then I’m fairly confident I will never be a commercial success.
A recent trip to the bookstore had me browsing titles in my favorite genres and I noted how all the covers began to blend together. I feel the same about movie posters. They all look the same. And of course, the “experts” say that if I, as an indie – self-published author want to run with these “big dogs” then I too need to look like they look. Hmph.
These same “experts” tell me I should read a variety of fiction in my genre so that I understand what works – what it was in the crafting of these stories that made them appealing enough for all involved (agent, publisher, book seller, and book buyer) to throw down the dollars. So okay, I’ve done that. I’ve read countless stories where the male lead and the female lead meet and don’t like each other at first, but then through whatever circumstances find themselves “thrust” together often enough that they inevitably fall in love. OR – the female lead finds herself in a dead-end whatever (job, relationship, life…) and along comes the ‘hero’ to save her from her circumstances. Uh huh. While I can appreciate that those are the types of stories that most often get published, I must happily confess, I don’t write those kinds of stories. I’m sure I could, but writing to fit the mold is not who I am as a writer – hell, it’s not who am I as a HUMAN, lol. I’ve spent my whole life doing things outside the “norm”. Which may be the clearest sign of all that I am destined for a life without commercial success.
Let’s Talk Story for a Minute.
I understand that a GOOD story, a solid piece of literary fiction has to make very good use of the basic structures of story: inciting incident, rising complications, climax, resolution. Got it, understood. Add to that an author’s ability to write well structured sentences, convey settings with great detail, build characters that come across as real, that have depth, and dimension and you have a piece of writing guaranteed to appeal to readers, right? So how do you explain those less than shining examples of “literature” (50 Shades, I’m looking at you) that were widely panned by those in the writing community, but are commercial successes? How does that happen? What is it that propels those particular novels to such highs? What also gets me is how you can have the one break out book (Harry Potter / Twilight / The Hunger Games) that then sets the standard for how such novels are supposed to be written. From the break-out novel release date on, any manuscript in that genre must have the same key elements and follow the same basic formula.
Do You Have the Secret Formula?
Formulas tend to be set based on what sold well before. When the first “reality tv” show hit the airwaves, it was a ground breaker. The idea of being able to see “behind the curtain” so to speak, of people’s lives was the new guilty pleasure. Since then, you can’t turn on a network and not find some “reality-tv” type show. Add to that the discovery that certain types of situations and “characters” garner the most ratings, and you get multiple versions of the same formula – real housewives, real women who want to marry a millionaire, real women who want to be models, real men who want to be UFC stars, real people who want to eat bugs and prove they can survive in the wilderness…you get the picture. And just so you know, those shows aren’t really “reality”, quite a few of them are loosely scripted, the situations manufactured and the final product is heavily edited so as to tell the “right” story.
The same happens with books. If you want to be published in a specific genre, there are formulas you have to adhere to just to get in the door. For example – are you writing a romance novel you’d like to get published? To get a manuscript in front of the folks at Harlequin, one of the world’s leading romance publishers, you’ll need to figure out what type of romance you’re writing because Harlequin publishes a few varieties. In case you didn’t bother clicking the link there, I’ll tell you, they list 26 different types. 26!! And each one comes with its own guidelines / formulas your story must follow just to be considered acceptable for submission.
Formulas Aside, What About those Stereotypes?
I’m stuck as to how to best convey what I mean about the stereotypes. There are just so many that are inherent to specific genres of work that I’m unable to sum them up into just a paragraph or two. An easy one to pick on though is the genre known these days as “Urban Fiction” – which is as stereotyped a marketing deal as they come; pick up any book in this genre and you’ll see what I mean. If it’s “urban” then most if not all of the characters are going to be African-American; there’s going to be some gold diggin’, some drug dealin’, and a whole lot of B***es. I’ve read a scant few books that fall into the “urban fiction” category. Let’s just say I haven’t found one that stood out from the pack yet. Not even those with a supernatural twist. Apparently even vampires, if they’re of darker skin, have no better way to earn a living than by dealing drugs and running in street gang like packs. Sigh.
Blogger Romance4thebeach wrote this post regarding some formulas / stereotypes she’s come across in her reading of romance novels. I’m sure there are more out there, but here’s a couple she noticed. 🙂
Which Brings Me Back to….
I will never be a commercial success if that’s what it’s going to take to get my work noticed beyond my current circle of friends and family. I write characters that represent the people in my (head) life and the types of situations I grew up in. None of those really fit into any specific stereotype or genre. I’d have to do EXTENSIVE rewrites for that to happen.
So yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m doomed to write in obscurity until I die.