By Andrew E. Kaufman
One of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make as an author happened early in my career. I had made the choice to jump genres—that is to say, going from being a perceived horror writer to a perceived thriller writer. I never saw myself as belonging to a particular genre. I just wrote what I wanted to write. I don’t think it was so much a matter of consciousness as a matter of instinct.
Then my audience began to grow, and then I started thinking from inside my head. I became worried that the change might force my readers away, that they might not follow me to the next book. Luckily, I trusted those instincts and the next book did significantly better than the last.
Fast forward to about three years later. Apparently, I still hadn’t learned my lesson. I was trying to decide whether to continue on with a series after the first two books and feeling a similar dilemma: once again, I was overthinking, trying to put my head on the readers’ shoulders instead of keeping it where it belonged. I was worried they would feel disappointed if I didn’t continue on with the story. In other words, I wasn’t following my instincts. A road that by now I’ve learned is always a bad one.
Then one day, while having lunch with a colleague, I explained my concerns, and she gave me what I now consider to be among the soundest advice I’ve ever received:
She said, “Don’t worry about all that. Write the damned story you want to write. Brand yourself, not your books—if you do that, it won’t matter what you write. Your audience will read it.”
It was one of those statements that instantly snaps into place, sticks there, and shorty thereafter, you understand it to be the plain and honest truth. I’ve always believed that, if you feel what you write, so will your readers. After all, it’s not necessarily what you write that matters most—it’s who you are as a writer, what inspires you, and if you stick with that, the rest always takes care of itself.
As with most authors I love, it doesn’t really matter what they write about or what genre their work falls under. It’s their execution and talent that draws me in each time I open one of their books. In those cases, I believe they followed their passion instead of their head, and as my colleague said, they wrote the damned story they wanted to write.
And with the publishing industry being as wobbly as it is, and with the concept of “what will sell” changing all the time, it makes sense that longevity is attained not by following trends or trying to guess what your readers want—it’s attained by trusting your instincts. Books change all the time—but the writer is a constant.
This time, I finally followed that advice, and the result has been one of the most rewarding and seamless writing experiences I’ve ever had. More than that, I’m having the best time, and each new day, I can’t wait to sit down and get back to work. This book is a complete departure from anything I’ve ever written up until now, but somehow it doesn’t matter to me.
Because I’m writing the damned story I want to write.
Andrew E. Kaufman, author of whatever inspires him.
Andrew E. Kaufman, author of whatever inspires him.
Instinct + Process = Energy. Hmmm.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the reminder, Andrew.
You got it. Now, keep writing ;)Delete
I love this post! I just went through a similar process. My readers all want more Jackson mysteries, but every once in a while, I have to cut loose and do something just for me. So I wrote a thriller that's quite different, and I had a blast with it. So far, my beta readers love it. The novel may not sell as well as a Jackson story, but who knows? Maybe it will attract a whole new set of readers.ReplyDelete
And BTW: I've been impressed at how quickly you wrote your current manuscript, Drew. A very good sign!
Glad to see your path is leading you outside the box, LJ--a place where amazing things always seem to be waiting. Best of luck!Delete
This is a tough one. I understand your initial dilemma as it's also mine still to some extent. When I committed to writing to get published in 2006, the series I was working on was light-hearted fantasy. The feedback from agents and publishers who found the time to write a small personal note was consistent: good writer, wrong material. No one wanted to read light-hearted fantasy, apparently.ReplyDelete
The series I started to self-publish last year, after interest from agents that went nowhere, is in the supernatural thriller genre. It started life as a short story that I wrote for the British Fantasy Society a few years ago, as a challenge to myself. It made the top five of the competition that year. I never thought I could write in that style. I have just published the second one in the series, with a further 3-4 books planned.
But, I still want that light-hearted fantasy series (two novels completed out of a proposed 8-10) to see the light of day at some stage. I have been advised since to rewrite them for a YA audience (don't roll your eyes!).
So, which one is my writing voice? I think both styles are.
But am I going to piss my readers off if I switch style/genre?
The conclusion I've come to (currently!) is this; if I publish the light-hearted fantasy series, I will more than likely do it under another pseudonym.
Of course, it will be like starting from scratch all over again! *whimpers at the thought of the number of social media accounts one would have to maintain*
Thoughts on this welcome!
I think the fact that the light-hearted fantasy is still poking at you means something: that's your instinct talking. Listen to it. One thing I've learned is that my gut is never wrong--only I am, when I get in its way.Delete
Write that story!
Thanks Andrew! I think doing it under a different name might be the way forward.Delete
What a wonderful piece of advice! I'm so glad you followed it, Drew, as your muse has obviously taken off lately! I'm thrilled you're writing a story that fires your passion and you're loving every minute of it - can't wait to read it!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jodie. I'm finally learning to trust my instincts and follow them. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's the right thing.Delete
Absolutely, Drew! It's golden advice!Delete
+1 to the post. Heck, +1000. Writing is communication, right? Write. And communication has to be honest - starting with ourselves. Some day I'll write an essay about the modal verbs. (As Jim Mora famously said, coulda, woulda, shoulda don't count for squat.)ReplyDelete
Whatever we call the source of the Story You Want To Write (muse, subconscious, psyche, soul), it demands of us. The head/editor, if it's smart, waits its turn. (I've often thought that the story you want to write is the story you must write, the one that compels and demands to be told. That's been my experience, anyway. Like characters within a story.)
Part of the urge (demi-urge?) is that we don't know what the story is we want to write until we write it. (Oh, so this isn't a teen vampire mid-life crisis with balloons novel?) The story we want to write is the story that's pulling and pushing us, like a child desperate for attention, and saying 'write me' (which is the same as 'right me').
Thanks for the post!
Absolutely spot on, David. This is what I've learned to use as my gauge. If an idea is poking and tugging at me, you can be damned sure I'm going to write it. You can also be damned sure it's the right decision.ReplyDelete
Trust your gut. It's always correct and never fails you.
You're absolutely right, Andrew.ReplyDelete
My response is: "and I will buy it!" period.
Thanks Jim. And my response is: "..and I hope you enjoy it!" ;)Delete