Saturday, June 17, 2006

Right from Your Heart?

R.L. Stine, author of almost 200 hundred books for children and the originator of the Goose Bumps series, is skeptical about how writers approach their job of writing for an audience. Here is what he says in an excerpt from an interview by Sharon Miller Cindrich that was published in the June 2006 issue of the WRITER magazine.

Advice: I hear other authors saying, “Write from your heart. Write what you feel.” That’s horrible. What a way to turn people away from writing. I’ve never written a single thing from my heart. I write to entertain people. I pick out an audience, and I learn about them and what they like, and I write the best book I can for them. You can make a really good living and have a lot of fun writing things for other people.

I just returned from a trip and had over fifty queries waiting for me (it was a weekend, after all). Much to my sadness, I had to reject all of them. Do you know why? I passed up going further with them because, as a reader, none appealed to me. Most had ideas that had already been done and the rest, those that had some idea appeal, were poorly presented.

So maybe there is something to what Mr. Stine is saying in the short paragraph above. Maybe you should stop writing what appeals to you or your critique group, who are, after all, writers too, and begin to write what appeals to readers. Readers are the ones who will ultimately determine whether you are a success or a failure as a commercial writer.

As a writer, you should determine what you want from your writing. Do you want to write from your heart and appeal to those readers who connect with that, or do you want to write as R.L. Stine does, with an audience in mind that dictates your product? Or do you want to do both? Most writers want to produce what is in their hearts and then find an audience for it, which you must realize is terribly difficult and doesn’t really fall neatly into a business model. How can it? Think about Leonardo da Vinci. Not as in the code stuff, but look at how he managed his career. He knew balance, and that was part of his genius and success. He knew what was necessary to be able to do what he really enjoyed and still make a living at it. What we see too often is writers who insist on writing what they want to write, and then expect there to be someone—a publisher or agent—who finds them an audience. This is backwards, and probably the basis of why there is so much confusion in this profession. We agree that you must do what makes you happy, but as we have said numerous times before, understand that it may not lead to publication. The writer who offeres audience appeal is the one who gets published.

When you write for an audience, you create an experience for them--not you--so you must write they want to read to be successful. Enjoying the experience of writing is fine, but just remember that, like any performer, you need to offer the audience something that it wants.


NL Gassert said...

“The writer who offeres audience appeal is the one who gets published.”

I agree. Writing and publishing is all about connecting with an audience. Like the movie industry, publishing is a “service” industry.

To make the road to publication more difficult, though, publishers are (sometimes) less in touch with audiences than authors.

I’m thinking about the success of Ellora’s Cave. There was obviously an audience there that felt neglected and/or underserved. I know from personal connections that some of Ellora’s authors traveled the traditional road, only to be told by agents/publishers that there wasn’t a market (yet).

Or Romentics, which started under similar circumstances: two authors knowing there was an unrealized audience out there.

I cannot remember the name of the British magazine I read in an airplane a few weeks ago, but in it a very interesting article dealt with the relatively new phenomenon of female authors writing erotic/gay fiction for a female audience, not the traditional male audience these books are marketed to.

Sometimes authors have an audience in mind that hasn’t been “discovered” yet.

DanStrohschein said...

It's also true that writers who create what they are passionate about should do that well.

A good storyteller should be able to take anything and create a story from it. When a publisher says "Romantic Supernatural is hot right now - write me one of those" a good story teller should be able to do it.

So in instance, a good writer and a great story teller should be able to write passionately about anything in any genre.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I keep hearing from women over 40 who want to read books about their lives - they respond to the issues I'm writing about. But we still don't see a lot of variety out there for that age group - certainly not beyond the stereotypes. It's a huge marketing opportunity that still doesn't seem to be happening.

Larkspur said...

"But we still don't see a lot of variety out there for that age group...It's a huge marketing opportunity that still doesn't seem to be happening."

No offense, but this comment made me giggle just a little. What is "women's fiction" but books for women over 40? And it is EVERYWHERE! Perhaps it's because I am over 40 and like to read stuff that is not women's fictiony (?), but I can't seem to find anything but stories about relationships and that kind of thing. I don't want to read about my life; I want to escape from it for just a little bit. Reading about another career woman struggling to change diapers and make it to her meetings on time just hits too close to home, you know?

Anonymous said...

Larkspur - great comment. Please come over to my blog and take my survey. :)

Let me clarify - not stereotypical stories - but stories about women of a certain age not doing the stereotypical - those are the women I'm hearing from. There are definitely no diapers or hint of diapers for these women. :)

If the stories aren't stereotypical, you might find them more of an adventure.

spy scribbler said...

People tend to think of writing anything but a book only for oneself is "selling out." I don't understand this perspective.

I get a lot of fulfillment entertaining an audience and giving them a special experience. Showing them a new world, and persuading them to its wonder.

I sat in on a critique group the other week, and they were brainstorming for one member's plot problems. I was puzzled--they talked forever about what would work for the story, but never once did they ask themselves what the reader would expect. They never went on to ask themselves how they could surprise the reader.

Just a different way of writing, whatever works. I'm a reader-pleaser, I guess!

Bernita said...

The heroine of my paranormal romantic adventure is over forty!

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with most of what Danstrohschein mentioned, I find it difficult to believe a good writer and story teller should be able to write about anything in any genre.

I could write passionately about many things but there are more things that I could not write about let alone want to read. For example, the whole gay and jesbian genre is foriegn to me. I could not stomach even reading about two men or woman romantically involved let alone put pen to paper.

I do not have a problem with their life style, hey, that is there choice, but to anticipate being able to write about something that flabbergasts me, well, that is something I know I wouldn't be able to do.

Essentially, I think an author first has to figure what he or she knows, apply the audience to it, and then write based on that. I may be way off base, being a green author and all, but I think not.