I have a guest post for you! I’ve known Tee Morris (and his amazing wife, Philippa Ballantine) for many years, and have been blessed to have their support and wisdom at my fingertips whenever I needed it. So today, I’d like to share the thoughts of the Yodas I’ve had access to since the earliest days of my writing career. I recently posed a question that I think a lot of authors have asked themselves (or been asked by others): What makes you keep writing certain books when you’re made to question whether or not they’ll succeed?
Tee brings up some excellent points to consider here, so if you’re debating whether or not to write the thing you want to write, do keep reading. -SH
The book market is a funny thing as it is really hard to tell what will go gangbusters and what trends will fizzle out after a few rounds. I’ve been paying close attention to trends as I am attempting to write a title to market, a strategy some writers try when they want a “break out” title in order to make their name more marketable. What kind of trends are out there now?
Off the top of my head…
- a woman discovering a portal between her own world and another point in history
- main characters waking up with no memories, in the heart of some labyrinth
- a young girl or boy discovers a world of supernatural creatures coexisting alongside the real world
I’m not saying the writers who dive into these trends are phoning it in and cashing out. These are trends that writers are told by agents (and publishers) “This is what’s selling…” which could have been a contributing factor behind so much erotica attempting to go mainstream after the success of 50 Shades of Grey.
If you’re curious, I’m attempting to write a solo novel, an urban fantasy.
Before you think the market done with urban fantasy, attend any science fiction or romance writing convention and you might find yourself attending the same panel I did. Out of the six authors on this panel, five were writing urban fantasy. I was the only steampunk author.
That, my friends, is what you would call a trend.
But the reason the first draft of my urban fantasy isn’t done yet is because of steampunk, that genre regarded as a giant question mark by publishers and agents. Based on its popularity online and at science fiction events, you would think the market would be dominated by steampunk titles; but those on the shelves haven’t seemed to find the breakthrough mainstream audience that dystopia, space opera, or urban fantasy has. So while the market doesn’t seem to know exactly how it feels about this Victorian Past-That-Never-Was, I know how I feel about it, which is why I continue to write it.
Here’s where being a writer becomes complicated. You need to write what is hot, and publishers want to be producing what is hot because that equates to book sales and big numbers. From a business perspective, that makes sense. Then we get to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, the steampunk series that my wife Pip Ballantine and I write together. Currently, we are hosting a Kickstarter for the fifth book in the series, a book we are independently producing. We’ve fielded the question—a valid one—as to why this series is worth funding as it’s had not one but two publishers undertake it; and neither have an interest in publishing any new books? Why not move on?
Well, we did want to move on. With this story.
Trends have shown to the contrary of steampunk’s appeal; but alongside readers and reviews expressing their love for our alternate 19th century, our Colonial Pepperpot and Dashing Archivist provide the real drive behind these adventures. Pip and I knew long before we began writing The Diamond Conspiracy that their story would end with Book Six. We wanted to keep going beyond Phantom Protocol, beyond Whiterock, and beyond Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. We sat down with our respective ideas for two chapters, and it did not take us long to kick off the fifth book. By the time we reached the sixth chapter, we were working on the details behind our Kickstarter.
If I listened to the publishers and followed the trends, the smart money would be in finishing that urban fantasy. I genuinely love working with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, though, and that is a powerful motivator to write in it. Is this the smartest strategy? That could be debated. Readers can tell when writers are merely “returning to the well,” and it is an easy trap to fall into if the series you’re working on is easy to write. With the Ministry, it goes deeper than comfort. It’s a belief. It’s a sincere love with this particular world, its machinations, and the people within it.
I have more to do in this universe, so the urban fantasy can wait.
And with that, I’m putting the kettle on. Hope you like cucumber sandwiches.
Tee Morris has been writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and non-fiction for over a decade. He writes the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with his wife, Pip Ballantine. The series and its short fiction podcast, Tales from the Archives, has won several awards including the 2014 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Anthology Podcast, the 2011 Airship Award for Best Steampunk Literature, and RT Reviews’ Choice Awards for Best Steampunk of 2014.
Tee and Pip also host The Shared Desk, a podcast covering collaboration and other aspects of a writer’s lifestyle. Explore the works of Tee Morris, and his occasional geek rants, at TeeMorris.com.