So I’m writing something right now that could be called paranormal chick-lit messianic fiction, which I’m finding absolutely a kick to write. But, every time I talk about it, either I, or the other writer I’m talking to will say, “Yeah, but it’ll never sell.”
We’re probably right.
Am I going to let that stop me from writing it? Nah, luckily it’s too much fun. I could see me not pursuing this particular venture with the same amount of drive that I would something I know might sell or, obviously, which has already (as in under contract). But, it’s going to be my fall-back project for a while. That thing I diddle with when no one’s looking. Where I go off to play.
If I finish it, will the idea that it’ll never sell stop me from sending it out to market? It probably should, but it won’t. You know that rat that keeps pushing the button because sometimes food pellets come and sometimes they don’t? That’s me when it comes to writing. I’ve hit the jackpot by sending out a book that should never have sold. It was cyberpunk, when cyberpunk was supposed to be dead. It was religious fiction (but not enough to qualify for the Christian market) when Clinton was president. It was strongly romantic and somewhat too frivolous given its subject matter in a field that likes its SF hard and intense and manly. But, it was the first novel I sold.
Yet, it didn’t last. And so I also know what is to write to market, in a way. I don’t consider my newest career venture any kind of sell-out, because I’m writing the sort of thing I read. I couldn’t, for instance, actually write an “inspirational romance” (mainstream Christian, where the woman is “saved” by her man in two senses of that word). I wouldn’t be able to take it seriously long enough to finish it. I also couldn’t write a movie novelization -- which, admittedly, no one has ever offered me, but which is the kind of venture authors like to fantasize about. I wouldn’t say yes to a project like that because I’d never make deadline. I’ve found that the thing that fuels my writing is my own excitement about the subject, the characters, the theme… what have you. If I’m not into it, I can’t write.
So, like the pellet seeking rat, all I can do it write what I’m into and hope like hell there’s a market for it. I think one of the hardest parts of this business is that the answer is sometimes, “no, that’s too risky” or too weird or too whatever. Yet, the best part of this business is that sometimes you find the editor willing to take the risk on the weirdo (my agent actually used to pitch me to editors as “weird, but compelling.”) So, when students say to me, “Yeah, but it’ll never sell,” I always tell them that you never know, and you’re the one who has to sit on your butt for several months in a row writing the damn thing, at least you need to be into it. I once heard Patrick Nielson Hayden say that good books will eventually sell (to an editor.) At first, I thought he was off his rocker. I knew way too many people who hadn’t broken in yet, but I’ve come to believe that he’s right. There has to be a confluence of events – the right agent, the right editor, and, probably most importantly but the thing over which you have the least control, the right time. If it stokes your fire, it’s likely that it will interest someone else too. Maybe not a lot of someones, maybe not right now, but I believe that every story has a market somewhere.
Plus, it’s a bad idea to make these sorts of decisions for the editor. There’s a member of this group who I was standing next to when s/he was talking to Dr. Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog. He asked her/him for his/her next story, and s/he said, “Oh, but it isn’t really an Analog story.” Without missing a beat, Dr. Schmidt said, “I’ll be the judge of that.” The point is you don’t really know what will excite an editor until you send it to them. They may not be able to convince their marketing department you’re a good bet, but if they’re passionate enough about it, they might. You really never know. Anyway, those things are all other people’s decision. The only one we can really make is to write what turns our cranks.
And send it out.