As though to confirm the question-the-premise wisdom that I learned in Becca Syme’s workshop, I am now reading a book that breaks all the “rules” I’ve learned as a genre fiction writer.
This book was recommended by other writers on a blog I follow so, when I saw it at my local library, I quickly put in a request. It appeared on my shelf in no time, has a pretty cover, and a gardening theme. All things to make me happy and set me up to enjoy the story.
As I read the opening chapter, I was puzzled and then dismayed. The book did not contain any of the elements I’d been told a first chapter had to have. Then, following my initial reaction, I realized the book had many things to teach me about writing. I’m sharing five of those insights with you. .
- You may get a publisher. Jack Bickham says “Don’t describe sunsets.” The book I am currently reading spends pages and pages describing the countryside, the village, the cottage, the food and her car. None of the description moves the story forward. I’m skimming. Yet this author has a backlist of nineteen books, published by a major publishing house.
- It may make for a happier world. Getting characters into trouble and then making it worse is a standard “rule” of genre fiction. “Don’t duck trouble,” is the way Jack Bickham says it, but rejection letters are filled with variations on the same theme. Yet this book raises possible troubles, only to solve them in one conversation or by an act of Divine Intervention. No nightmares here. The author has sold over a million copies of her books and have been nominated for various awards.
- It may please your mother. My Bickham reference book has a chapter titled “Don’t worry about what your mother will say.” Yet this book is dedicated to the author’s mother, and she has millions of readers who adore her work.
- It may make you happier. Writing is hard work. Trying to write to someone else’s criteria makes it even harder. Judging by the many books I’ve read that don’t follow “the rules,” I’m convinced that an author’s individual voice and style is the key to creativity — and thence to commercial success. That sounds like blasphemy even in my own ears. You see, I’m a rule follower, so going against what the “experts” recommend is really scary. (Notice I used an adverb. Yikes!”)
It may increase your output. Before I knew the “rules” I wrote for fun and as a personal challenge. I couldn’t wait to get to the keyboard, and snuck in extra minutes during the day to add just a few more sentences. The resulting manuscript pleased me no end. And . . . it sold. I wrote that book quickly, by my standards, and I went around with a grin on my face and an “I’ve got a secret” vibe in my soul.
The statistics on book sales are discouraging to say the least. Of the millions of books published on Amazon and other self-publishing platforms, 90% sell less than 100 copies. Even with traditional publishers, 86% of published books sell less than 5000 copies, the break even point for the industry.
The aim of this blog is not to make you quit writing. My purpose is to encourage you to write your stories in a way that works best for you. With the dismal outlook on sales, it is vital to a writer’s mental health that she enjoy the process. If making a lot of sales is your only motivator, chances are pretty high that you will be disappointed. But, if writing for love, writing for fun, writing for intellectual challenge, writing because you’ve a story that must be told, then go for it. Write your story, your way and be glad. And, who knows, you may make it big.
P.S. The cat picture at the top of this post has nothing to do with the subject matter but she makes me happy so I’m sharing her image with you.