Who You Gonna Call? Writing Myths Busters!

Over the past few days, I’ve come across several items of received wisdom about authors and writing which made me cock my head to one side and wonder… I can’t claim to be an expert in publishing, but I’m an obsessive reader. So all I can do is give my slightly-keener-than-average reader opinion on writing myths which might be holding some potential writers back or causing publishers to underestimate the markets for a certain type of work.

Productivity is expected.

Photo credit: Robert Bye on Unsplash.

Gillian McAllister, a respected crime fiction author, asked recently on Twitter: ‘I’m thinking a lot about longevity of writing careers and those authors who have amazing staying power at the moment. And so here’s a question to you, readers of twitter: if you’ve stopped reading an author, why? And on the contrary, if you’ve stuck by an author, why?’

There were some excellent responses to this question (you can catch the thread on Twitter), but my honest reaction was that if they start producing at a rate of 1-2 books a year, I feel I cannot keep up anymore. I read between 120-150 books a year, but I also want to discover new authors, read widely, participate in challenges etc. So I’m far from waiting hungrily for the next book in the series. This has happened even with favourite authors such as Ian Rankin, Nicci French, Andrea Camilleri. I am always glad to see a new book by them and will usually add it quickly to my TBR pile (at least mentally), but I may leave them to dangle there for months or even years. I just don’t have the time to be quite so committed to a single author, and it’s getting worse with old age, unless I’m writing a dissertation (or feature article) on them. So perhaps less is more, contrary to what publishers seem to think. And may give the author a much-needed break to invent to replenish the well and invent new things.

Reliable vs. surprising.

Photo credit: Yvonne Lee Harijanto, Unsplash.

I call it ‘comfort food reading’ – those days when you want to revert to an author whose stories you almost always like, because they follow a predictable pattern. But it doesn’t quite satisfy your hunger. Once you’ve wolfed down these books, not much of it stays in your mind. Formulaic can certainly wear thin after a while. I am changing and developing all the time (or I like to think I am) and the authors I enjoy most always seem to grow and develop as well. Perhaps not always in the same direction as me, but in ways which will surprise me. And one direction which we will always have in common: we are all getting older. Louise Penny understands this well, and I’m always willing to follow her blend of the expected (the village of Three Pines) and the unexpected (books that are more about art and grief and belief than about crime).

So please, publishers, allow your authors to experiment, play with genres, take a break from a series, even fail on occasion. Yes, the sales might go down a bit, but who knows, they might also gain the respect of new readers!

It’s tough out there for white male authors right now. 

This is partly in reaction to the recent article in Quillette (a publication that seems to delight in stirring up controversy and boasts about its increased readership as a result of this article) in which a soon-to-be-published white male author complains just how difficult it is to be published right now if you are … you guessed it, white and male. He claims that political correctness, left-wing liberalism and diversity have gone too far, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary, demonstrating that publishing is still not as diverse as it could and should be. Both racism and inflated egos are at work here.

I’ve organised agent and editor meetings for writing groups and have seen first-hand the breathtaking self-confidence of the mediocre writer who does NOT agree with the agent’s opinion of their work. I’ve not seen many flaunting their sense of entitlement quite so blatantly and quoting from their own (clunky) work without any sense of irony. However, I’ve heard others moaning that all the literary prizes are going to the outsiders right now, that you don’t stand a chance if you’re mainstream (by which they mean white and male, in most cases). You know what? That is fine with me! After centuries of dominance by the same old, same old, don’t you think it’s time for others to shine? It’s not like their work is of inferior quality (yes, I know that’s what those complaints are getting at, but it’s simply not true).

11 thoughts on “Who You Gonna Call? Writing Myths Busters!”

  1. I’m especially interested in your thoughts on productivity, and the Twitter thread.

    If I discover an author I really like and they have a big backlist I will go back and binge (and feel frustrated if I have to wait for the next one). Having said that, I do often move on, sometimes because I feel the quality has slipped, or the author isn’t saying anything new, but sometimes just because my interests have changed.

    I also wonder if publishers have a point, even though we might rail against formulaic blurbs and identikit covers. Book bloggers probably aren’t typical because we both read more and read more widely. We’re also more likely to be informed about what’s out there, while most readers reach for what they know or what looks similar to books they’ve enjoyed before. I certainly see this in the readers I know in ‘real’ life.

    1. I used to do a lot more of the binging when I was younger (and reading more in one single genre, namely crime fiction). I find that much harder to do nowadays. But point taken that book bloggers are not typical readers, although they probably account for half of the sales!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Marina Sofia. I couldn’t possibly agree more with your points. As I think about my own writing, I completely see what you mean about blending in the innovative with the expected. And as for productivity, it just doesn’t happen the way the myths say it should (I’m struggling with that myself as I try to balance ‘it all.’). You’ve given us a lot to think about, and I’m grateful.

    1. It probably is just as much fun for the author as for the reader to try something new and keep things fresh and interesting! I compare it to when I cook: I’d get bored if I had to recreate the same dishes over and over. But sometimes I am secretly relieved that I have that fall-back option!

  3. Really interesting post, Marina, and I’m with you about the productivity thing. I’ve jumped ship in the past when it becomes too difficult to keep up with the amount of books an author produces, but this often seems to me to be in inverse proportion to the quality. It’s tricky – there are so many authors to explore that even if you love someone’s writing, you sometimes have to give their books a break for a while!

  4. I agree with all you say! Less is definitely more in my opinion and I’d far rather an author is less frequently published & really crafts their work, it will make me anticipate their next release.

    It must be hard for some publishers to let authors experiment when they’ve got a formula that works & brings in the money, but as a reader I’d far rather writers try something new.

    Spare me from white men boo-hooing that theirs isn’t the unchallenged dominant voice anymore 😀

    1. However, I suppose it takes all kinds of readers, and some do prefer the ‘devil they know’. I just hope independent publishers, who cater for more varied tastes, survive and thrive!

  5. Completely in synch with you re the question of productivity. If they are producing one a year I do end up questioning the quality. I’m reading Louise Penny’s latest right now and am wondering how much further she can go with this series. I love the Three Pines community but surely there comes a point where Gamache cannot find his career/personal safety threatened yet again….

  6. Interesting post. Oh, I do feel so sorry for all those suffering white males!
    I think your parallel of the favorite old dish is right on. One reason why I will read 20 book in a series by one of my favorite authors is it is like an episode of Cheers! The cast is all familiar and that is comfy. But recently I picked up a book by a favorite author, with great expectations–she hadn’t written anything in a long time–and was disappointed–not despite all the familiar old characters being present, but because it was as if she had a check list and however negligible or even contrived the inclusion–Yes, there they were, all my old favorites. I suspect the publisher had something to do with that. A shame really–the plot and the writing were spot on.

  7. Really interesting. I used to read Ian Rankin but at a certain point I stopped because I got bored. It wasn’t that the books weren’t well crafted. He’s a very good writer it had more to do with his main character stagnating emotionally. I couldn’t stand another scene with Rebus falling asleep in his chair surrounded by records. I know there are times in life when we do stagnate but… part of that problem is that bestselling series don’t lend themselves to intense character development because the worry is that if the character changes too much what will the readers think, so it’s safer to keep the character sort of the same, just plodding on. Actually I really like his first ones where Rebus’ emotions are much more intense and febrile and there seemed to be more at stake. I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell for a different reason I simply found her books progressively more and more implausible. I think there was a time when Rankin did stop writing the Rebus books, so he did take a break from them but then returned. But God know’s what kinds of pressures writers come under who are bestsellers because they are rare birds. For example what does it do to Orion’s balance sheet if there isn’t a Rebus book out there one year. Those kinds of things we don’t get to hear about but would be interesting to know!

Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.