A fellow author recently asked me to help him determine two things about his book; two things which are very important in fiction marketing. You’ll see it touted all over that these are extremely important in writing. In fact, some people say these are the first things writers should know. I disagree. I should mention though, in case it isn’t fully clear, I love to write, but I’ve never been published. Maybe there’s something to this I’m just too arrogant to see. In any case, I say these are far more important in marketing than in writing. These things are:
1.Who is the audience for the text?
2.What genre is the text?
Now, I see the benefit of writing with these things in mind. If my audience is children, I’m not going to write a story about rape. I just won’t do it. Also, if I want to write a mystery novel, there are certain things that I’ll want to include that make something a mystery novel. This is only one style of writing process though. Some writers begin by deciding what kind of story they want to write. They say, ‘I’m going to write a fantasy novel,’ and then they get cracking on writing a fantasy novel. Some do incredibly detailed outlines of novels before beginning the writing process. Some do basic outlines. Some don’t do any outline. Some writers only write novels they can pitch, as in if it can’t be summarized in three sentences it’s no good. Let me be abundantly clear, none of these writing styles are bad. Let me say that again: NONE OF THESE WRITING STYLES ARE BAD. They are just different.
Let me tell you about my writing style, and then we’ll get to why I say audience and genre are much more marketing terms than writing terms. I have ideas sometimes. I write them down. I keep writing them down. At some point the idea is written down. It has usually changed from what it originally was into what it needs to be. I wanted to write a story one time about aliens who visit Earth, but land in Canada to show the United States it’s not the center of the universe. I tried writing it down. It didn’t work. I came back to it later and tried writing it again. It became a story about a girl camping in the Canadian wilderness when aliens land on her campsite and she mistakenly assumes she’s died and they have come to take her to Heaven. That story has become 18,000 words (so far) of a novel. The novel has changed from what it originally was too, and I hope it keeps changing because it keeps getting better. That’s how I like to write. I’m not sure it would work for me any other way.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about publishing and marketing. Normally, a publishing house takes care of most or all the marketing needs of a book it publishes. New forays into self-publishing have changed that for many authors, yet every author will at least have to market their manuscript to an agent, publishing house, readers or other person(s) during their career. When doing so, it is necessary to be able to succinctly say, ‘This is what my novel’s about.’ or ‘This is who will want to read it.’ With the sheer volume of new media publicized every day, having a succinct way to sort the possibly good from the definitively bad is a must. It’s not mean, it’s just the reality of the world in which we live.
This is where audience and genre really come into play. If I tell you a book is middle-grade fantasy, you can instantly think Harry Potter. If I tell you it’s a teen paranormal harlequin romance, you will think something very different from (but perhaps not entirely dissimilar to) Harry Potter. These distinctions are very very important for publishers deciding which books to publish and readers deciding which books to purchase. If I went to the bookstore and purchased Eat, Pray, Love for $30 because it was touted as the next big fantasy epic and had an awesome looking dragon on the cover, I would be furious when I actually read the book. Not because it’s a bad book (I have no idea if it’s actually a bad book), but because it’s not what I paid for. That’s why audience and genre are so important in marketing. It’s pretty much the first thing readers look for.
Now back to writing. It is completely possible, and highly rational I might add, to write a story thinking, “I’m going to write this for kids.” If you keep that in mind, your writing will be clear, concise, and focused. You will avoid the swearwords you so desperately want that character to say. Why? Because you have a purpose. That purpose is for the story to be read and enjoyed by a specific group of people who are not the author. This is not to say the author won’t enjoy it, but it’s not necessarily written for the author. Isn’t that a marketing decision though? If you begin writing by saying, “I’m going to write something my 14 year-old niece will enjoy,” you’ve started by wanting a product to market to your niece. You create that product with the marketing in mind. You make decisions about your story because of how your niece will react to those decisions. It’s creative certainly. And it’s a fine way to write. And don’t you ever let anybody tell you letting the story grow organically is better. It’s not. It’s just different.
I choose to write a different way though. When I write a short story, or a poem, or a book, I write it because it’s something I want to write and, more importantly, something I want to read. This is a terrific way to write. I’m not sure if I would enjoy writing at all if I didn’t do it primarily for me. This comes with its own problems though, particularly when it comes time to market the book. Who is my audience? Me. Well then I don’t need to sell the novel, do I? What is the genre? I don’t know, it just sort of happened. This is not shaping up to be a very good pitch. A fellow author told me of this style of writing, and I hope he won’t mind if I share this, “building it is easy, selling it is hard.” That said, I don’t want to do it another way. I write for myself above all. If others don’t like it, that’s too bad. I really want them to like it, but it’s better that I do and they don’t than the other way around.
In the next post we’ll get into the problems of genre. Specifically, what happens when a book doesn’t fit any one genre specifically? What does that mean for publishing and marketing? Also, I have a proposal for a new genre of fiction I’d like to submit.