Friday, February 3, 2017

Write to Market...or Not

I’m in love with my current work in progress, but I’m also conflicted. There’s currently a phrase buzzing in the indie publishing world—write to market. This means, stick to writing in a popular genre and make sure your fantasy has a dragon to slay if all the bestselling fantasy books also have dragons who must die.
My work in progress has no dragons. Like some of my earlier, not-selling-so-well Women’s Fiction books, it’s not genre specific. It’s not a romance, not a mystery or thriller. No cowboys. No billionaires. No tortured anyone. It’s a marketing nightmare.
But I love it. So, I’m going to write it. I actually think it might help someone. And if I’m going to write it, I have to be comfortable with the fact that its sales will be piddling. As I’ve been grappling with this decision to write a book that may or may not sell, I came across some quotes that helped me, and may help others. Even if their decisions are different from mine, the application may be the same.
Discouragement and self-doubt. If I’m to write this book, I can’t be discouraged six months from now when it’s greeted by the world with an indifferent glance and a cold shoulder.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that “trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement—discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint.” Really, if no one loves my book as much as I do, what pain does it cause me? Remove the discouragement and self-doubt and the answer is very little.
Money. Money is a double edged sword. It’s both a measuring stick (if people love my book, they buy it. Therefore, the more money it makes, the more people must love it.) and a hindrance. Hindrance how? After all, money is also an enabler. But if I bend my ideas to what I think will best sell, then some of my best ideas get shoved into a dark drawer and never see daylight. 
This happens all the time with TV shows. A new show will come on and because it’s new and making very little money, the creators are innovative, the writing is dynamic, the show sparkles. BUT once the show becomes popular, the producers start worrying about ratings, so creators have to knuckle under what they think their audience wants to see…and the show becomes “safe.” And it dies.
So, what is the answer? I can’t say what it should be for others, but for myself I need to come to grips with my own economic facts of life and establish personal fiscal priorities and decide what purpose I’m trying to fulfill. I need to get it down on paper and deal with it. And be at peace with my own economic realities.
 Thoreau said, “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only dispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind (or stories).” This comes back to my television show analogy.
More Thoreau wisdom: “Love your life (story), poor as it is. . . . The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode.”
Does this mean I'm being noble and self-sacrificing by snubbing my nose at the "write to market" philosophy? No. In reality, it means I'm selfishly pursuing the story I want most to write.
Writing: I love this quote by Jeffery R. Holland, president of BYU when I attended there. In fact, this is from an address he gave at BYU back in the eighties. (Imagine a much younger me sitting in the audience, never realizing that thirty-seven years later, I would need these words.) “Prepare. Plan. Work. Sacrifice. Rework. (Edit) Spend cheerfully on matters of worth. (Write words that matter) Carry the calm, and wear the assurance of having done the best you could with what you had. If you work hard and prepare earnestly, it will be very difficult for you to give in or give up or wear down. If you labor with faith in God and in yourself and in your future (and your stories), you will have built upon a rock. Then, when the winds blow and the rains come—as surely they will—you shall not fall.”
So, what’s my story about? I’m reworking my previously published novella, Rescuing Rita, a sequel of sorts to Stealing Mercy, my first published book. Rita is a fast, action packed historical romance—a romaction. 
(No longer available)

In my current story, which I’m calling, A Different You, Another Me, (title subject to change) my main character, Addison, had her faith in love shattered when she learned of her husband’s infidelity at his funeral. Years later, a stranger approaches her, hands her a manuscript (my novella, Rescuing Rita), and asks her to give it a happy ending. Much like Stealing Mercy, there is a back and forth of the modern day story and the historical, and just as Bette in Stealing Mercy is changed by Mercy’s story, Addison will learn to forgive her late husband and herself because of Rita.

I had some misgivings about expanding my novella and twisting its plot to conform to Addison’s. I have no idea how many people read Rita. She only had one (4 star) review and rarely ever sold. I doubt there will very many who will be angry about buying the new book and finding a retelling of a story they’ve read before, but there might be. My heartfelt apologies to them. But I my goal right now is to rise above self-doubt and write the book that's currently whispering in my ear, even though I’m pretty sure there will be discouragement in my future when the world doesn’t love it as much as I do.

Addison sat on the bench at Embarcadero and Powell unaware of the flotsam of people passing her by. Sounds of the noisy sea lions rose from the pier below. The creatures jostled and jockeyed for position, much like the pedestrians around her. A young man sitting at the adjacent café unbuckled his belt, pulled down his pants, and squeezed a hypodermic needle into his left buttock, but even this commotion barely roused her.
An elderly woman carrying a leather satchel with a large gold lock sat down beside her and kicked off her shoes. She let out a sigh, propped an ankle on her knee and massaged her toes.
“I can always tell when it’s about to rain,” she said. “Arthritis. Once, I didn’t believe in achy joints predicting the weather, just like I used to think that people claimed to have motion sickness just so they could sit in the front seat.” The woman slid Addison a glance from under her lashes, probably to see if she were paying attention.
Addison thought about moving to another bench, but that would take energy and gumption—two things she currently lacked.
“You’re probably too young to have arthritis. How about motion sickness?”
Addison pulled herself out of her funk long enough to glance at the elderly woman. She wore a velvet patchwork skirt, a silk blouse, and a string of pearls around her neck. The sharp sea-breeze toyed with her silver curls and had turned her pale cheeks pink. She exuded a friendly curiosity that made Addison want to crawl under the bench and roll into a ball. Still, it would be rude to say nothing. She could manage a syllable. “No.”
“No, what?”
Addison took a deep breath and blew it out through her nose. “No, I don’t get motion sickness.”
“That’s good.” The woman smiled as if Addison had just informed her the Dodgers had won the World Series. “Then perhaps you would like to go whale watching.” She fumbled in her satchel and pulled out two tickets. “I bought them for me and my grandson, but now he can’t go. Too busy.” She paused. He’s a lawyer,” she added with more exasperation than pride.
Addison opened her mouth to protest, but couldn’t find the words. After a moment, she came up with, “Isn’t there someone else you’d like to go with?”
“No. Landon is my only family, other than my sister Erma. No one likes her. And all my friends are dead.” She said this without a trace of sadness. “It’s nature’s way of punishing me for hanging around so long—I had to watch all my friends die.”
Addison’s lips twitched. An hour ago, she didn’t think she’d ever smile again, and here she was, chatting with a stranger. “I’ll go with you whale watching. When is it?”
The woman let out a long sigh. “You’re a lovely girl. I used to look like you once—long red hair and willowy. Now, of course, I’m gray and more Monterey pine than willow. No, I hope this won’t offend you, but I no longer wish to go.”
“I disagree, you look nothing like a Monterey pine. They’re all twisted and weather beaten.”
“My point.”
“It’s silly to compare yourself to a tree. Why not a cat?”
“I’m allergic.” The woman winked at her. “Would you like to go whale watching, or not?”
“Are you sure?” Addison took the proffered tickets and saw they were for tomorrow morning. She had thought to leave before then, but she’d already paid for the vacation rental for the weekend, so she might as well stay. “Would you like me to buy them off you?”
“Not with money.”
“Oh.” This sounded like a scary proposition.
“You can tell me a story. I collect stories, you know.”
“Really? So do I!” Addison perked up, but then remembered her sadness. “Or at least I did.”
“Once a writer, always a writer.”
“No…I am a writer, just not a very good one.”
The woman quirked an eyebrow.
“Not a successful one,” Addison amended. “I own a bookstore. Or I did.”
“What happened?”
“The economy.” A sick anger burned in her belly. “The ugly tide of indie publishing. I sold my bookstore last week. Soon, it’ll be a massage parlor.”
The woman chuckled.
“I’m glad someone can laugh about it.”
“Well, you have to admit, a bookstore and a massage parlor are both in the same business.”
“How’s that?”
“They’re both used to manipulate moods.”
“I suppose.”
“Is that it?” the woman asked.
“Is what it?”
“Is your bookstore the reason you look like someone had just drowned your cat and poisoned your dog?”
Addison thought about confessing to this woman her mistake, but she wasn’t ready to admit it, not even to herself. And especially not to others.
The woman patted Addison’s cheek. “It’s okay to be sad. Here, I have something that will cheer you.” She pushed her satchel toward Addison.
“What’s this?”
“It’s a story. I’ve been carrying it around, wondering what to do with it. I want you to have it.”
Addison opened it up and peeked inside at the hundreds of typewritten pages. “You don’t think your grandson will want it?”
“No, he only reads nonfiction.” She said this in the same sort of tone she would have said, he only eats fried liver and onions.
Addison smiled. “Thank you. This is…so kind.”
The woman slipped her feet back into her shoes. “No, thank you. It’s nice to see a story you love reach a happy ending. Now, how about you. You owe me a story.”
“You don’t want to hear my stories.”
The woman contemplated her. “Perhaps you’re right. How’s this? In payment for those tickets, you need to make sure that this weekend has a happy ending.”
Addison thought about the disappointing beginning of her weekend and bit her lower lip. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I can promise you that.”
The woman leaned forward to peer into Addison’s face. “Will you try?”
“Huh. Sure. I’ll try.”
The woman pulled herself to her feet. “Goodbye, my dear. Promise me you’ll take good care of my story and write a happy ending for this weekend.”
“I promise,” Addison said, although she had no idea how to do that, or what the woman was asking of her. She glanced around, spotted a bookstore, and headed inside. Her only hope for a happy ending lay between the pages of a book.

By Geneva Leigh
Wanted: A nice, plump, healthy, good natured looking domestic and affectionate lady to correspond with. Object: matrimony. She must be a believer in God and immortality. She must not be a gad about or given to scandal, but willing to endeavor to create a happy home.
The Arizona Sentinel, 1875
Chapter 1
Poke was playing her song! White hot anger, as mind altering as any potion or aphrodisiac, flashed through Rita. Clarisse, a virginal vision clothed in white lace, opened her mouth to sing, and Rita grabbed the closest weapon she could find, an occupied wig stand, and headed for the stage.
     Clarisse’s high C turned to a squeak and her blond curls bobbed when she saw Rita flying up the stairs wielding the wooden head.
     “That’s my song, you little strumpet!” Rita took center stage and swung at Clarisse.
The wig hit Clarisse in the face, but she brushed it away as if it was a large, hairy fly. She straightened her dress and picked up her tune, leaving Poke, the pianist, a few stunned beats behind.
     With the wig stand braced in front of her like a battering ram, Rita charged. Clarisse jumped away, and Rita landed in the curtains. Clarisse climbed onto the piano bench, jostling Poke, who lifted his hands from the keyboard and flashed Rita a startled although amused look. Clarisse, balancing beside the pianist, nudged him with her tiny shoe. “Please continue, sir. This audition is not over.”
     “Oh, yes, it is!” Rita dropped the wig stand, which bounced around her feet as she lunged for Clarisse.
     “Now, Miss Clarisse, you know I can’t let you climb on the piano.” Poke, struggling not to laugh, reached for but missed Clarisse as she stepped onto the lid.
Clarisse inched across the lid of the upright piano as Rita scrambled onto the bench and, using Poke’s shoulder as a toehold, tried to join the music-thieving Clarisse on the top, but Poke grabbed Rita and hauled her to center stage. She kicked Poke’s legs and tried to pry his grip from her waist. Rita now had two people she needed to kill.
     “Can’t you see she’s a complete nutter, Ivan?” Clarisse said from her perch on top of the piano. “We simply cannot have her in the troupe.”
     Rita wriggled for a better look at Poke’s good-natured face. “I wrote that song. It’s mine. She stole it!”
     “I didn’t steal it. Besides, how can one steal a song?” Clarisse asked. “I simply heard it, learned it--”
     “Through the paper thin walls while I wrote it. Do you want to know what I heard through the walls?” Rita smacked her lips, making kissing noises. “If you get a spot in the troupe, we will all know why!”
Clarisse gasped in outrage, and Ivan, the director, laughed from his place in the dark auditorium.
“I got my position in the troupe because of my gifts and talent!” Clarisse said.
So Clarisse already had a role. Little wonder. “And your willingness to share and talents.” Rita wiggled, but Poke wouldn’t let her go.
“Would you like to sing, Miss Michaels?” Ivan’s disembodied voice spoke from the theater seats. Because of the dark house and the flickering glass lights lining the stage, Rita couldn’t see Ivan and wished she could. She needed to read his expression to gauge his response to her outburst.
     Poke didn’t seem in the least perturbed or unhappy about holding her. Of course, he was built like an ox. Rita knew he was not solely the troupe’s accompanist but also the “man at large” responsible for assembling and disassembling the heavy settings and scenery.
     “Set her down,” Ivan said. “Let’s hear her.”
     Clarisse put her balled fists on her hips. “We have heard quite enough from her!”
     Poke chuckled and set Rita down. Rita flashed Clarisse a warning glance. Rita worried that Clarisse might stomp the piano keys or kick at Poke, who was settling onto his bench, acting as if having a blond tart atop his piano was de rigueur.
     “You wrote this song?” Ivan said. “Then let’s hear it.”
     “Ivan,” Clarisse’s tone turned silky soft, reminding Rita of Clarisse’s many “private auditions,” when Ivan had undoubtedly seen and heard more than a song…or two.
     “I’ve heard you, Clarisse. I know what you can do,” Ivan said, confirming Rita’s suspicions that Clarisse had only gone through the formality of the audition for the prime purpose of killing Rita’s chances of joining the traveling troupe and escaping dreary Seattle.
     Poke played the opening bars while Rita stared into the lights. Blood pounded in her head and zinged through veins. Every nerve tingled, and goose-bumps rose on her arms. The Rose Arbor Traveling Troupe was her ticket back to New York, and she wasn’t about to let a trollop like Clarisse steal it from her.
     Rita came in right on cue, her voice steelier than her spine and almost as strong as her resolve.
     “Quite the show you put on tonight,” a voice sounded from the center of her dressing room, sending crawling worms down Rita’s back. She took a deep breath and threw a robe over her chemise. Boris Kidrick, a heavy drinker, tobacco chewer and black licorice sucker, carried his own unique odor—a smell that Rita easily recognized and did her best to avoid. She wondered when he had come in, because she hadn’t heard the door over the clatter of the dancers and the tinkling of the piano below. Not that an ox like Kidrick was capable of quietly slipping anywhere.
     Rita poked her head over the screen and saw Boris leering at her.
“I aim to amuse.” She kept her voice light. Her earlier outburst had left her tired and drained. She didn’t want another sparring match.
Her glance fell on the fire tools beside the mantel. She considered caning Boris and finishing him off. She’d be doing the world a favor, and then the world would be in her debt. She really would like to be in a position to call in favors, particularly instead of the awkward, semi-clothed position she currently found herself.
“And I could use a little entertainment.” He licked his lips. “How much for a private show?”
     The door flew open, and Matilda breezed in, but she stopped short when she spotted Boris standing bull-like amid the overflowing costume trunks and crates of props. Matilda took a step toward the screen, as if to protect Rita, and glared at Boris.
“Mr. Kidrick, you must know men aren’t allowed in the dressing room!” Matilda crossed her arms and drew herself up to her impressive full height, towering over the squatty Kidrick.
     Boris chuckled. “I now own this room and that fancy stage you’re so fond of parading on.”
     Surprise replaced Matilda’s haughty expression, and Boris rubbed his hands together. “Didn’t know that, did ya?” He chuckled at Matilda’s sagging shoulders. “Good things are coming my way,” he said, an unpleasant glint in his eye. “We will be having that show I mentioned. If not tonight—then soon. Maybe on this stage or maybe someplace more quiet. You may not know it yet, but when I bought this theater, I bought you too.”
He winked at Rita, who ducked behind the screen and tightened the belt on her robe. She waited for the sound of the door closing before she peeked out.
     “He’s gone.” Matilda crossed the room, dropping clothing on her way to the dressing table. She sat before the mirror and rubbed her face with cream, leaving her stage makeup in runny smears. In the harsh light, she looked all of her forty years plus some.
     “I didn’t know Mr. Taylor had sold the theater,” Rita said, settling down on the bench beside the older woman.
     Matilda shrugged and frowned. “I heard Kidrick came into some money.”
     “Any chance he’ll lose it—and the theater?” Rita’s glance met Matilda’s in the glass.
     “It’s inevitable. But until that happy gambling match, we have to live with him.” Matilda scrubbed at her worn and tired face. Once she had been beautiful. Under the stage lights, she still moved like royalty. But here, in the quiet dressing room, after a long night of trying to carry a beauty she could no longer claim, Matilda appeared faded beside Rita’s pink skin and blue eyes. Rita, feeling apologetic for her youth, twisted her hair into a long thick braid.
Matilda patted Rita’s hand once. “Don’t worry, pet, you’ll be on your way to New York long before we get a new lock for the dressing room door.”
“Why do men like Boris consider actress synonymous with harlot?”
Matilda twitched a boney shoulder.
“King David liked to sing and dance. No one thought he was immoral.” Rita’s voice faltered. “Until Bathsheba came out on the roof. Maybe he’s not the best example—but he did sing and dance.”
Matilda laughed. “There are plenty of noble and worthy performers.”
 “Tell that to my father, my mother, my grandmother and my cousins.” Rita swallowed. “Tell that to men like Boris.”
“Your father and mother—although they might not have meant to—have hurt you far worse than the likes of Boris Kidrick.”
Rita had learned a lot from Matilda since she had joined the Rose Arbor Reparatory, but that particular lesson she had learned months earlier when her parents had shipped her to God-forsaken Seattle.
In fact, where they had sent her was far worse than Seattle. They had sent her to her grandmother’s horse ranch—seven long, bumpy, jaw-jarring and teeth-rattling miles from town. Had they really expected her to stay on a ranch surrounded by acres of pastures of horses, cattle and cow-pies? Did they really think she would learn to behave like her hick grandmother and shovel out stables?
As if reading her mind, Matilda said, “I don’t know why you’re so anxious to return to their company.”
Rita leaned against her friend. “I don’t want to go to New York to see my parents!”
Matilda’s lips twitched. “You want to be on the New York stage.”
“Of course!”
“Do you imagine that you will sing and dance right beneath your family’s nose and they will never notice?”
“I am an actress—and a wizard with makeup and design. They will never recognize me.”
Matilda lifted an eyebrow. “Your family has already summoned a posse to look for you.”
“Here. But they won’t think to look in their own backyard!”
Skepticism clouded Matilda’s expression. “If they are as influential and prominent as you say—”
Rita lifted her chin. “No one can stop a shooting star.”
Matilda smiled and wiped off her face cream. “Laws, child, have you no fear of heights?”
Addison put down the manuscript. It was silly…but compelling. The opening made her ill. So many women through so many generations saw marriage as the end-all. Her mother had taught her, “a man is not a financial plan.” And yet, Addison had still fallen for it. It was like she was programed to see a man as an answer to her problems. When would she finally grasp that a man wasn’t the answer, but, in her case, the problem?
Addison braced her shoulders. She had to solve her own problems now. But a tricky little voice in the back of her head whispered that even now she wouldn’t be standing on her own financial feet. Paul’s life insurance policy would always eclipse anything she could ever hope to earn at the bookshop. It had been tempting to continue on at the store, watching it lose money every month, but common sense and Mr. Patel had prevailed. She had tried to make a go of a business and she’d failed. Just like she’d failed her marriage. Even if she hadn’t known it.
She glanced around the Books and Bun Bookshop, what made this place successful? Who says it is? The voice in her head asked. All the people? But how many are actually buying anything?
Addison sank back in the upholstered chair and took note of her fellow bookstore patrons. The elderly man with his glasses perched on the end of his nose had a pile of historical fiction books on the ottoman in front of him. In the children’s section, a mother with a toddler on her lap was flipping through a picture book. Two chairs over, a nail-biting woman was lost in a romance. Dozens of people were parked at the tables, hiding behind laptops. She couldn’t see the check-out counter from where she sat, and, of course, she had no way of knowing the store’s financials, but if no one was actually buying anything, the store had to be suffering.
It was just like the indie publishing tidal wave. If everyone was going to give away books, how would any book business survive?
“Addison? What are you doing here?”
Too late to hide. She smiled up into his blue eyes. How could she have been so mistaken? Had she completely misread him? Had all those lunches and long conversation been nothing more than a pleasant way to spend the time?
“Checking out the competition?”
She swallowed. “A bookstore in Hampton could hardly compete with a shop in Frisco.” Especially if the Hampton shop closed its doors.
“That’s true.” He nodded. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find you in here. But why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
Not knowing what to say, she gave him a weak shrug. She’d wanted to surprise him. But he’d been the one to surprise her when she’d spotted him kissing that blonde on the pier.
“You’re a long way from home.” She heard the questions in his tone, but she didn’t feel the need to provide any answers.
Carey Grant handsome, she usually melted whenever James came in the shop, but now when she looked at him she couldn’t help seeing the Barbie hanging on his arm. Even if the blonde wasn’t there physically, in Addison’s head, she was.
“Even bookstore owners need a vacation,” she told him.
“How long are you in town?”
She had thought about leaving as soon as she’d seen him and Bimbo in action, but now she decided that she wasn’t going to let him run her off like a dog with a tail between her legs. “I’m here for the weekend.”
Trying to mask his surprise, he glanced at his watch. “That’s great. I have a commitment tonight.”
I bet you do, she thought.
“But how about tomorrow? Are you available?”
“No. I have plans.” It gave her a little surge of power to say that and like a sprinkle of candy on a cupcake, the disappointed look on his face only added to her pleasure.
“Sunday then?”
“I’m sorry, James,” Addison said, picking up the manuscript.
“Well, I can see you’re busy,” he said. “Maybe we can meet up next time I’m in Hamilton.”
“Mmm,” she murmured. She started reading and refused to watch him walk away.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Kristy! The idea of "writing to market" makes me sick. Yes, I think as writers we have some responsibility to think of our readers as we write a story. But JUST writing a story because you think people will want to read it--throwing in scenes and characters that aren't true to your story but you think will make it sell--that creates a hollow story. A story that may be well written, that may sell (I'll refrain from giving specific examples here), but lacks heart. Kudos to you for having the courage to go against the crowd.