Until fairly recently, I didn’t care about readers.
Wait, did I really say that? Reading it back, I can hardly believe it myself. My position was never really that straightforward. Or imprudent (impudent?). The more nuanced version might be something like:
When I began writing, I wrote only to please myself. I never wanted to compromise the passion I put into my stories by pandering to the marketplace.
Hmmm. I guess that version sounds slightly less imprudent. But now I sound haughty. Even a little holier-than-thou. I realize that considering the market doesn’t make one a panderer. Well, not necessarily, anyway.
In my defense, I came upon my… shall we call it an attitude?, early in my writing journey. And coming to it was indeed defensive. How could I take on a project so ambitious and actually think that anyone would ever want to read what was fast becoming a massive first story? It seemed like hubris. My solution? I was writing it just for me!
Looking back, I feel compelled to add another element to my defense. When I started (‘04-‘05), epic fantasy seemed to me to be the opposite of marketable. I didn’t know anyone then who read it, the LOTR and Harry Potter movies were recent phenomena (and were considered “for the kids” by most folks in my orbit), and we were still years from the coming juggernaut of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
How could I justify spending hours that turned to days that turned to months and years laboring at something in which no one seemed interested, within a genre that many in my life considered a juvenile diversion?
Even years later, as the genre began to grow, and I began to interface with it online, I kept encountering reasons my work wouldn’t sell. I kept hearing things like, “You’ve got to have a really good system of magic,” and “Old tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘The Boy Who Becomes a King’ are passé,” or “The hottest books in adult fantasy deconstruct the old genre of high fantasy.” How was I supposed to try to sell a book with no real system of magic; one that largely embraced the old tropes?
My answer: The marketplace doesn’t matter. It can’t, because I can’t see my place in it.
I’m guessing most of you are seeing the dilemma I was creating.
The Dilemma and an Evolution
If the marketplace didn’t matter, why bother trying to make my story better? In fact, why bother with any sort of revision at all? I mean, if you’re not going to sell, whom are you trying to better please?
The answer for me soon became obvious. [Read more…]