I have a confession to make.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a romance novel.
Now this isn’t too hard a stretch of the imagination. All of my books, even the darkest ones, have romance at the core. After all, romance is something that binds each and every one of us in some way or another. It is one of those universal themes that everyone can connect with, whether longing for someone or happily married.
But anyway, I wrote a full romance book with intentions to launch it under a pen name.
Why did I do this? Well, like I’ve said in the past, I don’t release everything I write. I use my writing to experiment sometimes. To try my hand at different things and work out just how comfortable I am writing that way. Experimentation is, after all, the only way we can really learn what sort of writing we love.
But this romance novel. Why did I actually write it? Probably because I read that romance sells.
Now first off, before I am accused of doing so, this blog post is not a dig at romance writers, or any writers for that matter. Many of my inspirations are romance authors, and they are pros at what they do. Everyone is different, everyone has their own ways. It’s simply a post weighing up whether writing solely to sell is worthwhile, especially in these days where everything is publishable. Romance, as a genre, is just an example, being the best selling genre and all.
Got that? Phew. 🙂
Now this romance I wrote. It was a perfectly decent book. Good story, plenty of twists in sync with those of the genre. So why did I scrap it?
Well, it just wasn’t me. It was a chore to write. It felt forced.
It was written to sell, and as a result, I found it unsellable.
It’s quite hard admitting something like this in public, believe me. But you’d be surprised just how many bestselling writers have pen names in different genres. And fair play to them–they’re clearly better than me at jumping over seamlessly to those other genres.
But to me, writing something so distinctly not me just because it sells… I found that uncomfortable, and I’m definitely not able to do that with confidence just yet.
There’s a lot of advice out there to new writers. And that’s fantastic. But it can be harmful, too. There’s comments telling new writers only to write X because it’s hot right now, or not to bother writing Y because there’s no way it’ll sell.
So that new writer believes these voices, who most often are wonderful people and have good intentions (and are full of experience in their own field), and they write what they believe is sellable.
They write what they believe is sellable at the expense of writing something that is distinctly them.
As a result, the writing process might be a slog. The writer may feel unfulfilled at the end of it. The whole thing might just put them off writing forever.
Not to mention, their own real voice is suppressed, not allowed to develop, not allowed to flourish.
I believe that it takes a writer five books before they truly, truly know their speciality. I believe it takes five books worth of material down before their voice takes on a life of its own.
But if a writer writes a book based on what someone else is telling them will sell, I don’t believe that’s giving the writer’s voice a chance to grow. I think it’s like giving the writer a filter and telling them to writer through it. Some of that writer’s voice might sneak through, but a lot of it is held back in that filter.
And the bits held back in the filter might just be the difference between your voice and everyone else’s.
Don’t get me wrong: genre sells, to a certain extent. I write suspense thrillers, or at least that’s how I broadly define myself now. I’ve done mystery, science fiction, horror, pure thriller, satirical crime, post-apocalyptic. But in all those genres, having found my way after a few books, I know I write suspense thrillers. I take a lot of pleasure in writing short, snappy scenes that build up to page-turning cliffhangers. I like shocking my readers–I like doing things that many writers would shy away from because it might have an effect on the salability.
But I write suspense thrillers. That’s a commercial genre. So bear that in mind. I don’t write stream of consciousness, or anything like that. I do write commercial fiction, but commercial fiction with a bite.
Did I get here right away? No. Course not. It took me a while to realise this is what I specialise in. And funnily enough, what I described above is what I enjoy writing the most.
I’ve tried writing to sell. And by that, I mean writing solely with “This will please the audience here…”
I found no fun in that. I felt dirty, even.
So now, when I sit down, I think “Wow, that’s an interesting direction to go in… the audience might hate me for that. But let’s see, because it’s what I want to do, and this is my story.”
Sure, I’ve made some missteps along the way. I’ve had to rewrite and edit scenes–shit, entire books sometimes–all because I’ve gone a step too far in the craziness–in the “Ryan Casey-ness”. But the point here is, I tried it. I let my voice play. I told myself a story.
You should trust your voice. Trust your instincts. By all means write to sell, but make sure you write for someone else first: yourself.
Because if you can’t have fun with your fiction–if you can’t write the stories that you’d want to read–then what’s the point?
Instead of following a crowd, lead a crowd in whichever genre you feel most drawn to.
And who knows? You might just be the next big thing.
If not, at least you had a blast.
We’re blessed in these times we live in. We can publish anything we want to independent publishing platforms without it having to be to an editor’s taste.
So write whatever crazy shit’s inside you and trust that there’s other people as weird as you out there to read it.