Friday, April 7, 2017

Sometimes, the Muse Has to Wait.

Writing has its ups and downs. One month your book sales are soaring, the next they're crashing; sometimes people are clamoring for your writing, the next day you're sifting through rejection letters, and it's difficult to always know why. Lately, I've been on a hot streak (knock on wood!). My new Pride and Prejudice variation, Darcy's Awakening, is flying off the virtual shelves, and I've just been hired as a freelance feature writer for the Oregonian newspaper, the number one newspaper in Oregon.

A year ago, I couldn't sell a book to save my life. Rather, I should say, I seemed to have exhausted the audience, or at least my ability to reach it, for my time travel novels, which had sold well at the time of the release of each of the (so far) four books in the series. And though I had just been taken on to write a monthly column for a small local rag, it didn't pay. A writer friend of mine was having a lot of success with the Austen variation genre, basically a very popular form of fanfiction, and she suggested I try my hand at it. We agreed that it would be a natural fit for me, especially if my stories were set in the Regency era (the time in which Austen wrote her books) because I have always been a real Austen buff, and my first time travel novel, The Time Baroness, was set in that time, so I already had a ton of research under my belt. Well, it definitely turned out to be the right move for me, because my first series of variations, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Me, A Battle of Wills, and A Maiden's Honor, sold remarkably well.
I was on a roll. Then I published Darcy's Awakening, and the roll turned into a landslide. In the meantime, the sales of my time travel books picked up a bit because fans found them through links in my Austen variation books - a win-win all around.  Another positive occurrence was that the county library system here in Portland accepted The Time Baroness into their e-book collection, and for the first time, one of my books could be borrowed from the library!

However, sometimes I struggle with the realities of being a writer, as opposed to the "dream." We all wish we could write the thing we're most passionate about, in my case, time travel, have our books become best sellers and live off the royalties for the rest of our lives. But what more often occurs, even among very famous writers, is that we find a genre that sells, learn to be passionate about it, and hopefully have some success there. Rare is the writer who puts their heart and soul into writing The Great American Novel, has it scooped up by a huge publisher, and finds it sitting at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for 20 weeks. Because, when you think about the writers that sell like crazy, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, P.D. James, Dan Brown...etc., etc., you can see they have one thing in common: super popular genres.

So what is the solution for we not so famous (yet) writers? I think it's clear. Find a genre that sells, which you also enjoy writing, and write to that market. Then, when you feel you have the financial freedom to write your passion, do it. As one writer friend expressed, "You have to earn the right to feed your muse." I think it's a good philosophy - kind of like paying your dues. I think about John Grisham who churned out one legal thriller after another, and then gave us the gorgeous, out-of-genre masterpiece, A Painted House. I'm not saying he didn't love writing his thrillers, but you could tell his heart was in A Painted House in a very special way - he was feeding his muse.

In the end, even though writing to a market may feel like selling out, really, it's building a fan base, and paying the bills while doing what you love.  No one can argue with that.