It’s easy to get caught up in the notion we are artists, and forget about the business side of our business. This is one of the reasons we need to be honest about our goals. It’s a noble goal to want to earn a living, a good living from writing. Yet, if we want to make money writing, we have to feed people what they want to eat.
A Tale of Two Parsnips
I remember being in NYC in 2012. It was our final day in the city and we were celebrating a member of our group’s birthday. Since I have a bazillion food allergies, we called ahead of time to make sure the restaurant could accommodate someone with allergies to half the known universe.
Since the place was an Asian-Australian fusion restaurant, they assured me that there were lots of grilled meat dishes that could be easily adjusted to meet my needs. This was a super fancy restaurant and the chef had even once won Iron Chef, so I didn’t eat much that day, preparing for my first experience with an Asian-Australian cuisine.
We get to the ordering and the chef simply refused to modify any of the dishes, claiming that removing the mashed potatoes (which contained dairy) ruined the aesthetics of the dish. Seriously? Um, did anyone tell this chef food is for eating, not staring at?
The waitress kept continually offering me the parsnip soup. I was hungry, then after fifteen times being offered soup I didn’t want, I was ticked. I finally lost my temper, scared the waitress and someone somehow convinced the kitchen to create an aesthetically unbalanced plate before I came back there and made an aesthetically unbalanced chef.
To this day, my friend Rachel Funk Heller claims “parsnip” is my trigger word (and can be counted on to randomly shout it out to embarrass me).
But this story illustrates my point. We shouldn’t keep trying to serve others something they don’t want to consume. This has been a guiding principle of my social media approach. I don’t like eating spam, so why feed it to others?
When I wrote my first social media book, it was because all the books out there were highly technical, boring and made me want to throw myself in traffic. I knew I couldn’t be alone. Why not write a book that was useful and fun? Repackage a boring topic into something people enjoyed?
***That’s thinking like an entrepreneur, btw ;).
Same with fiction. I didn’t like being forced to read The Great Gatsby (three times too many), so why write books similar to so many of the classics most of us only read because we had to?
And inevitably I get an intellectual who wants to argue and it’s fine. If we want to write a modern version of Moby Dick, no one will stop us. If we want to write perspicacious prose only a handful of intelligentcia “get”? Write away!
Just don’t complain about sales numbers.
Readers, by and large, don’t want us to show off how clever we are. They want a good story. Just like I wanted to eat protein even if removing the mashed potatoes adversely affected the “aesthetic balance” of a plate I could barely see in a far-too-dark-pretentious-restaurant.
Give Readers What They Want In a WAY They Want
Every Christmas, we go through the same routine. The Spawn opens his new toys, then Mommy and Daddy spend the next hour with scissors and kitchen knives trying to break into them. I’m pretty shocked I haven’t lost a finger working to get past all the zip-tes, plastic, and anti-theft stuff.
This is how info-dump, fish heads, needless prologues and flashbacks feel to readers. We have to get past so much stuff to get to what we want, that we move on to novels who don’t make us work so hard to get to the STORY.
One of the reasons I emphasize understanding the craft of writing is that novel/story structure is mythic. There is actually evidence that narrative structure is hardwired into the human brain. Yes, we can break rules and deviate, but we do this too much? We confuse the reader. It’s like serving them a blue steak. Blue steak could taste great, but our minds won’t let us eat and enjoy something so very wrong.
This is why it’s important to deliver a book that’s been properly edited. Too many typos and mistakes are like grease coagulating on the plate. It negatively impacts the experience of the reader, and anything that pulls a reader out of the story needs to be cut or fixed.
Good books are good books, but I’ll be blunt. There are outside factors we can never anticipate. This is why we need to keep writing. Maybe we put out a fabulous dystopian fiction. But, if the economy suddenly tanks, people are out of work and the world political climate shifts to the terrifying? We tend to not want to read more of the doom and gloom we get every day on the news.
I actually have a theory that this is part of why 50 Shades of Grey took off when it did. It was racy, mindless junk food that put readers in a world where someone else told them what to do (allowing them to escape from a real world where they have NO idea what to do). Whether the book was good, bad, or terrible, it clearly filled a need and a market emerged.
This is why writing more books is critical. Maybe Book One isn’t selling well today, but in a digital world where shelf space is infinite? Might do better next year. We get better the more we
cook write, and odds are, if we do it enough, we’ll discover our readers and they’ll discover us.
Have you ever had someone try to keep giving you something you DIDN’T WANT? A book? Food at a restaurant, bad mojo at a clothing store? Two words. Skinny jeans. Any sociological theories about the success of 50 Shades? Come on! Let’s play armchair psychiatrist! I am not a doctor, but play one on the Internet :D.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
ANNOUNCEMENTS: I have a class coming up TONIGHT, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.
Also, August 21st, I am running a Your First Five Pages webinar. Bronze is $40 and Gold is $55 (I look at your first five pages) and use WANA15 for 15% off.