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How Important Is It to Write About [Vampires]?

WritersdontcryDo you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to: me “at” susanjmorris “dot” com.

 

Dear Susan,

I read your post in response to the question concerning the importance of genre. When writing nonfiction, a memoir to be precise, how critical is the author's celebrity and platform to the success of the work? Without platform or celebrity, is the project worth the effort? 

Thanks,
Chuck

Hi Chuck,

I’m glad you saw my column! And thanks so much for sending in the question. Though, I’m going to take it and stretch it out a bit, since this column is focused on fantasy and science fiction, and fantasy memoires have yet to prove numerous enough to birth a genre (Darth Vader: Behind the Mask!). So I’m going to take your question to be: how important is a topic’s popularity to the success of the work, and without a popular topic, is the project worth the effort? (And to translate into fantasy terms: how important is [writing about vampires] to the success of the work, and without [writing about vampires], is the project worth the effort?)

To answer this revised question, I’m going to attack it from three angles: the impact of a topic on the marketability of a book, what makes a book something I want to read, and figuring out what makes a book “worth it” for you as an individual. Each piece should help to answer the question in a slightly different way, and by the end, between them, hopefully you’ll be able to come to your own conclusions.

Best,
Susan

Writing About [Vampires]

Oh man. I know it can get frustrating when it seems like the market is blowing up for books that you just don’t want to write. Sometimes, it can be tempting to think that if you just wrote about [vampires], or whatever’s popular at the moment, you could for sure sell your book, since people are clearly snapping them up like cakepops. And there may be something to that! When I was a kid, there was one unicorn book in the whole elementary school’s library. I really wanted another book on unicorns. I would have probably read any book on unicorns. But tragically, there were no other books on unicorns. So you totally could have monopolized my market, right there.

But, that being said. Aside from the complete absence of product in a market that really wants a book on a topic (and that topic will never be [vampires], as if you’ve heard of a topic blowing up, it’s, well, blown up already), this isn’t really a viable strategy. For one thing, everyone is thinking the same thing you are. Everyone is trying to get on that [vampire] bandwagon. Which means that bandwagon is full to bursting with fangy fiction, and there’s likely not room for half of those on it, let alone the others that want to hitch a ride.

Which sucks if you happen to be really passionate about [vampires] and have an epic you’ve been working on for like six hundred years that is finally ready to send out. Though, I have to maintain hope that if something is really good, publishers will still try to find a home for it. Or, you know, ask you to change those [vampires] to [angels] (they’re the next big thing!) (Kidding! Kidding. Mostly.).

So, the bottom, probably annoying line is (as far as I'm concerned, anyway): write what you love, because you’re probably going to write it better than what you hate.

What Makes a Book “Worth It”

So, getting past the topic itself, what makes a book good? Or, “worth it,” rather, meaning what will make other people want to read it, as “good” is such a loaded word. I assume this varies a bit from person to person, but for me, I tend to love a book that has at least two of the following four qualities:

  1. It is beautifully written.
  2. It has a gripping plot.
  3. It has characters in which I’m really invested.
  4. It is about a topic in which I’m really interested.

Granted, I would hope it has all four! That’s a book I won’t easily put down. And the more it has, the stronger the book. See, each of these pieces has something in it that pulls a reader in—and the absence of too many pieces becomes something that pushes the reader out. If there’s a book about unicorns, but it has a boring plot, is poorly written, and I’m not interested in any of the characters, I’m still probably not going to read that book. But if a book is about unicorns—and it's beautifully written—then I'll probably enjoy it, even if it has a thin plot and snooze-worthy characters.

So, the most basic answer to your question is: even if your topic is not popular, if you write it beautifully and fit it with a gripping plot and scintillating characters, I will still want to read it (and I assume other people will too). And this goes for memoires, too: if a memoire is beautifully written about an interesting, if unknown person, undergoing remarkable events, I will still want to read it. For example, I haven’t read Her yet, but I’m very interested based on this Omnivoracious interview—and I don’t think she started out as a celebrity with a huge platform!

Why Are You Writing?

But, of course, the question central to figuring out whether it is “worth it” or not isn’t whether it would be good by my standards, or even whether it would be marketable. Whether it’s worth it or not is solely based on whether it meets and addresses your goals as a writer.

So, I’d take a moment, and really think, honestly: Why are you writing? What do you hope to achieve, and what would constitute failure? And most importantly, what do you need to get out of writing to make it something worth your investment? These are questions only you can answer. Here are some examples, just to get you thinking:

  1. Are you writing for yourself, or for others? Would you be happy if you never sold your book to anyone, or would you not be satisfied unless you hit the New York Times bestseller list? Or somewhere in between?
  2. Are you writing for recognition, or for fulfillment? Does it matter to you if critics think highly of your book, if you are ever invited onto Oprah, or if you ever win any awards? Would you be okay if your book released, and it did all right and had its fans, but never got you fame or fortune?
  3. Do you need to earn money for your writing, or is it a labor of love? Is it your day job, or does it help make ends meet?  Or would you only be satisfied investing the effort if it pays better the cost of the coffee you drank to write it?

Be straight with yourself: why do you want to do this project?

Writing Is Worth It

Even if your writing sucks, even if you never sell the book you’re working on now, so long as you enjoy it (when you’re not busy railing against writer’s block, slippery plot holes, and unruly characters, of course), it was not time wasted. Every page you write hones your skills and makes your next book that much better. So, at least in my mind, the answer to your question is: of course it is worth it. Because if you want to write it, that’s all you need to know.

*

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Susan, Your response to my question was extremely helpful. I never thought about writing in those terms. Why did I write the question? Answer: Years ago a literary agent wrote me a response on a rejected query letter to the effect, "Without celebrity and platform forget writing your story." So, I forgot about it until recently when I patched some chapters together from my files. I wrote it and it's on Amazon now. My answers to the summary questions: 1) Writing for both; mostly for self - "somewhere in between." 2) Critics opinions are important -- that's why they're critics. "School homework" took me out of a life similar to a Dickens novel. It might help others along their ways in life. 3) Coffee is expensive. Charles Frankhauser

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