Monday, April 16, 2007

The Cool Factor

I went to lunch with two writers this last Sunday and we talked about....writing. Go figure. One of the Writers, we'll call him Chuck, argued that people should know the market for which they write, and to do this they should read extensively. "You can't write genre if you don't read genre. You should be buying and reading magazines like "Dark Wisdom", "Realms of Fantasy" etc. You should read online magazines and get a sense of the pulse of the genre."

The other writer, we'll call him Rick, argued that writing should rise above that and the writer should seek to elevate rather than fall into the mold. The writer should write from experience and not just distill the experiences of others through their writing.

Me? I sided more with Chuck. I think writers need to read and know their audience. It's why I have been reading a ton of romance over the last four months. It's why I have subscriptions to four or five fiction magazines. I used to write willy nilly, now I only write new stories in response to calls for submissions. And if the story is rejected, then I try sending it around to various markets.

"So what's your criteria?" asked Rick.

"The cool factor. Somewhere in that story there better be something that makes a fan of the genre nod his head and go: "Cool". I can write esoteric meanderings, and sometimes do, but for commercial market there better be something solid there that a reader can connect with.


Lucas Pederson said...

I agree with you and Chuck, but I also agree with Rick. Of course I haven't been published yet so what the hell do I know, right?
Still, I do think writers should study the markets. They should read a lot and write a lot, as the saying goes. It's not good to submit to genre magazines when you got no clue what their style is, what it is they really do publish. It's a must to study and learn what the mag, or online mag, publishes.
However, I think a writer should also at least try to break the mold. We should try to rise above what's all ready moldy and stale. Be it with more description, dialogue or flitting prose. This is difficult, but sometimes is must be done, and sometimes it happens naturally. You never know.

Travis said...

Well, if the goal is to become published then certainly one must understand one's audience and write to that audience. I guess a good way to do that is to read in the genre.

And then I guess the next step is to be good enough to get that "cool" factor into the piece so that the writing doesn't sound like every other story.

Easy!! Ha!

But I don't do it because it's easy, and I don't know any other writer who does either.

SQT said...

I see a lot of stuff that's published because it's "hot" at the moment. Just look at the 'chick lit' market. There's a lot of room for improvement too as a lot of the stuff being sold right now is marginal.

Any kind of business has its cynical side and publishing certainly fits that criteria. I think it's smart to know you market and try to sell to it. After all, making a living as a writer is the dream. Isn't it?

Fab said...

I'm not a writer, so maybe I'm out of place. I agree that to make a living you should know your public if you wish to sell. But on the other hand I have the romantic notion that a writer should write what he loves and feels strong about. It's interesting to think about. To get views from writers on how they approach their work.

Jon said...

Good grief. One would never shoot an arrow and hope that there was a target where it fell. You have to aim. You have to know where your target is. That's the point of studying markets. It doesn't matter how elegant you look as you shoot or how far the arrow flies. You have to know where you're going.

Genres are very specific. You needn't exactly fit the mold of the "typical" story, but failing to follow its general outline brands you as unappreciative of your audience and potential publishers.

Apprentices of the Old Masters of painting were required to try to copy their teacher's work as closely as they could to learn technique. Only after they had learned the brush strokes and techniques of the art could they begin to express their own styles. In other words there is plenty or room for expression after you've displayed competence.

Kate S said...

Somehow, I missed this post, Stewart. Out of all the studying I did of which agents/publishers accepted what, I kept running across this admonition from the editors: know your genre and know your audience.

If you're writing for publication, you need to. If you're writing just to express yourself and don't care if Aunt Milly is the only who ever reads it, knock yourself out. :)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thanks Lucas. Chuck and I have since discussed this discussion, and we're sticking by our guns. Oddly, Rick has acknowledged that he sees he may have missed an important element in marketing his work.

Travis, SQT, Jon..Fab...I think we're all in agreement that one should do whatever one can do to get published. If reading a few books and immersing oneself in craft can give an edge to the writer, then I say go for it. Any edge is a welcome one.