A couple months ago I decided to stop worrying about the size of the audience for my fiction. They are my tribe and I love them, and that’s it. They don’t have to pay the bills.
What a liberating decision that was. It sent my happiness meter soaring, both with respect to my fiction writing AND to the work that pays the bills. (I am an editor for ecology journals, also for journals specializing in the business aspects of healthcare.)
I do believe in writing to the market, although I don’t think that the best way to do it is to try to figure out readers what want and then give it to them. A better way is to use every trick you know to bend a reader to your will. Any writer worthy of her word processing software has a workshop of tools to grab and hold a reader’s attention. Using them isn’t rocket science.
Shirley Jackson believed in tricks, as she stated in a lecture called “Garlic in Fiction.” You can read it in the new collection Let Me Tell You.
Her advice applies to pros and amateurs writing in all genres. It is applicable if your tribe is ten or ten thousand:
Picture this creature, this clod, this reader, as lying comfortably in a hammock, yawning and easily distracted, a glass of iced tea by his side, half a dozen light novels and a magazine or two right where he can reach them, a portable television set well within his vision, the sun shining lazily and a golden sleepy haze surrounding him. Now ask him to select a story—a story slaved over and polished, edited and refined and perfected with infinite labor—and ask him to lie there and read. Dirty fighting is only half of it—any possible trick must be well within the rule for the writer.
Now, this unspeakable boor in his hammock may be a genuinely serious reader; he may fully intend to read the story in his hand, but it is much, much easier for any given reader not to read any given story. … It is, of course, the writer’s job to reach out and grab the reader: If he is a reader who cannot endure a love story, it is the writer’s job, no more and no less, to make him read a love story and like it. Using any device that might possibly work, the writer has to snare the reader’s attention and keep it.
The Kindle cluttered with unread freebies and bargain books was unknown to Jackson. I wonder what she would have thought of it.
I will continue to learn storycraft, hang out with other writers and readers, and begin to read again. I will seek out new audiences as I place my stories here and there. I will always put pressure on myself to write the best I can.
Although I have withdrawn from the “big income= success” race, here are some races I still am in:
- The work-life-balance race.
- The growing-as-a-writer race.
- The my-tribe-isn’t-large-but-we’re-going-to-rock-it race.
- The vocational-work-is-worth-doing race.
- The creativity-is-there-to-be-used race.
Watch. Now that I am no longer focused on financial success, it will become inexplicably fond of me. I won’t complain.
An earlier post on this subject is “The Work of Your Life.” It centers around a little parable of creativity tucked into Evan S. Connell’s 1969 novel Mr. Bridge. Connell was a brilliant writer. It is happy news that he was a reasonably successful one, too, even achieving best-seller status with his nonfiction book about Custer, Son of the Morning Star.
It’s worth reading, not for my words but for his: