Wednesday, April 30, 2008

PPW conference part 3: write what you love?

Write what you love.

If there was one theme I took away from the conference, it was this. Published authors, editors, and agents alike kept exhorting attendees to write the books that are in them regardless of trends. Yet almost as often, I heard comments about market trends such as: pirates are overdone; YA is the hottest segment of the market--except when compared to graphic novels; multicultural is still in; and dogs that slobber and pass gas are a dime a dozen. And of course, if the first page doesn't hook the reader, the 300 other pages that follow will not be read.

So which is it? To pay attention to market realities or not? What if I want to write a pirate book that features a slobbering dog that takes more than one page to set up? Should I go with "the book that is in me" or should I kill the dog, or at least its slobber, and change the pirates to Karate teachers? Or maybe I should just write a multicultural YA graphic novel with no dogs in sight.

After I got past my initial indignant responses, I realized these wise people might not have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. If an agent has read 120 pirate stories that start with a prologue about maps and hidden treasures, the 121st will make her sick.If no editor wants to buy YA set between WWII and present day (WWII and before is considered historical but not post,) then the agent is going to be wary of a YA story set in 1969. If the public clamors for more graphic novels, editors are going to perk up when one such manuscript appears on their desk. If any one us: authors, agents, editors, publishers, booksellers, want to get our book out there, we'd better pay attention to what the public wants.

On the other hand, if we keep jumping on hot trends , we're forever going to be too late. I met a published author who was writing YA fantasy twenty years ago and was told repeatedly that YA fantasy wouldn't sell. Yet she persisted, and when Harry Potter burst into the scene, showing well-written YA fantasy would indeed sell, her books became much more valuable. She wasn't chasing a trend. She wrote what she had to write and trends caught up with her.

Writers have to constantly balance our physical needs and spiritual/emotional/mental needs. We need to pay for coffee and computers as much as we need to express whatever it is that needs to be heard, to be understood, to be shared. If I want to write only what I want, then I shouldn't be surprised if no one else wants to read it. I have to pay attention to what people read and what agents and editors want. But that awareness mustn't overshadow the original impulse to write.

Common sense, all of this. Nothing new. But the real reason I have to write what I love is this: getting published is so incredibly difficult that if I choose to invest myself, the motivation had better be able to sustain the efforts. At least that way if I don't get published, the actual work I will have written will not mock me when I'm on my death bed.

So I will try to tighten my first page, I will kill my darlings, I will listen to the people in the know about what sells and what doesn't. But the actual books I write will come from those restless, unformed ideas in my soul and the sparkles that go off in my head. Otherwise, writing goes from being impossibly hard to just plain impossible.

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