I am very pleased to welcome Joanne Kennedy back to the blog as she announces the release of her newest book, Cowboy Crazy.
Joanne celebrates Wyoming’s unique blend of past and present in contemporary Western novels with traditional ranch settings. Her books include Cowboy Crazy, Tall, Dark and Cowboy, Cowboy Fever, and the RITA nominated One Fine Cowboy. She lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming with two dogs and a fighter pilot. The dogs are relatively well-behaved.
Your Public, Your Self: Writing to Trends by Joanne Kennedy
How many times have you heard this kind of speculation at a writing conference? Writers talk about trends the way old men talk about the weather. Everyone’s trying to figure out which subgenres are selling and which ones are in a slump.
But should you tailor your writing to fit the market?
British literary critic Cyril Connelly didn’t think so. “Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for your public and have no self,” he said. Cyril might have been a little on the stuffy side, but many writers agree that you should write the book of your heart rather than “selling out” to commercialism.
But it’s hard to reach readers if the book of your heart is a literary tragedy set in 4th-century Estonia featuring a bisexual raccoon. I mean, everybody knows raccoon books don’t sell, and nobody’s typing “Estonia” into the Amazon search box. So should you change your novel to reflect the market?
Take another look at your story. Would your raccoon could be equally at home in another place and time? It’s heartbreaking to ditch all the carefully-researched details about your obscure setting, but it’s even more heartbreaking to see that unsold manuscript gathering dust under the bed.
If the setting’s set in stone, maybe you could tweak your hero to make him more compelling. Raccoons are cute from a distance, but we all know they’re actually skulking nocturnal scavengers who prey on other people’s garbage. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to write about a wolverine? You could ride Hugh Jackman’s furry coattails. And think of all the potential for conflict in that rage-driven personality!
Changing your work to make it more popular might sound crass and commercial, but if writing to trends is selling your soul, my soul is definitely for sale. Cheap.
It’s not about the money; it’s about readers. Writing is all about communication, and I don’t feel my books are successful unless they get read. Without readers, a novel is just words on a page.
When I first started writing, I was obsessed with farming. I’d raised chickens and horses in Pennsylvania, and I wanted to put my experiences in a book. Let me tell you, rural romance isn’t exactly a thriving sub-genre.
As my story developed, the setting mattered less and less. The heart of the story was the characters, the theme, and the tone. Everything else was negotiable. So my farmer became a cowboy, and I changed a lot of details in the book to reflect a Western sensibility.
I don’t feel like I sold my soul at all. I feel like I found my niche. As I immersed myself in the world of the West I discovered that it’s a great place to set a story, and the setting drew readers who otherwise would have passed the story by.
So take a look at that unsold manuscript from a reader’s point of view. Maybe a few small changes will help you reach your audience and find success. Yes, you should write the book of your heart—but keep your heart open and you’ll be more likely to touch the hearts of readers.
It’s not selling your soul; it’s widening your horizons. And more importantly, think of it as reaching readers with a story they want to hear.
What’s your subgenre? Would you change your story to make it more salable?
Thanks so much for being my guest blogger today, Joanne. I've started reading Tall, Dark and Cowboy and wondering why I haven't picked up Western romance novels to read before this, especially considering how much I love cowboy movies, cowboy music, and...well...cowboys.
Joanne loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website.