Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lines in the Sand

Barbara here. I love how the various Type M authors sometimes feed off one another. Rick’s post of yesterday grew out of Aline’s, and mine today comes from his. He asked whether a great book that is fresh, unusual and challenges the reader’s expectations has a chance in today’s publishing market. If the publisher’s marketing gurus don’t think it can sell millions, will it even get picked up? Smaller, so-called “niche” publishers may buy it, which gives the author the joy of seeing their work in print, but doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Writers are left with a number of difficult choices. To write what the publishers and marketing departments think will sell, or to write the story the author is longing to tell? How much do they modify that story to appease the marketplace? Should they make the protagonist more likeable? Younger? Sassier? A vampire perhaps? Should they add more sex? More car crashes? Take out the classical music and add country and western?

And the question that confronts every Canadian author... Should I set my book in Canada, or in the US or UK? Many Canadian authors, myself included, were told at the outset that if they want to sell their book to a decent-sized publisher, it has to be set in the United States. Americans aren’t interested in Canada. I suspect many regional American writers are also told the same thing about their own local settings. Change it to New York, or LA, or some place more exciting. One author friend was told to change his setting from Montreal to Buffalo. Nothing against Buffalo, but really?

Authors can stick stubbornly to their principles, but then quite likely the only choice open to them is self-publishing, which brings its own headaches and heartaches. In the interests of landing a publisher who will promote, distribute and ‘legitimize’ their work, author can often convince themselves that a couple of changes don’t substantially change the story they’re longing to tell. But somewhere along the road of changes, the story itself is lost and the author feels like a sell-out. There’s an even worse word, but…

The story can be lost if the main character is no longer the one that sparked the story in the first place. The protagonist, his quest, his struggle and his ultimate evolution, are the heart of a story. When we think back on the great stories that captivated us, it is not the plot twists we remember, but the characters. Holden Caulfield, Oliver Twist…

The story can also be lost if the setting is changed. Each area has its own stories, its own geography, cultural flavour, history and tensions. Canada, for example, is a land of vastly different landscapes, from Rockies to prairies to rugged coastal rock, and of cultures and conflicts unique to each area. Just ask any Albertan, or Newfoundlander, or Quebecker. Not to mention the north.Each area has its own story to tell.

At a certain point, every author has to draw their own line in the sand. The hope of money or fame or a TV deal can move that line very far from its original point, but in the end, there are no guarantees. If the author has not told the story they wanted to tell, or do not recognize the final product as coming from their own heart and dreams, they may end up with nothing. Not even the sense of pride and satisfaction in a story well told.

4 comments:

urgentessays.co.uk said...
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Melodie Campbell said...

Barbara, what a terrific post. You capture the dilemma absolutely, and in an even-handed way. I faced exactly this with one of the big six publishers that wanted me to rewrite a book to make it fit a different genre. I couldn't do it. Still wondering if I made the right decision.

Barbara Fradkin said...

An awful choice, Mel. Everyone has to eat. And the chance at the big score is very seductive as well.

Aline Templeton said...

So interesting, Barbara, particularly about Canada. When I started writing, Scottish authors were told the same thing but with the success of Tartan Noir, no longer!