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Being different

And a few other musings, like blowing your own trumpet and confidence.

This has been a blog building for a number of days, from forum interactions, to reviews received, to just one of those dips in confidence all writers go through. It's been a rollercoaster week of thoughts and perceptions, leading me to a place where I'm on more solid ground.

That solid ground is that it is okay to be different. That, provided you're not looking to have a thousand people download your book on day one and Amazon to pick you out as the next sure-win in your category, it might even be a good thing.

That last is quite a big caveat - different is not an easy sell.

So, firstly, what's different about what I write? I write a Space Opera series that deals with a rebellion against a cruel Empress, has a chosen one as its main character and is, on the face of it, so far-so generic.

Then I got a timely review on it (from Leighton Evans) which touched on exactly what I tried to make my own in Abendau:

'There are no appendices for planets, ships, weapons, foods, drinks, stars, dust mites....there is a tremendous focus on character. You understand the universe from the eyes of the characters and none of them dwell on anything outside of the current situation and what led them there.'

Now, I'm not going to pretend I'm so clever as to set out and do anything fancy like subvert genres, or add a new dimension to Space Opera. I set out to write a story in the only way I know how - from the
characters' point of view. Anyone looking for nice omnipresent descriptions of ships in space, or
roving overviews of attack ships blowing up installations are in for a disappointment. I don't do that.

Instead, I do the commander watching a friend die, the twitching of her hand, the sadness of the moment. To heck with the shaking base and cool attack arrays. Kare doesn't notice that, in that moment. He sees that twitch, and wishes he could end their pain.

When the book turns dark - as it does, as dark as it comes - it's not because I want the reader to be grossed out. It's not because I wanted to shock. It's because this story is told by the characters, and there was no way to zoom out. I did so, as fast as I felt able to, losing the horror of the close point of view for one removed. Sadly, that point of view, Sam, became one full of empathy. His section of Abendau's Heir turned out, for me, the most moving and challenging to write and get the balance I wanted.

And all of this is before I even touch on Inish Carraig, a book with comments such as 'blessed with an entirely novel storyline' and 'sensible in its weirdness'. A book which received a hugo-nom, a mention  on File770, and has 50 reviews where you can look at 'the (single) negative review', if you so desire. A book based in a Belfast changed by an alien invasion. Told from a teenager and an adult, with parity to each other. That follows an entirely personal storyline to both of them. Once again, removed from the norm of alien-invasion stories, and how to tell them. No screaming bombs, no Independence day moving speeches. Just the story of what would happen to you, or I, in the face of the extraordinary.

So, that's all whirring in my ever-busy mind when I came across, as many of us did this week, this blog  which outlined how to succeed on Amazon and sell an awful lot of books and give up the day job.

I have several friends in that category and I've been feeling frustrated in not quite reaching such heady heights (don't get me wrong, I do very well and am not complaining). Anyhow, I read these steps and many of them are good - I'm building a mailing list as we speak - but some, for me, felt alien to what I wanted to do. But, more than that, I realised that most of these books that sell so well on Amazon tend to be ones that fall firmly in a category, tell the story the voracious readers off that category want in the way they want it told.

I have enormous respect for that approach. In many ways, I wish I could emulate it. It would certainly make my life easier. But it also wouldn't tell the story I want to tell, in the way I naturally tell it.

Which brings the hard truth - that to be different, in terms of the genre you write in these days, is a slow, hard build. I could cheerfully blame that on Amazon algorithms and Amazon dictating what we find to read and, therefore, encouraging generic books - and there might even be a grain of truth in that. But that has happened over time continual, in bookstores, in the movies, on popular culture. And through time continual the quirky stories have to fight a little harder to be found - and yet, often, stand the test of time. Wuthering Heights, far removed from the societal novels of the time, raw and bloody and dark. To Kill a Mocking Bird, using the child voice to tell the story that resonated with adults as much as kids. James Joyce original and difficult the same.

Which brought me full circle, through streams of thought, to the belief it's okay to be different. It's good to have different voices. But it's no good to be difficult and aspire to models of conventional selling. To be different is a little harder path, perhaps.

Anyhow, in my continued ambition to be a little different and still eat, I have a newsletter here, if anyone fancies signing up to hear what I'm up to from time to time, and to get some short story freebies etc.


Nothing wrong with being different - I've always considered myself as an outsider, too. :)

But success is a slow burn - at least you are building up your stables of novels. Keep writing, and half the battle is already won, IMO.
Anya Kimlin said…
I was at a meeting of authors yesterday where there were two wonderful and exciting books. Both now self published. One rejected because she refused to tweak the history of the story to fit genre lines and another because she'd written a family saga from the point of view of a male author. Sometimes I wonder how many great stories we've been denied because of genre.