When I write, I write for me. I write the stories I want to read. It’s why I wrote my first story at seven years old, and it’s why I write now. Like many authors, I started with fan fiction, only it wasn’t called that then. I did Georgette Heyer fanfic, and that forced me to evaluate what I wanted to see in the stories, and I wrote my own versions, or did a continued story. I didn’t write sex then, not at thirteen, when I started scribbling in earnest, but I did write more intimacy. More cuddling, more togetherness, more kissing. That was how I finally realized I wrote romance. I wrote about what kept the couple apart and how they came to each other.
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t write about external events principally, but about what’s going on inside—and I don’t just mean the sex. How the couple have to evolve to come to each other, and to make a success of their lives together. That takes bravery and strength. That’s, in a nutshell, is why I write romance. And it’s why I won’t compromise that part and why I want to try to get better and better.
I revise and edit for the reader. Ultimately, the person I get my money from is the reader. The relationship with my readers is extremely important to me. That’s why, despite not being what you might call independently wealthy from my writing, I spend a big chunk of change flying across to RT Booklover’s Convention every year. I meet readers there, and they let me know what they want.
But I don’t sell to the reader, I sell to publishers. I’ve been happy building my career in the sphere I know well, the digital-first scene. Recently that has changed almost beyond recognition. It’s become a viable market in its own right, and some companies have pulled ahead in the game. Most notably, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Carina and Loose-Id.
Market is becoming more and more important to digital-first publishers.
If I may digress a little (bear with me, it’s relevant, honest!), a few years ago I wanted a pair of flat-front trousers. This was when pleated front trousers were fashionable. So fashionable that, outside jeans, it wasn’t possible to find them. When I asked, I was told “there’s no call for them.” Well yes, there was. Me. I’m too short to make that look work for me. Looking around, I saw other height-challenged women who also wanted flat front trousers. A year later, the stranglehold disappeared, much to our relief. But I stopped wearing trousers then, except for jeans, and I’ve never really gone back.
Something similar happens in writing, too.
Something becomes popular and the publisher will look for more of the same. They had to gear themselves to what they could sell. Not what the reader wants, that’s something different, and always will be. But what the majority of the market would tolerate.
This has led to publishers flooding the market with a certain type of book until the market (that’s you and me) tires of it. I’m currently finding myself in the flat-front trouser situation. I want something the market isn’t currently providing. I see some staleness growing in the market, the readers who last year would have grabbed all of them off the shelves becoming a little disillusioned. When that happens, the core of a strong subsector remains. So, say, when sales for the current trend declines, the publishers will be ready with something else.
That means the authors of this trend will decline. If their hearts remain in that category, if that’s what they really love to write, they have just started “writing to the market.” Their fans might become disillusioned or just not enjoy the books as much as they used to. They might not know why, just that either their tastes have changed or they sense the lack of spark in books they used to love.
Which leaves the writer out in the cold, writing books she doesn’t really believe in for a dwindling readership.
That’s one reason why I won’t ever “write to the market,” although I will respect my reader and try to make sure that the brand of romance that I write is as satisfying as I can make it, and shows the reader some respect.
I write angsty stories that deal with the inner dilemmas of the people involved, and I try to keep the stories as accurate as I can to reality. I believe that if I try, writing won’t be fun anymore, and will turn into ‘just another job.’ I won’t let that happen. So I’ll continue to write what I love to read.
I want to write about adults that have come part of the way but need an extra push to get there, to their personal nirvana.
It happens. A publisher or editor previously enthusiastic about an author can turn lukewarm, or even not welcome work, and it’s not always down to the author or what she is producing. So the author has to have faith in herself, but not to allow that faith to turn into arrogance, a belief that everything they do is perfect. It’s a difficult line to tread, and that’s where good author friends come in.
Most of the writers I have ever met feel that. It makes them vulnerable, especially to the publisher who wants a commercial product, and urges the writer to write to that ideal. Publishers are far too busy these days to nurture and encourage established talent. If a writer puts in a query that hits the market square-on, it’s easier, in the short term, to take that book and go with the new writer, rather than continue to develop the career of a more established one. Doing that maximizes profits. And it’s a sad fact that for every published, accomplished writer, there are a hundred just as accomplished, but unpublished ones.
The only thing a writer has going for her is loyal readership. Some have so much that they can set out on their own. Some have enough to ensure continued sales. Most are encouraged to believe that they have to survive book to book, and in many cases, that is now leading to authors leaving the market entirely. It happens quietly and steadily. It always has. Occasional calls for “whatever happened to…?” appear, but on the whole, the writer slips away unnoticed.
Why should the reader care? Well, the answer is of course, that she shouldn’t. There’s no need for her to, unless she’s finding that she can’t get the books she enjoys any more, or that her favorite writer has disappeared. Most keep a dignified silence, choosing to leave with grace, rather than to expose private hurts and slights in public. Most realize that it happens, has always happened and most likely will continue to happen. Or they’ll start all over again, under another name. That’s something the reader isn’t always aware of, by the way. I know at least two writers who have done that recently, started with a new name and persona, as well as a new style and even genre.