What Kind of Published Writer Do You Want To Be?

By this I mean, what types of books do you want to write for your career?

That’s why I threw the “published” into that question.  If you’re just writing for you and your friends and family you can pretty much write whatever you want to write.  Non-fiction, fiction, MG, YA, adult, thriller, SFF, contemporary romance.  Write anything and everything that sparks your interest.

But if you want to be a published writer and have an audience, then I think at some point you have to ask yourself what kind of writer you want to be.

That’s where I see a problem with chasing trends.  So, let’s say that an author wrote a great vampire novel after the success of Twilight.  And it really took off.  But their true passion was slow, gritty, day-in-the-life stories.

Guess what that author is going to be writing for the next five years or so?  Vampire novels.

Because that’s the audience they wrote for and the audience they attracted.

And, sure, it may generate money, but…eh.

I guess that also circles back to this idea of art vs. business.

If you’re in writing to make money, then you do a cold, hard market analysis and you write what readers want the most of.  (Likely romance novels or erotica.)  To hell with what you want to write, this is business.  And you want to position yourself where there’s constant demand.

Now, if you’re writing purely as an artist, you write anything that pleases you, audience be damned.

But somewhere in the middle is that sweet spot where you write things you enjoy and people actually buy them.

Trick is, you have to be careful with that first book.  Because, if it does well (and you certainly hope it does), your audience will expect more of the same.

Let’s say you have three ideas (like I do at the moment).  One is a fun little MG adventure, one is a gritty adult speculative fiction idea, and one is a non-fiction idea.

Which do you write?

Well, which can you write more of after the first book?

Which will you be willing to write for the next five to ten years?  (Or twenty or thirty?)

Is that world you’re creating or that character you created so interesting that you’d be willing to stay with them for more than one book?

Or, if you’re writing a standalone book, can you write something else that’s similar?

I’ve been thinking a lot about authors who write series.  Not three-book series, but never-ending series like J.D. Robb’s or Janet Evanovich’s.

On one hand I think they’re genius to do that.

I’ve lost count of the number of authors who lost me when they started a new series.  (The most recent one was one where I read the first book in the series and it was okay, but the magical system was a bit wonky for me and now the second book is such a behemoth that I can’t bring myself to buy it.)

So, if there’s an author out there who can stay with one set of characters and keep them interesting book after book, that’s a really nice, steady way to earn a living and keep an audience.

On the other hand, as a creator, that feels so limiting to write about the same people for years and years and years.

And you can see how it might be really hard to maintain the tension or keep the story engaging.  Just look at all the TV shows like that where they start doing ridiculous, outlandish things just to keep it going.  Think Bones, Supernatural, or Grey’s Anatomy, and then contrast that with Law & Order.

So, I’m sitting here thinking it’s time to start a new novel.  But I want this to be that first published novel.  Which means it needs to be the one that sets the tone for my career.

I really like the MG idea I have, but…am I really an MG writer?  Or am I going to want to take that story and have my character grow up over the next few books?  Well, no one is going to want me to do that are they?

(And, given what I’ve written to date, I suspect I’d have him grow up and it wouldn’t be pretty all the time…)

Writing an MG book could be fun.  But it could also be limiting.

I look at JK Rowling and I wonder how constrained she feels by her prior success.  And how much she was fighting in those last few HP books against growing her characters up too much.

(Yes, I know. To have her problems.  But think about being her not being envious of her.  Think about millions of people begging you to write something you don’t want to write and hating everything new you write because it’s not what they wanted you to write.)

Then again, do I want to spend years writing gritty, dark stories?

And can I write more than that one non-fiction book?

I feel like that kid who starts freshman year of college and takes ALL THE CLASSES and has no idea what they actually want to major in.

Or, like I actually did, starts out thinking they know exactly what they want to do but adds just a class or two on the side for fun and then suddenly finds themselves dropping that science major for psychology halfway through the year.

Perhaps I need to do the same thing I did in college–take time off, figure out what I really want from this, and come back with a renewed focus.

I may not have a choice in that anyway.  I suspect real life is going to kick my ass starting first quarter of next year.

Anyway.  Just something to think about for anyone thinking about making writing a career.  Start out in the direction you want to go for the next twenty years.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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7 Responses to What Kind of Published Writer Do You Want To Be?

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Or you could do what Iain Banks did and publish two streams using similar but distinct names.

    The people who read widely will pick up both, and people who prefer only one of the two can pick up only one.

    • M. H. Lee says:

      Good point. Although, right now my current ideas are so far apart that they’d be vastly different audiences and I’m not sure I can write novels fast enough to write for more than one.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        I was pitching it more as a response to your suggestion to “Start out in the direction you want to go for the next twenty years”, than at you specifically.

      • M. H. Lee says:

        Ah, gotcha. My bad. Yes, a good strategy for an author writing in two semi-related fields that could attract the same readers but need to be distinguished from one another.

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