This is where I climb out on the limb and saw it off behind me. I started posting stories back around 1997 and was first published in 2000 so I’ve had plenty of time to observe what readers like and don’t like.
First, I’d like to go on record as saying an author should write what they need to write and not worry about the readers. I believe this. I think if you want to write stories with real guts then you have to write about what inspires you as an author. That said there are consequences. Some topics are very popular with readers, some are trendy and others just fall flat on their little book covers. As an author you have to be brave and not be afraid to face the criticism from those who don’t want anyone to waver from traditional types of formula writing. When I wrote Gold Mountain, I knew the format would surprise readers as the story is told in turn by two different women. Fortunately, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise and I won a Goldie for it. I knew too when I wrote Tides that those readers who wanted a simple, hummy read were going to hate it and those readers who are curious and like to think about issues would love it as it deals with major events in the 20th century. Over all, the novel was very well received but if you read the reviews you can pick out the two types of readers really clearly.
So what are the big movers? Certainly romance. Women love romance. Lesbian woman are not too fond particularly of the pink hearts and roses romance but they certainly buy into the forbidden love theme. Surprisingly, they like dashing lesbian heroes with complex, moody personalities that their male counterparts in a good Harlequin reflect. They also like those romances that deal with the varied and complex relationships found in any alternative community. They love stories were romance is found, lost and rediscovered in one form or another. And lastly, if you look under their mattresses you’ll probably find the occasional soft porn romance. I’ve written a lot of romance but mostly in the form of short stories. My anthologies America and A Little Book of Big Christmas Stories (Goldie winner) are still very popular with readers who enjoy a short read during the course of a busy day. The nice thing about a short story romance is it’s distilled and is a good shot of love when you need it the most.
Then there are the trend readers. When I first started writing, warrior princesses from cave dwellers through to outer space were all the rage. Then gradually it turned to uber novels with contemporary issues. Then law enforcement became big as a reflection of the popular shoot up, beat up and feel bad about it later cop shows popular on the TV at the time. Briefly, political based novels were the thing particularly in the USA but this fad didn’t last too long. Horror is popular. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night are currently big. There are too those reader favorites such as science fiction and fantasy that are eternal in their popularity. I never really got into trend writing. It appears I’m too scary. I wrote one story in my Murder Mystery Series that dealt with the character hunting for a killer who might have brought an airliner down. Too real, my critics complained. Okay, I admit it was a bit grisly but that’s what real violence is. I also wrote an outline of a story from the view point of a serial killer stacking the reader. My beta reader couldn’t sleep for nights and I thought I’d have to put her in therapy so that idea got shelved. I have written a science fiction anthology called The Dark Matter Corps which has met with a lot of positive feedback so maybe I shouldn’t give up on this area of writing after all.
The epic novel has been popular for some time. By this I mean the door stopper edition of three hundred pages that chronicles a lesbian couple’s life over a number of years. Some of these have become true classics. They are iffy though as some lack a plot and just go on and on and…
Then there are the character driven novels. Author’s sometimes come up with characters that the readers fall in love with and there is a demand for more stories. This is great but the author has to be very careful not to fall into the dreaded pit of formula writing. <shudder> I wrote the Seasons stories and readers fell for Robbie Williams and Janet in a big way. When I had Robbie kiss another woman the readership was up in arms. I thought one reader might hunt me down. J I didn’t want to fall in the trap of being a formula writer so I stopped after five stories. That said I caved and ended up writing the Murder Mystery Series (Three Doses of Murder and Murder in Triplicate) which is a spinoff of the characters in Seasons.
Holiday themes are seasonally popular with readers, particularly Valentine’s Day and Christmas but they are seasonal and therefore sales spike and drop annually. I wrote The Little Book of Big Christmas Stories which surprised readers because they are not all happy ever afters. (although most are) I felt that readers would understand and appreciate that sometimes you have to struggle to find the magic of Christmas in difficult times. Holiday themes though can be iffy. I mean what can you do with the Easter Bunny or with Groundhog Day that hasn’t been done already?
I might be wrong but I think I’m one of the few authors that sets stories regularly in a variety of different countries and areas such as Kenya, South Africa, China, Bora Bora, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon and so on. I love travel and I think making readers see that the world is not a dangerous place but full of wonderful cultures and amazing scenery is an important message. It also allows my characters to be fresh with different world views. I’ve written the anthology Journeys and also Encounters and they have remained popular for years now. So much so in fact that I have several readers in the process of visiting all the places I’ve written about. Now that does make this author feel great.
Interestingly, there are a few areas that have a limited novel base although some of these novels are extremely popular. Lesbian readers don’t seem to be big into westerns, magic or hospital stories. They are out there but few and far between compared to other topics or maybe I’ve just missed them.
Picking a topic is important but should never be the overriding reason, I feel, for writing a story. I will have to admit, however, that I have been guilty of being too casual about a topic. I was once doing laps in a pool in Tobago when this neat title popped into my head, Iron Rose Bleeding. Then I had to write a novel to suit the title! It turned out to be a novel that got a lot of reader response as it hit on the whole issue of the misused of the Earth’s environment but seen through the eyes of an outsider. It was a poor reason for writing a novel but I got lucky and it’s a good read I’m told.
I imagine as soon as this blurb is posted authors will be sharpening their quills to pock at me because I haven’t covered a topic well enough or missed one topic that is favoured by lesbian readers. Hopefully, my over view whether right or wrong gives the author and reader something to think about.
Encounters, Seasons, Three Doses of Murder, Murder in Triplicate,
Gold Mountain, Iron Rose Bleeding, The Little Book of Big Christmas
Stories, Journeys, America, Tides, The Dark Matter Corps and coming
Soon the Sahara Harris Series
Got feedback? Contact Anne at email@example.com