Sunday, October 18, 2015

Telling or selling?

As writers, where would we be without the dramatic ultimatum that is the fork in the road? The damned if you do/damned if you don’t conundrum. I don’t simply mean for our characters and the development of their stories, but actually for us as writers, too.
My third published story was one I’ve mentioned here earlier,“The Three-Day Hump”. I wrote it more along the lines of literary erotica than with any awareness of capital-R Romance and its rules and restrictions. That was fine, and had been my intention from the moment of conception. I wrote the story with the development and ending I felt was truly justified for those characters. It was not a happy book, and though it was romantic in its own way, it was a long way from being a Romance. It could be argued the ending was happy, too, even though the characters went their separate ways.
It’s a decision a lot of us have to make between the “damn, that would make a great story” moment and the final pushing of the launch button, whether that be by the author’s finger or the publisher’s. Are we intent on telling a story, or selling a story? Ideally, we’d do both. Every single time. Reality is, of course, a much harsher mistress. (And I know, we should really be showing a story, not telling it! Heh.)
My book sank, as these things do far more often than we’d like. There are many reasons for that, not least of which is I’m still vastly unknown right now, let alone back in 2009, before I was even officially a cover artist. My marketing and promo skills are as near as anything to non-existent.
I still feel there is a lot of good writing in that story (not that we can trust the neutrality of my judgement, of course). I still intend to spruce it up and get it back out there.
My particular fork in the road involves how to treat the story when I rejig it. Do I keep the blend of antagonism and obsession between the heroine and hero, which really was the engine of the story as it was? Do I bow to economic ambition and make the characters soul mates who get their HEA?
To be clear, I have unashamedly been chasing success as a writer for nigh on ten years. I don’t necessarily mean NYT Bestseller status and squillions of dollars. I don’t pretend I’d hate it if those things came my way, either. I’d like to look at every story I publish and feel as though I’ve done it justice. That would be a lovely feeling of success.
So far, my methods and discipline have been poor, including (but not limited to) procrastination of a near Douglas Adams-esque scale. Distractions abound, and a great deal of them are actually quite important. Every one of those distractions is indeed its own little fork in its own little road. Writing is not heavy lifting but by golly it’s hard to do.

So I suppose my road-fork with “The Three-Day Hump” is a metaphor for my writing as a whole. Which road shall I take from here? And the most important question… is there a way to bring those two paths together?

10 comments:

  1. Dearest Willsin,

    I loved Three Day Hump. I loved it from title to ending and I don't think that it needs rewriting. I understand the desire to rewrite something until it's >right< for the market and I'm here to tell you that it can't really be done. I rewrote In Her Closet for the market and while more people are reading it than ever, I am still making zero dollars. Most of the people reading it are people who win it in contests or received ARC copies through Novel Reviewers. The second book in the series is an abysmal failure. It has one "buyer beware" review on Amazon. Heh. Still I have this blind hope that keeps me writing this series.

    I think that uou have another book in you that is waiting to be written. I think that's why you've been procrastinating on the rewrite of Hump. I think if you give it a new cover and market the book it might get more traction than rewriting it would.

    These are just my opinions...
    Which are completely biased because I loved this book.
    Did I mention I loved this book?

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  2. Always a dilemma. You have to write the story that is true for you. But - hey - you've already done that. So your choice is now a) release it as is, risking another "sink" and damaging your emerging rep for the purveyor of strong and sensual romance (I don't think I'm alone in saying that just one non HEA would make me forever distrust that author) or b) change it so it has more chance of commercial success and won't adversely affect your growing reputation. Then there's c) Publish under a different name. Whoops - that will just repeat history, won't it? Then there's d) let it go. You wrote it. It's out there. At least one person loved it. Total honesty? I think you need to write to the expectation of your market. Of course, you choose your market. But probably most of your readers are like me: we don't like cliff hangers and we feel cheated if we don't have our HEA. Just my opinion of course. I hope you get many more comments with different ones.

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  3. Have you considered that your story could be just right in its first iteration? Many fine works don't bring financial success. Most, I'd venture to say. :>) That's always been the case, and unlikely to change. It's probably more what you suggest-- getting the word out to likely buyers.

    Perhaps write a capital-R romance that begins that way rather than adapting an already successful piece. Personally, I've had poor luck with those adaptations.

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  4. All very interesting points. I suppose Mary's raised one of the reasons I've left this thing skulking on my computer for around 2 years now, rather than re-publishing it... my brand has changed since I published The Three-Day Hump.
    Perhaps I should put the story back out, essentially as-is, but under a transparent pen name. "Willsin Rowe writing as Rowan Wills" or some such.

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  5. "Writing is not heavy lifting..." Not sure I agree, Willsin. It's not just the writing itself--we have to wrestle with all these dilemmas and self-doubts, too.

    First of all, stop measuring the quality of your writing by your sales. There is zero correlation between the two. Zero. FSOG should have taught us that, if nothing else. It's all too easy for us to think that our obscurity is the result of our own failings. The truth is both comforting and frustrating. 1) Lack of sales doesn't mean we write crap. 2) Nothing you can do--even twisting your writing in the direction you think will make it more "popular"--is going to guarantee success in the market.

    I can only speak for myself, but if I try to compel a story to move in some direction that it didn't originally want to go, the result feels forced and inauthentic. If you want to write a HEA romance, write a new story. Leave "The Three Day Hump" alone (at least as far as its fundamentals are concerned). You have to trust the intuitions that led you to write the story in a certain way the first time around.

    I have a notion that the authors who are successful writing particular sub-genres, whether M/M erotic romance, or BDSM erotic romance, or transgressive step-brother-loving hard core erotica, ENJOY writing that genre. That's what comes naturally, what turns them on or inspires them, and it shows in their stories. Readers don't necessarily respond to literary quality, but they can sense authenticity.

    Whatever else you can say about FSOG, it's clear that E.L. James was deeply involved in the story and the characters, before she saw the commercial potential. I believe that's one component of her success.

    So don't compromise authenticity believing it will help you in the market. It won't, imho.

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    1. I was intentionally being quite literal about the heavy lifting comment, though I must admit I did hesitate when writing it.
      I'm not sure I was ever questioning the quality of the writing based on sales. It isn't really my place to make a comparison, of course, but I've always been confident about the story itself.
      Thanks for all the comments, and I do believe I've decided to follow several of the suggestions here. I'm going to give it a spruce up to reflect the growth I've made as a writer, without altering the nature of the story itself. I'm going to rename it slightly. And I'm going to release it under a transparent pen name (the "Willsin Rowe writing as..." concept). Just to make it more of a branding exercise. Willsin writes curvy/BBW erotic romance. Whatever the new name will be... well, he does things a little darker and grittier.

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  6. I agree with the others that a story's gotta go where it wants to go. I've been sorry, though, to see several of my friends go the route of switching to a new pseudonym for their erotica, especially when they already have a considerable list of credits in the genre.

    I shouldn't complain, since I took a pseudonym the first time I sold erotica because I'd just published some children's stories and expected to do more (but I never did.) Now I've written some erotica,under my own name, too, so any possible cover has been blown, but I envy the much greater track record of my pseudonymous self.

    However, each writer knows their own work and audience best, so I'm in no position to give advice. And I have to admit that my complaint about the changes my friends have made has something to do with the fact that when they write stories for my anthologies under their new names, the anthology doesn't get the benefit of the name-recognition they already had. Selfish of me, I know, but there it is. Sigh.

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    1. I do understand what you're saying. I was thinking more of it being an open secret that Willsin Rowe writes under the name Dick Long (heehee... I promise it WON'T be that!) when he's doing grittier stuff. So as I say, kinda how Toyota formed Lexus, rather than trying to sell people on "Toyota Luxury". But perhaps I should just put it all out there, all genres, under the Willsin name, and take whatever comes. I dunno.

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  7. Awww I remember when The Three-Day Hump came out. That's kind of when I remember "meeting" you.

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    1. Heh. It wouldn't have been too long after that I made the Tale of Fur and Flesh cover for you, I'd say!

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