Monday, September 03, 2007

You Want Fries With That?

Over at FFF, Jill Myles asks: is cliché ever a writer’s friend? In this case, her point is that many the vampire writers on the list kind of have to play along to get along – in other words, it’s the cliché vampire that sells. Conversely, when an author proposes something truly original they run the risk of an editor or an agent rejecting them on the grounds of being “too weird.”

I remember many years ago at a science fiction convention being on a panel called “McFiction.” The question was basically the same, although we were looking at it from the point of view of readers and fans: do readers really want more of the same or do editors just assume they do?

I don’t really know the answer to this because I think it’s one of the big conundrums of the publishing industry. I can only offer contradictory anecdotal information. First, I wrote a book that I thought never would sell to a New York publishing house: it was a whacked out combination of cyberpunk, hardboiled, religious, and romantic elements. But it sold. And people bought it. Some people thought it was “original,” and, in fact, my agent used to pitch it as “weird, but compelling.”

Given that experience, I’ve always told my writing students not to worry about whether or not they thought they’re idea was “marketable.” I always say, “Write what you love, and let the editors decide what’s marketable or not.” I still stand by that.

However, when my editor for Archangel Protocol and I negotiated what I would write next (they’d bought a second book based on the fact that I was writing something at the time, but they hadn’t committed to that novel, “To Catch a Gene Thief.”) I pitched a whole lot of stand-alone novels, but at the end of my long, well-thought out note, I said, “Or I suppose I could write a sequel.” The immediate response was, “Yeah, do that.” Thus, my sense was that publishing houses WANT series. Certainly, when I changed genres my editor specifically asked for a multi-book series. It certainly seemed to me as though they wanted to be able to give the reader “more of the same.”

This can be very frustrating to a writer who wants to write new and innovative things every time. Readers at conventions, too, often lament the fact that they’d like to see something more than “McFiction.” Plus, when I consciously tried to play the market and proposed an urban fantasy police procedural to an editor recently, my agent got the rejection: “We’ve got too much like that already.” So it’s not true that publishers are ONLY on the look out for more of the same, no matter how glutted the market might seem right now with paranormal romances/urban fantasy.

So I don’t know. As a reader I want to eat my cake and have it too, because while I love stumbling across something I’ve never seen before, I also have to admit that when I find a book I love the very first thing I crave is more, more, more of the same.

What’s your take on it? As a reader do you want more of the same? What about as a writer?


Janice said...

I think I prefer standalones. If there is a book I love love love and I want more, I'm ok with another standalone by that author. Series are fine but they are a bigger commitment. If it takes 3 years to get to book 3 and I've been following the series, its hard to maintain that euporia of feeling of finding something great. Sometimes the book ends up going on the backburner of my TBR because I have to remember the rest of the series or I know after this book is yet another one. I think this is why some people wait for a series to end, then they buy ALL the books and read them at once. Plus.. I think I'm in the middle of about 30 series right now!

Anonymous said...

it’s the cliché vampire that sells

Which I don't understand -- because you talk to other writers and to a lot of readers and we're all sick of the same old, same old. Which is one of the reasons my vampires are so different. They're nothing like your usual vampires.

Thus, my sense was that publishing houses WANT series.

I hope so. I have four books in a series written (and a prequel short and a sideline novella).

It's when these types of things become formulaic that I start throwing fits. It's okay to write and to read the same old - as long as it's a different story each time. Know what I mean?

(not fully awake here and I'm not sure I'm being clear)

Kelly McCullough said...

I suspect there are as many answers to this as there are readers.

Kelly Swails said...

Yeah, Y, I think there is. My answer to this is, as it is with so many writing/reading questions: it depends. I like series. I like stand alones. I like series that pretend to be stand-alones.

As for doing something different every time, I think a good author to mention is Steven Brust. All of his Vlad Taltos books are obviously connected, but every one of them is done differently. Nearly all of them play with chapter format; one is in third person; if I remember correctly, I think one of them isn't even from Vlad's POV. I think that's a great example of doing a series but doing it your own way, baby. And I have to say it's one of the reasons I like them so much.