by Jeffrey J. Michael
In the “good ol’ days” writers would spend years, sometimes decades crafting a work, analyzing each phrase, agonizing over every word and then submitting to a publisher who would tell them everything that was wrong. The revision process would continue and eventually another masterpiece was made available to the discerning readers of the day. Take for instance the year 1961 which saw the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a veritable feast of exacting prose, pace, and editing which nourishes our literary souls to this day. Of course it also saw the publication of Harold Robbins, The Carpetbaggers, arguably the literary last-of-the-Halloween-candy.
Nourishing meal, or cavity bomb?
Today the world of writing and publishing is vastly different. E-Publishing has given many aspiring authors the opportunity to create a book and offer it for sale in a fashion that previous generations could never dream of. There is a veritable sub-genre feast available for potential readers. Unfortunately, what can happen all too often is that, instead of getting a full sit-down meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce, we may find ourselves left with the dregs from the Halloween candy bag. Not simply unnourishing, but also not good candy.
A writer who has written something that is not easily categorizable into standard genres like Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, or Literature can create their own category and, by the will of the algorithmic deities, even call their book a “Bestseller” in that hitherto unknown genre of Vampire-Romance-Russian Émigré-Space Alien Invasion-Chicago Fire-Magical Pony, based on a True-Story-Unauthorized Godfather Sequels.
Formerly known as…
We used to call these efforts FanFiction – strictly amateur stuff that appealed only to a small slice of the reading populace. The interest may have been wider than the sales figures indicated, but gaining awareness by potential consumers was problematic. Access was limited to specialized conventions that were directed at your specific audience, or grim, dim little adverts in the back of mimeographed fan magazines. Mostly it was Lieutenant Mary Sue on board the Enterprise saving Kirk and Spock from deadly space stuff with a questionable romantic interlude to conclude the story, but as time passed the field widened. In fact some of those original fanfic writers, after honing their craft, became legit in the field, gaining actual contracts and a paycheck.
Now with Amazonian Algorithms feeding data into the Grand Computer of the World, your target audience is waiting with bated digital breath to acquire a copy of the latest odd bit of literary mini-masterpiece as soon as your Black Beauty meets Flicka in Middle-Earth tribute to Jane Austen plus zombies hits the digital shelves. And, in the quirky turns of the populace’s interest and viral susceptibility, your semi-literate weirdness might become the next big thing, or at least sell a couple thousand more copies than the rest of the feast of candy that is being produced by the masses.
But is it good for you?
Arguably we, as Americans, have a history of ingesting things which may not be good for us. I’m looking at you, Spam. And I see you sneaking out of the room, Velveeta and Wonder Bread. Sure, an entire generation or two was raised on this over-processed and in perspective not so healthy fare, but we did not die. And we even went on to procreate and continue the diversity of life. All while watching Gilligan or Sister Bertrille with TV trays in front of us.
The thing is, if we only eat the well-prepared, bountiful feast all the time it can become commonplace. We may hunger for that massive meal, that sit-down-with-the-dysfunctional-family Thanksgiving banquet, but are we willing to put in the amount of effort it takes to prepare such traditionally festive fare? Or is a bite-sized Snickers Bar gonna satisfy ya?
In choosing what we will spend time with entertainment-wise, we live in a content rich society. It is diversity and choice that makes the selection/opportunity enjoyable.
Variety is the spice of life
Not every book can be a classic, nor would we want it to be. Occasionally it is fun to snack on lighter fare. To Kill a Mockingbird is great and provides us with much material for thought and emotion, but a nice little cozy mystery or Regency Romance can be completely satisfying.
As a writer you really are in a feast situation these days. You can write what you want and get it published quite quickly, but if you want to sell it you must know what your target audience desires. Or if they even exist. But is that what you want to do? Just toss off some Trope-ish formula wonk that slavishly follows the three-act structure and reads so predictably that your audience is speaking the next lines out loud before they turn the page? Or are you looking to craft something that is a bountiful harvest table full with candied vegetable dishes and freshly prepared large birds stuffed with seasoned breading all washed down with spiced apple cider and cinnamoned chocolate? And pies. Lots of pies with freshly whipped cream.
A snack or a feast, both are needed
Great art takes time. Just like a great meal. But most people don’t want to eat heavy every day. The question, “Is it good?” may not be the right one. “Is it good enough?” can be just as valuable.
Not aiming high with your writing? Not interested in the next epic Great American Novel coming from your keyboard? Do you just want to make a buck or two crafting a fun, lightweight tale? Perfectly acceptable motivation. Your writing doesn’t have to be haute cuisine to be heartily devoured or to become a Bestseller.
Still…Aim to satisfy
Before you throw your first draft up on the interwebs, it is still advisable to craft something with a level of quality. Good characters, unique plots (not necessarily believable, but entertaining), and fun or interesting settings will go a long way towards pleasing a reader who’s looking only to pass some time with the latest Steampunk-Jungle-Romance-Jo, Blair, Natalie, and Tootie vs. Dr. No, time-travel epic.
Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. His describes his book A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements. He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as The Mystical Histories. It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories. In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant. He does not like to talk about his award winning horror story. www.jeffreyjmichaels.com