How much to court fame and money, and how much to chase your dream?
We all face this question in our writing; we can choose a trendy topic, or we can go with our own fancy and see where it takes us.
Partly it comes down to an old saw oft repeated at writer’s workshops: write what you know. This tidbit of wisdom has taken fire lately from some writers, and often spurs fledgling authors to transcribe a bagatelle of personal experiences onto the page, hoping for the “write what you know magic” to produce a story. And if you aim at, say, science fiction, how can you write what you know, short of coming from outer space?
But in a sense, you are what you read. If you read westerns throughout your youth, then perhaps that genre is what you know. If it is romance, then that is what you know. Don’t forget, whatever sub-genre tops the trend heap right now will not necessarily do so by the time you finish your opus and pimp it around to several agents. Your work may provide the change of pace that editors will look for.
Nora Roberts had this to say:
“The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it.”
Naturally, we couch our queries in such a way as to highlight similar, successful works. But we also must demonstrate that we aim for a niche that now stands empty, and that our work in some way differs from anything else out there. And you can’t do that by cloning off the top hits.
So write what you know. You are, after all, an expert on books. Or you should be. If not, hit your local bookseller right away.