Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who find a writing niche they’re comfortable and that will make them buckets of money. Most of the best-known writers are in the mainstream. They know what their audience wants, and they write to that audience. Many of them also write to a formula or a number of formulas that serve them well. What this means is that if you’re among their audience, you know more or less what to expect from them. I’m not the audience for those writers, and I can’t be one of those writers.
On one level, my problem is that I’m easily bored. No matter how well-written a formula book may be, no matter how interesting its character, by the third iteration (and even the second, sometimes) with plot twists galore, I’ve had it. A long time ago, I figured out the success formula for such books (movies, TV shows). It’s familiarity plus novelty.
That formula doesn’t work for me, either as a writer or a reader. By the time I’d finished and published my first two books, Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries, I knew I was in trouble. For one thing, they didn’t fit any genre, and they weren’t even recognizably cross-genre. For some reason, Privileged Lives turned out to be fairly normal near-future science fiction. But looking over the stories that I’m actively working on, it’s easy to see that I’m running off the beaten path again. How am I supposed to classify a first-person story by a mute slave? There’s no sex, no beatings, no romance–none of the “normal” plot devices that people expect from “slavefic.” And very little dialogue. How do I classify a story about the developing relationship of a dom and a submissive, that has no sex, and very little of the paraphernalia or tropes of BDSM?
Every genre has its accepted tropes and clichés. Readers expect them and, for the most part, want them to be there. What happens when they’re not? They’re completely absent or they’re turned upside down or inside out. The story includes elements from other genres but doesn’t quite fit any of them. Publishers avoid such stories like the plague. If you want readers, you’re going to have to self-publish. And, let’s face it. All the media noise about self-publishers who’ve made it big? Their books fit neatly into popular genres and meet readers’ expectations for those genres.
When I look over some of my incomplete stories, I realize that my concept of how I want to write them has changed. When I started most of them, they would have fit (more or less) into some accepted genres. Instead of learning to fit my writing to genres that readers know to look for, I find myself moving further away. My image of the kind of writer I want to be is evolving. The crucial question is whether epublishing is encouraging readers to evolve and look for something “other.”