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Cult Classic or Bestseller?

Once upon a time, a story found a writer, an aspiring novelist who fell in love with its premise and the characters, who knew (and cared) very little about that amorphous sea of soul-suckage called "The Market," who wanted nothing except to act as a midwife to the story so it could come into the world.

Okay, so she did dip a toe or two into that ocean this time (recalling past, unsuccessful attempts) and this time her efforts bore sweet fruit. More books followed, and though the audience was small ("niche," her agent called it) it was devoted, and the writer, now an author, went on building stories, her heart brimming with the knowledge that if she only worked harder and crafted with more loving care, her little band of readers would grow and grow.

Not so, said the buyers for the accounts, that powerful band that rules bookstore (and even Wal-Mart's) shelf space. A tiny audience, however devoted, was definitely at odds with the "mass" part of mass market publication.

And the writer wept.

But in time, the stories clamoring in her head pushed her out of her funk. She remembered she was, first and foremost, a storyteller, not an author of XY Genre set in Xth century Wherever. So she started looking for other places she loved. Places where the readers ran broader and deeper than that first sweet rivulet.

And then she hoisted the sails of her imagination and cast off into the world to find them.

As you set sail this week, ask yourself, are you crafting your vessel (and building your craft) for the small pond, or are you a great shipworks, laboring over a mighty ocean liner that will sail the seven seas and weather every storm? There are advantages to each, I think, and the stories read by two or five thousand can be every bit as worthy, perhaps moreso, than those gobbled up by half a million. But going where the readers are can be a conscious choice.


Angi Morgan said…
Interesting Colleen. I hope I'm staying true to my course.

Nice to ponder on a rainy day in Texas.

Suzan Harden said…
Funny. I got a similar lecture this weekend form DH.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Angi.

I only wish they sold navigational charts to that bestseller at the corner store. It would make it a lot easier on all of us!

And Suzan, I've heard that lecture from my guy, too, more often than I care to remember. Also, from my mother, who never reads books, but still feels qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject. "Now, Colleen, all you have to do is see what's popular and write that."

And then I suppose I should tell Oprah. ;)

Suzan Harden said…
I'll have to give DH credit. His comments went beyond 'write what's popular.' We're both sff geeks, and as he pointed out, my UF stuff has a certain niche in the market. He asked point-blank could I be happy writing in that niche forever?

The whole reason for the discussion came about because an actress who was in a lot of shows I watch (cult-following types) came into the store the other night. As DH pointed out, she made a living doing these niche shows but she's not a household name.

His comments gave me something to think about, and you're very correct in that it's a choice writers face.

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