By Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist
According to popular wisdom, novelists who want to sell lots of books “should” write the types of books that most readers supposedly want to buy, principally fiction that falls within certain established genres such as romance, horror, and mystery.
On the surface, this advice makes a lot of sense. Book publishers are more likely to buy conventional genre novels, mainly because they have large, dedicated audiences. Publishing is a business, after all, and publishers need to sell as many books as possible.
But the reasoning behind this advice is flawed. Sure, there are large audiences for these types of books, but publishers put out a lot of them, creating a lot of competition for readers. The result is too many authors and publishers producing far too many similar novels, novels that tend to be bland, boring, unoriginal, and even superficial.
Lost in the shuffle is a very different type of book fan, a fan who is frequently ignored by book publishers: the sophisticated reader. This breed of reader is hungry for thoughtful, original writing, writing free of stifling convention, writing bursting with complex characters and unpredictable plots, writing that says something fresh and startling about the human condition.
So should more novelists “ignore the market” and write what they want? My answer to that question would be a qualified yes. Yes, more novelists should write what they want to write. That type of writing is more of a creative challenge for the writer and can be more exciting and rewarding for the reader. And the world hardly needs more predictable and pedestrian novels. And serious writers do have the option to self-publish. But . . . it’s hard to sell a self-published novel, even a well-written and professionally produced one. After all self-published authors don’t have the same resources as book publishers.
So serious novelists should continue to write from the heart but maybe, after they self-publish their work and start to sell a reasonable number of copies, they should band together to persuade publishers to make unconventional, challenging novels more widely available.
An impossible task perhaps? Not when you consider the fact that a number of offbeat, critically acclaimed novels have managed to sell well even though they didn’t fit into established genres: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, How to Build a Girl by Caitlan Moran, and almost any novel by Margaret Atwood and John Irving.
Kathleen Jones’ first novel, a midlife comic romance set in the world of stand-up comedy, will be published in the spring of 2018 by Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC. Visit Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist, online at https://kathleenjones.org/