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On writing what you like

Firstly, look away if you want to become a bestseller. Look away if you want to make money at the writing game.

This week, on a forum, someone (I'll name and shame her, shall I? The fabulous Milly-molly-mo, although she also has a more normal name) referred to writing your own sub-genre, like Jo does.

Hmmm. I wasn't at all sure about that. I mean, sure I know I can have challenges regarding writing in a single identifiable genre, to a single market etc etc, but I don't know that I'm as bad as all that.

And then I wondered, why do I actually care? Why don't I celebrate that if you read a Jo Zebedee book, that's what it is. Something quirky from the dark depths of my mind. Something that I must have enjoyed writing, or I wouldn't have worked so hard at the sodding thing.

And here's why I think being a one-woman twisted bookshelf is a good thing:

There is a better chance of me getting a few quid on the lottery than actually making a decent living at writing. Now, yes, yes, I know some who do and well done to you all. But the vast majority don't, either because of lack of profile, a saturated market, or just writing weird stuff.

That being the case, I may as well enjoy myself and write what I darn well like. I don't have any aspirations of giving up my job. I don't want to give up my job. Finding myself as a full time writer would present me with some serious headaches, frankly.

Once I give myself permission to not give a damn about how marketable something is, I open the well of creativity. The moment something is written for a market is the moment, for me, the driving force that goes into a book leaves the building.

But, actually, there are sound writing business reasons for stopping apologising for being quirky.

Firstly, reviews. Many people who have reviewed my books try my other books - and many have given them further nice reviews. This is especially true when I write something vaguely in the same genre, as opposed to skipping from SF to fantasy.

Now, there is a good argument that reviews are the baseline of building a reputation as an author. Not just the reviews for a single book but the greater combined number of reviews over a set of a writer's work. When you have more than one book well regarded, you have a much more persuasive argument that you can actually string a couple of words together.

Most early reviews come from our circles of interaction. Not from friends and family as often as people think they do, but from those who know me from forums, or who've interacted with me at events and the like. Often, from people who first knew my writing, maybe through short works, or writing challenge entries, or even from this blog.

Now, normally those people will be in the sff world where they'll at least not mind the odd bit of weirdness - which makes them more likely to like my stuff. Since I make it very clear my books are not going to contest any scientific thereoms, most readers will come from the softer end of sf - who again are more likely to like my stuff. This means that in building a review base, slowly but surely, I'm actually increasing my future profile. 

But the minute I try to sell those books to people who want something different, who won't dig Northern Irish based SFF (and there are some, who knew?!) or dark Space Operas that review cart overturns. I've had a few reviews from non-SFF outlets and it's never pretty.

But the other thing that occurs to me is that it's okay to write stuff that's different. Who was writing fantasy in the style of Terry Pratchett before the great man himself? Who else writes like Neil Gaiman, that wonderful mix of magic and reality? Who, other than Lois McMaster Bujold, could have created a character as annoyingly wonderful - and unique - as Miles Vorkosigan? Now, I'm not comparing myself in anyway to them - they're writing gods to me - but I take heart that a fresh take on things, that being true to what you write (who else wrote Maine-based, character led horror, before Stephen King?) might not always be the wrong thing.

So, there you go. I've found my sub-genre. I write Jo Zebedee books. It's up to everyone else whether it's something they want to read. :)