got the feeling from your two books A Bridge to Love and Shower of Stars that you not only had researched them well but felt really passionate about the subject and the characters yourself. It comes through in the writing.

I guess that is my point. If a writer does not feel that passion and is strictly 'writing to the market' then the reader is going to know and the market will not be there because I believe a lot of books are sold by word of mouth.