Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Risk from another perspective

In another serendipitous coincidence, after I blogged about risk yesterday, today on Romancing the Blog, agent Kristin Nelson writes about the same thing. As she sees it, a reluctance to take the big gamble is what keeps midlist authors from breaking out, and that when it comes to taking risks, an unpublished author may be better off.

I don't disagree with this. Indeed, I've said it before and I'll say it again, you're never as free to write what you want as you are before you're published.

I'd also like to point out, though, that unpublished writers have nothing to lose. They can afford to take the big risks because it's not going to cost them anything other than time and paper. They don't have readers to lose and editors to dismay.

Ms. Nelson then goes on to say, "And I’d like to propose that this is what the top bestsellers in the romance field do all the time. They throw out all their previous notions of what works. What was their former success and they pretend like it’s brand new and for the very first time. They mimic the world and creative space of an unpublished, debut writer and the results can be stunning.

They reinvent themselves by avoiding the tried and true and taking risks. Time and time again."

Maybe some do, but I can think of examples where the opposite certainly seems to apply, at least with historicals. Off the top of my head I can think of two bestselling historical romance authors who, as far as I can tell, stay pretty true to the elements that brought them to the bestseller lists in the first place.

I will agree that sometimes, we authors fear going too far away from what we've done before. As I said, we have readers to lose. And as somebody who's felt the sting of readers' disappointment, that's not something you can easily discount, either.

But since it's my career and my income I'd be gambling with, let me decide how much I want to risk. It's easy for somebody to say you ought to take risks, because they aren't the ones actually doing the risking. They aren't the ones who'll be spending hours at the computer, on what may pay off big-time, or what may be a huge waste of time and effort -- because you can't tell whether you're taking a big gamble that will pay off, or a big gamble that will get you zilch. Nobody can.

At this point, I'm not willing to throw all the readers I've earned out the window and hope for the best.

And what may seem to be a "comfort zone" is simply what the writer most enjoys writing. I write mostly medievals not because I'm afraid to try something else. I write mostly medievals because I enjoy writing them. And for me, that enjoyment is truly vital to my writing.

Now, there may come a time when I can't sell a historical romance anymore. That's when I'll take the really big gamble, because all bets are off anyway.


Kimber said...

I don't agree with authors abruptly switching gears and expecting their fans to follow them blindly. I don't buy authors, I don't buy publishers, I don't buy agents, I buy novels.

Sure when I'm looking for a great medieval romance, I pick up your novels first but that's because you write reliably great medievals.

I don't need shockingly different. You could give me the same plot with different characters and I wouldn't complain (because its then a different book).

Margaret Moore said...

You're right, Kimber. The same general gist of a plot with different characters will be different -- different motives, backstory, etc.

If an author has a really exciting idea he or she loves and wants to pursue, by all means, go for it. But taking the big risk should always be because the author wants to, not because the author feels he or she has to -- the same way tweaking should be a choice.

And thanks so much for the vote of confidence!

CherylStJ said...

...and then sometimes the publisher won't let you out of your zone because of reader expectation...