What happens when writers think, “I am the exception”?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
You all know certain publishing “rules” exist. Part of the reason you read blogs is to figure out those rules since no one has deigned to put them all together in one place. Not to mention that they’re unofficial, and while understood by industry professionals, not always articulated.
As with every industry, rogues exist who think they don’t need to follow the rules. Sometimes that works exceedingly well. Most times it results in the writer’s career being stunted. Not because the industry is punishing that writer but rather because the rules evolved as insiders observed what didn’t tend to work.
Even in today’s much more open market, where a writer can turn to indy publishing, the rules almost always still hold true.
Which leaves me with a furrowed brow whenever I see a rogue writer ignore the rules. Here are a few examples of how these individuals flaunt the don’t-try-this-at-home warnings:
I can write anything I want.
This is the classic “don’t box me in” mentality. I’ve been involved in publishing since the days of Noah (slight exaggeration), which has given me a long-view of a number of authors who insisted they would not be fenced in as they worked to develop their careers. To a person, they are very hard workers, and their output is mind-boggling, but their efforts are unfocused and look haphazard to the observer. Nonfiction, fiction, historical, contemporary, children’s books, adult books…some of these writers have a simple plan: Produce the next idea that appeals to them. Despite their hard work, their careers muddle along. That’s because, when the writer has no focus, the reader doesn’t become a fan. How can I look forward to the next Civil War novel from that author when the next five books have no connection to the Civil War? I can’t anticipate what the next release will be because it might be a nonfiction book on parenting teens or a children’s Bible.
How does that person define him or herself online? Most of these authors try to be everything to everyone on their websites, which are dizzying affairs to visit. The same goes for their social media. They have to create Twitter and Facebook offerings to an array of audiences, which means their output must be mammoth to create sufficient offerings to eventually appeal to every reader-base. They generally write numerous blogs to focus each on a core audience.
Some of these multi-faceted authors are making a living, but it’s through the sheer volume of what they publish. You can succeed only by offering a firehose onslaught of books because you have so many audiences to serve. No sweet-sounding trickle from a fount of fiction for this author.
As I consider this I’m-the-exception mode, I find myself pondering what that person’s career would look like if that energy and creativity were focused. A Karen-Kingsbury kind of focus. When you can write as fast and as passionately as Karen and create books for one audience…well, the sky’s the limit.
I can create genre-bending books.
Most readers don’t realize this, but they come to a book, be it fiction or nonfiction, wanting to know what category the books fits into. They ask themselves, before even deciding to buy a book, In what era does this novel take place? Is it sci fi? a romance? a book club type of read? Is this nonfiction book a memoir? self-help? biography?
Rogue writers find themselves bored with the tried-and-true. Why not combine a novel with a Bible study? Or alternate chapters between narrative nonfiction and didactic self-help?
While this Wild West mentality on how to construct a book can work once in a blue moon, for the most part the book’s schizophrenic construction serves only to confuse readers who can’t quite figure out what breed of book this is.
Readers innately understand certain boundaries that exist for books and need those boundaries to decide if they’ll buy a book let alone read it.
I don’t need to know my reader; I can just write what I like.
While writers do their best work when they write what they’re passionate about, if you truly want to develop a band of readers who are eager to dip into your next offering, you must understand what it is they loved about your last book. You’d be surprised how often, when I talk to established authors and ask them who their readers are, the writers respond by pausing and then saying, “I don’t really know.” Or making up an answer on the spot. I’m not advocating that a writer churn out lookalike books, one after the other. But if you don’t understand what elements are innately true of your writing that your readers connect with, how will you provide them with a satisfying reading experience with your next book?
Do you suspect you’re a rogue writer? In what way?
What rogue writers have you read? What did you like about their writing? What did you dislike?
What happens when writers think they’re the exception to the rules? Click to tweet.
Can rogue writers succeed in publishing? Click to tweet.