So, on Twitter an individual of the name of Tabebuia rosea said:
The best place to start is to admit that some fans’ attachment to styles of early SFF writers is deliberately hurting the genre’s growth.
What? What that boils down to is “How dare you like something I don’t think you should like.”
What some people like, what they’re “attached” to, hurts the genre’s growth?
I suggest that if the “growth” is in direction that people don’t like maybe it shouldn’t be “growing” in that direction.
Look, I’m the last person to suggest someone not write what they want, but here’s the thing: if you are going to disparage the reader’s taste–call it a “lack of sophistication” if you wish, or a lack of growth, or whatever the current “ist” is to disparage something, if you wish–then that’s fine. Write what you want. But then you’ve got no one but yourself to blame if readers choose not to part with their hard earned cash to buy the stuff you do write.
Nor do you have any legitimate complaint if someone does write what the reader wants to read.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have “message”, just that the message has to be wrapped in a story that people will want to read. Complaining about the readers is a fool’s game. You won’t convince the readers that “Oh, I was wrong. This boring, depressing tripe is actually great and I have to spend money on it. Just have to.” All the complaints in the world that the problem is them, that they’re “attached” to something else, will not sway them to your side. You’ll just convince them that you’re a pretentious douche that they want nothing to do with.
If you’re happy with that, then roll with it. I really don’t care.
But if you want to actually reach a readership, and get your message (if you have one) in front of people who might be swayed by it–which means people who don’t already agree with you–then you might consider seeing not what’s wrong with them but with what you’re doing “wrong.”
It might be worth taking a good hard look at people who consistently sell a lot of books to a lot of people. What are they doing differently from you? Try to figure out why their stories capture audiences and yours don’t. And avoid traps like just saying “they appeal to the least common denominator” or, as one wag crudely put it, “shit floats.”
I wouldn’t presume to tell you what those things might be. I’m still looking for them myself and looking for how to integrate them into the stories I want to tell.
But I can tell you that blaming the audience for having wrong taste is the wrong way to go about it.
No, not everybody is going to like your work. They don’t have to. Even wild best sellers only sell to a small fraction of the people out there. A large majority never buy them. So the fact that some people don’t like your books isn’t, generally, a problem. If, however, so many people don’t like your books that you feel the need to blame that on your lack of sales the the problem isn’t theirs, it’s yours.
There are two main aspects to selling your books. The first, hardest, and most important, is writing a book that enough people want to read to give you a sales base. The second is to make those people who are likely to like your book enough to want to pay you for it aware of it so they can pay you for it. But the first is most important and the better you do the first part, the easier will be the second.
Don’t ask me how. I’m still trying to figure that out.
Here’s one thing though. As a reader, I like to have heroes I can cheer for, and villains that I can boo and throw popcorn at (metaphorically speaking, of course. It’s been a long time since I threw actual popcorn at a screen villain). Take, for example, this example from one of my favorite televised Science Fiction series:
“By G’Quan I can’t recall the last time I was in a fight like that. No moral ambiguity. No hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. They were the bad guys, as you say. We were the good guys. And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor.”
No, I’m not saying everything, even most things, have to have that kind of clear cut good vs. bad. In fact, a lot of Babylon 5 was about the moral ambiguity and the major story arc was all about the (seemingly) hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. But they took the time to give us these moments, where we could smile at something the vast majority of viewers would see as good triumphing over evil. We had something to cheer. And that leavening of moments of cheer is what kept B5 from becoming a murky pit of gloom and “Gray goo”.
There are lots of such moments I could have used. “If you value your lives, be somewhere else”, “I am death incarnate, and the last living thing you are ever going to see”, “Can your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?” And on, and on, and on.
I have come to the conclusion that most people want hope. You can drag your characters through darkness and trial, but there needs to be hope. Not always of course (it’s never that simple) as the horror genre appears to function by stripping away hope, but in most instances you need hope and the idea that the character, through his or her own actions, creates their ending. You can certainly build powerful stories by playing against that–1984, for instance, is largely a story about the crushing of hope–but such things are generally best in small doses.
And well, at this point I’m rambling. So let me leave this reminder that if you want to get your story in front of people, and if you have a message before people who might be influence by it, you can’t spend your time complaining about the readers.
You need to figure out what you need to do differently to appeal to those readers.
Because the reader is what it’s all about.