Trend Masters or Servants?

Ball & ChainInspired by a blog shared on Facebook by a fellow writer in my writing community, (how’s that for electronic media connections?), I got to thinking about the whole industry that I am a part of.

The blog, 25 Hard Truths About Writing and Publishing by Chuck Wendig, sheds light on the process that leads up to your favorite book. Some of the stuff is hard to swallow and can be downright disheartening to aspiring writers, but I believe they are all legitimate points. Even if we don’t agree one hundred percent with them, they have to be acknowledged. We have to approach this industry with our eyes open to reality.

Item #6 in the list, “Online Book Discovery Is Wonky As F**k”, is something all writers should consider and something I’ve felt since the onset of the electronic book age. Yes self publishing can be lucrative, yes it is an easier route, and yes the idea that the cream always rises to top is fundamentally sound. The big but here? More and more writers are flocking to this outlet and the startling truth is that only 10% of them are good writers and 1% are exceptional writers, leaving 89% mediocre or worse. For every supposed bad writer that gets “flushed” by the system, 100 more take their place. And that number is going up exponentially.

Finding a good book in this morass is akin to trying to find a needle in not just one haystack but all the haystacks in the world. How does the bad writing stay on the sites? A voting system ripped right out of the American Idol handbook, where you can vote for your favourite as many times and as fast as you can dial.

But, it is item #12, “Trends Matter, Except Also, They Totally Don’t”, that strikes the closest to home for me. Too often we are told as writers to write for the “market” first and once that book is published, it paves the way for your “good” book. Translated, the book that you wrote that is closest to your heart. The one that doesn’t fit an established genre. The one that is outside the current trend.

I’ve always had a problem with this notion and now I know why. In thinking about it, readers, contrary to popular belief, don’t set the trends they fuel them. At the heart of every trend in the publishing industry is an author that chose to buck the trend; an author that wrote for the story and not for the market.

Now, before you launch your rebuttal, I’m not saying that all ground breaking books were from first timers on their first attempt. Some of them were by established authors. And the ones by first timers, may not have been their first novels either. They may still have their first novel tucked in a drawer somewhere, but the fact remains that, either way, the author they wasn’t writing for the market.

J.K. Rowling is an over-used example, but hers is one of the more recent and relatable, so please excuse me for falling back to her. She wrote for the story. Yes she got rejected too many times, but someone took a chance on her. She wrote about a school for wizards in a fantasy market dominated by the likes of Terry Goodkind, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Terry Brooks, Ann McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen King etc. All true, hardcore fantasy. Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help, is another good example. If you get a chance, watch the extras on the DVD. In an interview she discusses how long and arduous the road to publication was. She was rejected 60 times because the story was “too edgy”, “too period”, “nobody wants to read about the fifties and sixties”. The book spent two years on the New York Times Bestseller list, has been published in 35 countries and three languages, and has sold over five million copies. The movie won an academy award. Sixty agents turned it down and yet she stuck to her story.

I have preached this before. For my style of writing, if I have strong characters the story, like growing crystals, will solidify around them. If you write for the story and you make it the best story you can write, not just the best story you want or your close band of followers want, but one that makes the reader think, makes them laugh and cry aloud, one that makes them uncomfortable, one whose characters are relatable and real, you will find readers. It won’t be fast and it won’t be easy but word will spread by mouth and not by “likes” on some media site.

So excuse me please, if I don’t pander to some accountants idea of what is popular.

No, I’ll wallow in obscurity, tinkering with my novel until I feel it is the best it can be. Why? Because somewhere out there is a reader, or hopefully a group of readers, and an agent/publisher that is willing to take a chance on something different.

Call me cliche, but I’ll leave you with a little of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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