If you read any self-publishing magazines or blogs, you’ll come across dozens of columns on how to build your brand, use the latest marketing techniques, and approach your writing as a business. Anyone who is a business person first and an author second will decide what to write about based on their analysis of what the market is looking for. They will plan their marketing campaign early in the process, and spend thousands on pre-release publicity, on an audio version, and on a marketing firm that promises to put their book on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.
At the end of this process, however, you might find there are dozens of other books focusing on your exact topic—some may even share the same title. What will distinguish your book? Knowledge none of the others possess? Probably not. A unique perspective? Probably not. More passion for the topic? Probably not. Big sales? Probably not.
Is it over-simplifying to suggest that authors, as opposed to people in the business of writing, write what they must write and not what the market demands? Given the competition in the book field these days, how can your work stand out if it doesn’t come from deep inside you, if it’s not an expression of your core values and beliefs, if you don’t take as long as necessary to do a first class job?
I write about people who find themselves in a crisis not of their own making. Some have a choice. They can back away and try to forget about the man they believe murdered two and possibly three women as retired police detective Jack Barnes might have in In the Game. After all he’s in poor health and shouldn’t be running about trying to solve closed cases.
Some of my protagonists don’t have a choice. While in prison in far-off Turkmenistan for a crime he didn’t not commit, Nick Grocchi in The Expendable Man, is diagnosed with a fatal case of Melanoma. When he is airlifted to the states to undergo a radical new treatment, he is given an opportunity to clear his name and restore his life. His choice is go against character and take a risk or accept what fate has dealt him.
After self-publishing five genre novels with one in the final stages of editing, I’m turning my hand to a different setting based on the same theme. Only this time the protagonists are young adults––aged 12 to 16, and they live in a pre-industrial fantasy world.
If I paid attention to what the experts say about starting any novel, I’d begin with an action scene to grab readers in by the ears and stick their nose in it, saying, “See this is going to be a wild and messy ride, and you may not be able to follow it until the mid point in the novel.”
But I’m going against the business approach. I’m starting where the story begins with the precipitating incident that changes the lives of the protagonists and, even though there’s no action in the first chapter, or a protagonist doing something extraordinary, or emotional first chapter ending, readers need to know what’s at stake in this world
I’m writing the story my heart tells me to write. If that’s not good enough for the market place—i.e., the reading public, no amount of business technique is going to overcome that. Are you an author––someone driven by a passion to share your stories with others––or a writer who puts making sales first? I’m not condemning the latter. I just think writers ought to know who they are and whether they’re writers or authors.