I read an interesting post at Dear Author the other day. It was an interview with Carrie Feron, the Editorial Director at Avon. That house publishes 8 original print romances and 4 digital first romances each month via Avon Impulse. Yes, Virginia, it's one of the biggest publishing houses on planet Earth.
When Avon set up a digital first arm, the team thought the books for Impulse would be by unknown authors. But in today's world, the business execs were surprised when their existing authors wanted in on the digital line. It turns out that 1/3 to 1/2 of Impulse's ebooks are by existing Avon authors. (I'm not surprised. I'm not sure why Avon was either.) Avon's also learned pricing lessons from indies and will sell the digital books for less than $5.00.
Although all of Jane's interviews at DA are interesting, parts of this one were particularly intriguing. Ms. Feron said that what she is particularly looking for is a strong voice. That means she will know who the author is from reading the first page of a book. "If you have a strong enough voice, you can make your own niche."
Ms. Feron also said that she's seen a lot of Regency stuff and is looking for something that hasn't been done before. She thinks readers are jaded so she's looking for old themes spun a new way. But the most startling thing she said is this: "She feels that a lot of authors self censor too much."
I'm an indie author but I'm smart enough to know that the big publishers have made fortunes predicting what readers want. (I don't think the big houses always got it right and I think they seriously screwed up when they got too big to take direct submissions from authors. If you make your money from selling widgets but think you're too important to deal with the companies that make them, then sooner or later you're going to lose access to your product.) But despite all of that, we should always remember that publishers built empires from predictions just like these. So I think that smart writers would do well to listen when free advice like this is passed along.
Thanks a million to Dear Author for the post. If you're not already reading the site - shame on you. You should check it every day and you should pay attention!
Now, what the Avon digital guru said of import was that she wants a strong voice and writers should tell take all the risks necessary to tell their stories full throttle. I believe that means that writers should keep it real and be sure the voice that comes across on the pages is their own. Trying to pretend to write in a way that doesn't come naturally or to "copy" the style of another successful author won't work for me and it won't work for you either. A fake style comes across as fake to the readers. If they don't believe your voice they won't like your story.
But Ms. Feron had more to say - she felt that too many authors censor themselves. And it's flat out wrong for a writer to fail to tell their story exactly the way it should fall naturally. Anytime an author fails to listen to her muse, the author is going off track. Inspiration likes risk and risk takers. Why take the risk of putting a story out there but refusing to tell the whole story?
The way the book comes to you from your muse may be risky in theme. It may barge right into a supposedly forbidden area. Or it may be tee-totally shocking. So you draw back as you write or edit. You change the book and make it "safer." Oatmeal is safer than a steak but which would you rather have for dinner? Playing it safe puts a book right in the middle of the pack - and it's a big ole' pack.
When you write a book that takes risks, you will offend some people and you will turn some off. Not everyone will like it. But some people will love it. All of my books take risks and not everyone agrees with some of the things the characters go through. But in every case the story went the way it should have gone. My voice is over-the-top and the characters who populate my stories are going to go through some traumatic events on their way to their happily ever after. But they'll get there - every time.
Frankly, I think that Ms. Feron's advice isn't just good for writers when they're writing. It's also excellent advice for the best way to approach life. The person I am may not be everyone's cup of tea. But I am who I am and what I am and I don't change that for anyone. And I always say what I think. Life is too short for me to worry about saying this to person A or offending person B.
So in writing and in life, I think we'll all get farther if we take the risks that need to be taken, do it in the way that feels natural, and take it all the way.