The (Un)Importance of Readers | The Misbehaving Mind. (Kate Genet)
Thank you, Kira Lyn Blue, for nominating me for a Sunshine Award – “a recognition from fellow bloggers to those who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”. But the truth is, I’ve been feeling far less than sunshiny about writing lately. In fact, I’ve been in a major grump about it. And let me tell you, when a writer gets in a grump about writing, the sky’s pretty much falling.
My book sales took a dip before Christmas. This wouldn’t usually bother me – I rarely used to check the sales numbers anyway. As long as that cheque was arriving in the mail every month, I was happy. I don’t write without expecting to be paid for it, but I don’t write for money either. Except this dip in sales was more like a crash off a cliff and my sales have lingered twisted and wounded at the bottom of the cliff ever since.
I’m not going to go into the details of why I think this happened, because I’ve no real, sure idea. The consequences however, they’ve been on my mind. I’ve had to look about for a day job again, and that’s some big deal since poor health makes it impossible to work outside my home. But finding other ways to make money isn’t necessarily a problem, except that it means less time for writing. And I like writing. I like it better than anything else.
Except once I realised I wasn’t getting as many sales, I began to question what I was writing, and why. Unfortunately for me, I write in a small niche genre within a small niche genre. I long came to the conclusion that lesbians don’t generally like reading horror. Even when it’s called supernatural suspense or some other fancy name. On the whole, they’re big romance readers. I hate writing romance. I might have romantic relationships in my books, but tell me to write a typical romance story and I’ll lock myself in a cupboard until you’ve gone home (and I have a particular fear of being locked in small cupboards ever since a rather alarming experience at the age of 9).
But I found myself considering the task. Because of the money. Because of liking to pay the mortgage and eat and other unreasonable things. I knew however, that there’s no way I could do it. It’s just not in me. I’d be bored writing it, and it would never get finished. I’m already pissed off enough that my most popular books are slippy sliding into that paranormal romance category.
Which led me to being really fucking annoyed with readers. Why, I ranted to myself (and my poor partner) does the average reader want so little from a book? Why do they like to stick to one genre? Why do they go loopy loo over incredibly formulaic writing? I got quite hot under the collar on the subject. When I calmed down a little, I looked at the work I’d been doing, writing my novellas about the dimension-travelling Reality Dawn and thought to myself that therein might lie my salvation. While not romance, they might find a decent audience. They might be my life-line back into being able to quit the day job and stick with the writing.
Immediately upon having considered this possibility however, the fun was sucked out of the whole project. The Reality Dawn books were no longer me enjoying myself and trying something new, moving slightly north of horror into fantasy. Instead I found myself trying to figure out whether readers would like this or that about them, whether they would prefer if this or that happened, if they would want more of this or that from them.
The whole thing suddenly got very boring and very painful. They weren’t even properly finished and they were no longer my stories. I wasn’t having fun anymore, and I wasn’t writing because it pleased me to. I was writing for a bunch of people I didn’t even know and wasn’t feeling at all impressed with. Worse, I was allowing this imagined crowd of readers to dictate the course of my stories.
Well, that was a situation that couldn’t last. There were only a few options that I could see. I could drown my sorrows in the bottom of a glass of bourbon – useless suggestion as I don’t drink. I could write solely for profit, turning out copy I thought readers would buy by the bunch. Which could possibly work. I can write well enough to make just about anything sound good, what would it cost me to write what sells? Only my storywriting soul. So, not an option at all. I can slant my writing with an eye to the market, but I’m buggered if I’m going to sell my soul to it. I haven’t been able to get rid of the belief that the stories I have inside me are worth the telling, even if they’re light years from pure, unadulterated romances.
So, one option left. Forget about the readers. Forget about their preferences, their desire for this sort of story over that. Stop thinking about the large group called average reader and what their average little hearts want, and just write as I damned well please.
That’s the option I chose. I stuck a great big ‘fuck you’ sign over the picture of average reader slobbering over a cheesy romance, and went back to going my own way. Writing for myself and my ideal reader. Doing it, not just because I want to get paid, but because I’m a writer and I have stories to tell.
The funny thing is, having thought this epiphany would lead me to start some deep, dark, and twisty novel full of scary shit and other things that go bump in the night, I opened Word and started the third Reality Dawn book. There are dragons in it, and Reality Dawn and her sidekick Rae are having the time of their lives. Just like me.
As for the money? I might not have a large market of readers to keep me in furs and pearls, but I have plenty of books to write – for myself and the ideal reader who finds they like what I do. Time to get back to it.