The Craft – Part Three: Careers
There’s an old saying in publishing that “it’s one thing to be published, it’s an entirely different ball game to stay published.” Writers must walk a tightrope between delivering more of what their fanbase loves and ensuring that each new book is different and original, all whilst navigating an ever changing tide of market trends. On top of this are writers’ own personal goals to evolve and perfect their style.
In this latest of a series of articles we continue to chat to four genre authors about their different approaches to their craft, and specifically how they approach their career as a writer.
I started off by asking whether they follow market trends.
“Market trends are largely irrelevant to me,” says Sam Sykes, author of the Aeon’s Gate series of novels for Gollancz. The Skybound Sea is the third book in the series, following on from Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo, and was released in September.
“You could make an argument, of course,” he continues, “suggesting that following trends is the best way to stay published, but I don’t know if I buy it. It’s certainly the best way to rocket to the top, but you’ll find that many authors who sought to blend in with a fad find themselves disposed of along with said fad.”
M.D. Lachlan agrees. His series of Viking themed werewolf novels from Gollancz, starting with Wolfsangel through to the recently released Lord of Slaughter, have enjoyed positive reviews.
“I pay no attention to market trends,” he says, “not out of any ideological purity but because it’s a mug’s game. Say, for instance, you decide post-apocalyptic is the flavour of the month and decide to write in that vein. It will take you anywhere between six months and several years to write. That alone will mean the trend may have passed by the time you come to send it to an agent. Then you get an agent, sell it and it goes to be published, which could take up to a year. The apocalypse could have happened for real by that time!”
Laura Lam’s debut novel, Pantomime, is due for release from Strange Chemistry in February 2013. It tells the story of Micah Grey as he runs away to join Ellada’s greatest circus, R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic.
“I don’t really pay attention to trends,” she says, “since at the end of the day, I think publishers will buy a book if it’s good, regardless of trends (which are so nebulous anyway), so my focus is on writing the best books I can and pushing myself to grow and learn more.”
“There is a wider point here that you will only produce good stuff if you believe in it,” says Lachlan. “The only way to be on trend is to make the trend, be ahead of it. All interesting artists stick to their own guns.”
If writers don’t follow market trends then, I ask, how do they hope to grow their fanbases?
“As I don’t have a book out,” says Lam, “currently my fanbase is mainly my mother, my husband, and my best friend, so I haven’t had to worry about changing direction just yet. My first two books will both feature the same protagonist, Micah Grey, and I have other ideas for books that would feature him as well. But I do plan to diversify and write books set in our world versus secondary, and experiment with writing adult fiction and different genres.”
“This isn’t too much of a problem for me,” says Lou Morgan, author of Blood and Feathers, recently released from Solaris. The book concerns a protagonist called Alice who finds herself in the middle of a war between angels and the fallen. The sequel, Rebellion, is due for release next summer.
“With Blood and Feathers just come out,” she says, “the only exposure to my writing people may have had is through the odd (emphasis on the ‘odd’, there) short story I’ve written. In terms of the future, though, any writer should only really work on what interests them: partly because it takes a while to write a book, so putting all that time and energy into something you hate is a bit masochistic (and, boy, will it show by the end) and partly because traditional publishing works with such a time delay that trends can easily come and go before a book gets anywhere near the bookshops.”
“There is also a market trend to hugely successful bad writing,” says Lachlan, “50 Shades Of Grey being case in point. I’d rather do what I do, which is to put heart and soul into making every single aspect of what I do original, well written and interesting than produce stuff I don’t believe in for money. Mind you, I’m not saying I could produce that stuff for money – I think that’s a weird sort of talent but one I don’t want.”
“What will stick with readers is an identity,” says Sykes, “a voice, a style; you establish these through going your own way, taking your time and telling the story you want to tell, not the one society wants you to tell.”
Check back next week for part four in our series: Revision.