Monday, November 22, 2010

Fairy Tale or Gritty Reality ... Part 2

This seems to be a common question recently as writers are torn between writing their passion and writing for the market.

It's a struggle I've faced as well. I love to read novels that show authentic, messy lives, about people who are hurting. God can do so much with broken people, His redemption message seems so much clearer.

In today's economy, the reader wants stories that whisk them away from today's hurts. For an author to have financial success, they almost have to write about brighter, happier topics. So, what does a writer do?

I've read a few blog posts recently that have addressed this and have given me much to think about.

In the November 18th post on the Novel Journey blog, Athol Dickson writes about Trouble in a Writer's World. As always, he offers excellent insights.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner addresses authors being Torn in her November 17th post on her Rants & Ramblings blog.

As for my opinion? Well, after writing one novel with the market in mind, I've decided to Surrender and go back to writing my passion. While my first readers and critique partners have enjoyed my attempt at romance, the story feels flat to me.

Last week I wrote a new scene for a novel I'd completed about three years ago, a scene about a 17 year old Christian boy facing the siren's temptation of a girl eager to give herself away. As I wrote it, I was energized. I could literally feel the young man's conflict and I couldn't leave the computer until the scene was complete, some 3000 words later. Not once did I experience that while writing the romance. When we're passionate about what we're writing, we can't stop. More importantly, the reader can feel our passion.

I read that above-mentioned scene aloud to my 18 year old daughter and her boyfriend. She was incensed that my male character didn't once think about his girlfriend's personality. But, my daughter's boyfriend? He said it was spot on. That's how teenage boys often think. He wasn't proud of that fact, but he was being honest. Now, he wants to read more. Why? Because that scene was authentic and passionate. If we want to reach people, we have to be real with them and meet them on their level. That's what I intend to do.

So, what's your take? What do you think authors should write?


  1. Wonderful post, Brenda. I went over and read Athol's, too. I am so THRILLED that you have returned to writing your passion. And I so admire your courage in reading it aloud like you did. I have yet to master that fear. I really identify with your words, "When we're passionate about what we're writing, we can't stop. More importantly, the reader can feel our passion." So true. I think that is why so many books, especially in the CBA, are written with so little depth, even those on the bestseller lists. There is simply little passion involved. You can't even feel it on the page. If publishers try to push writers into writing what the market wants and not what writers want to write, then the shallowness will continue. First novels are often an author's best novel simply because the passion was there to finish. What else would keep one returning to the blank page day after day without any reward other than that passion?

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Laura.

    You're right about first novels often being an author's best. That story is typically written sans the internal editor that can neutralize writing. Technically, a first novel probably has room for growth, but readers don't see that. Rather, they feel the author's intensity and that helps create a great story.

  3. Brenda, I think you've touched on the two primary motivations for writing to publish. Should an author be pleased to write what the publishers deem the market requires. Frankly, I think the publishers can be out of touch with parts of the market, sticking to their comfort zones (and what they perceive as the majority of their paying customers). Many authors who are successful have no trouble writing to that perceived audience, and it serves them well.

    Other writers prefer to hold out with their passions and keep perfecting their craft hoping to catch the eye of some more daring editor's eye who can influence his publisher to take a shot at someone who writes with a little more daring. And if it's a first time author, the battlefield is in place.

    Maybe a one book or first book compromise is necessary to get one's foot in in the proverbial door, but I tend to think if we write to reality, some CBA publishers will reject the work because it might offend some of their readership. Certainly Thomas Nelson and Hachette Book Group both have some open lanes for the more "real" stories, but with first time authors nothing is easy--especially breaking in with grit.

    I do think sometimes it boils down to compromise v. principle. How much are we writers willing to sacrifice to be published? For our particular reality message to be heard?

    Sorry for the soapbox comment here, Brenda. You know this is a hot point issue for me.

  4. Nicole - I always love it when you voice your opinion, and I really appreciate that you don't hold back. Talk about passion! :)

    I know if I attempted to write historical or Amish, the reader would know that I'm disingenuous. But when I write my passion, when I craft my stories to be excellent, not just "good enough" it's an act of worship. I have to trust that my words will reach those whom God chooses.

  5. We still need to write our Vampire Amish mom, that'll be a best seller! Teens will read it for the vampires, and the Christian reader will read it for the Amish! It's perfect! =)

  6. I'd say a writer should definitely follow his/her heart. As you say -- a reader can feel that passion which elevates the book from a story to an experience. I've read books that have been well-written with sound plots, good characterization but definitely laced a spark for me. I think you have identified why.

  7. Oh -- and I wanted to comment about publishers thinking they know the market. I always wonder how they can really tell what won't sell when no one tries it? I mean yes, historicals are a hot item and a large seller of the Christian market BUT have you been to a Christian bookstore lately? Almost every book you pick up is historical so, since the market is saturated with them of course they are going to be the top seller. Now, don't get me wrong -- I love historicals, but I love contemporary as well. And I adore suspense, which, apparently according to a few blogs I've been reading lately, aren't popular so it's hard to get a suspense published. What I want to know is how they have come to the conclusion that suspense isn't popular? I mean if I go to my Christian bookstore and there are only one or two suspense among a wall of historicals on display of course the overall sales in the genre aren't going to measure up. I mean...oops....I'm ranting, aren't I? I'll stop now.

  8. Kav - Go ahead and rant. :D

    One of my biggest laments is the lack of diversity in stores right now. I went to our neighborhood Christian bookstore this morning and found a very limited selection of books that weren't Amish or historical. I left without making a purchase as I'd read all the other books of interest.

    I don't pretend to understand how the market predictions work, I just know that as a reader I'm disappointed in the choices available. Hopefully when the economy picks up, we'll have more alternatives to choose from.

  9. Perhaps because of the economy publishers are reluctant to take a risk? But to my mind, flooding the market with one particular genre is a way bigger risk.

    Take the recent Amish trend -- which I also love :-) I became converted to the genre with a couple of incredible writers who knew what they were writing about. They had ties with an Amish community and a passion for exploring the contrasts in life styles. These women have written incredible books about defining faith and being free to allow your faith to define you. I found that I could relate to the characters' dilemmas because my own living a Christian life in the 'world' brought up similiar issues. Wow, some of the best reading hours I've had have been spent immersed in the Amish culture.

    Anyway -- publishers, eager to piggyback on these wonderful authors' successes have put out a plea for more Amish books. Editors are asking their authors to write Amish. But wait a minute -- if an author doesn't have a passion for that genre can she do it justice? And even if she has a passion for it, but doesn't know it -- understand it -- respect it -- how can she create a memorable story? Won't it fall flat wihtout that spark of passion? And then what will happen? The publishers will say "oh, Amish isn't selling any more" and move onto something else withour realizing that they have contributed to the demise of a genre?

    oops...ranting again. :-)

  10. Kav - I love your rants. It reminded me of Krispy Kreme donuts.

    Krispy Kremes? Really?


    You see, in 2002 Krispy Kreme donuts returned to Minnesota after a 30+ year absence. When that first store opened in Minneapolis, cars lined up down the road and people waited hours. For a donut! Then KK opened another store, and another, and all of a sudden KKs could be found in Target, gas stations, practically everywhere, over-saturating the market. KKs were no longer special.

    By 2008, all Minnesota Krispy Kreme stores were closed.

    Does that relate to books? I'm not an expert, but I think the comparison can be made.

    Stop by & rant anytime, Kav. You make my day. :D