Writing What Readers Want

Lord Grantham and his daughters

To piggy-back a bit on my post about self-publishing and perfectionism, wherein the kernel of the topic rests in the truth that writers write and readers read, I found Tasha’s comment about the Greeks and the concept of the Perfect Novel quite perceptive and thought-provoking. It provoked further rumination when I read today’s guest post on Kristen Lamb’s blog titled The First Step to a Quality Book. The guest post was written by a former Doubleday editor and to sum it up, Fishman declares “[e]xpectations are the context in which quality gets judged. That’s why giving the reader the content that she wants is the first step toward quality.”

This then put me in mind of a comment I left on Erin Satie’s blog last month, where she defended the presence of “rules” (or conventions) in romance writing. In response to her astute observation “I’d much rather follow a convention than toil away in isolation, if that’s the choice” (which is the lifelong war between art and commerce) I responded:

[It] takes a learned, a shrewd, and/or an experienced unpublished author to acknowledge this reality…It takes a while to get to a place where you’re not slavishly imitating published authors and you’re not writing completely unconventional novels, but where you recognize conventions, tropes, trends, and patterns, and can fine tune them to your own writing frequency. It does maintain the status quo, but you’re earning the right–-with readers and with publishers’ money!–-to fiddle with the buttons…[R]eaders will crave something similar to what they’ve last read and adored (“I want to read books with a red-headed hero” or “recommend some books with unrequited love”), but still want to be surprised. We can use that reader desire as the basic framework on which to build our own unique material, thereby producing more of the “same” but with a “fresh voice.”

Which then brings me to the reason for the Downton Abbey photo that prefaces this post. Many fans of the period drama are now seeking Downton read-alikes (h/t Sarah Johnson) and for a brief moment last year, I struggled with the notion of jumping on that bandwagon because *hand to forehead in dramatic fashion* I am not crassly commercial!! Then there was the whole issue of feeling that if I sold books that would appeal to Downton Abbey fans, it wasn’t because I was a good writer but because I tapped into a burgeoning trend.

Welcome to the complex world of my mind.

Yet, isn’t the whole upstairs/downstairs, aristocrats and housemaids, manor houses and country estates, et al, merely a trope or a convention in and of itself? There are a dozen or more ways to dress this basic scenario into something innately my own, and to traipse back to the Kristen Lamb guest post, I’m just giving readers what they want to read and love–which is my sole job as an author of commercial fiction, isn’t it? As I work on my Bledington Park trilogy and my WWI-set romances, I am being forced to think less of my own ego and more on what the book needs and how to woo and delight my future readers. And hand-in-hand is that old aforementioned war between art and commerce, which will probably never be solved.

Author: Evangeline Holland

Evangeline is a public historian who brings her academic skills to fiction, in order to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Her love for history permeates just about everything she does, going so far as to "suffer" for this love--as the bruises and stuck fingers from fencing and sewing costumes to understand life in the past firsthand can attest.

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