Write a good book, they said

ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT LOVE

Humans are born needing love to survive – ‘failure to thrive’ may even be a cause of death when there is not enough love, in the form of feeding, holding, keeping warm, for an infant to want to live.

If that love isn’t present ‘enough’ by a certain age, it may never be recovered. Adults who have survived have significant problems. The Romanian children kept in orphanages and later adopted often were incapable of attaching to their new parents, parent who were not prepared to deal with them and their special needs.

Distinguishing between a Romance and a mainstream love story

like Pride’s Children is critical for my advertising, and it is something I still have a very hard time with.

Romance readers do not like Pride’s Children.

The negative reviews I have come from people whose expectations were not met.

And that’s my fault – because something I did caused them to EXPECT a Romance.

Romance readers have very clear ideas of what they want:

  • a relationship between TWO people
  • relatively short books
  • more of the same only different – from the same author
  • an HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now) endings
  • and in some cases, a form of point of view that alternates, in the same scene, between the points of view of the two characters
  • covers which indicate the kind of Romance enclosed within, from chaste to steamy
  • recommendations from Romance websites

There are many variations and compilations, but those are the basics from what I can discern.

I wish I wrote Romance – it is in some ways much easier to signal what a book is, and to market.

There is also a huge amount of competition!

A mainstream love story is a different beast

Even though Gone With the Wind is often listed as a Romance (and ‘Romance’ is what all novels used to be designated), it is not: no happy ending, not even a HFN. NOT a relationship between two people – Ashley Wilkes is in the middle for most of the book. And no head-hopping: the point of view is firmly locked on Scarlett for the whole story, but in a limited, not very intimate, omniscient way.

I’d call GWTW a mainstream love story, even a fairly literary one.

And I think that is the key to its enduring success.

At the end, we ache for Scarlett, for ‘tomorrow is another day,’ for her transformation, for her future – which made it irresistible for the Margaret Mitchell estate to allow a writer to take the story further.

Unfortunately, they picked a Romance writer, which I believe was the wrong choice, and didn’t buy.

But the marketing… with the book’s fame, they could market it any way they wanted.

I don’t have that fame.

Traditional publishers might have known how to market Pride’s Children

Many things kept me from submitting Pride’s Children to an agent, trying to find a traditional publisher:

  • I’m deathly slow
  • Disability is handled in the story – at the time I was nearing a finish, disability only got lip service while being sort of categorized with ‘diversity’
  • I’m pathologically stubborn
  • I have believed the indie self-published path is better for a long time now
  • I dislike not having everything in my control
  • I was sure I would be getting, “Nice – but not for us right now” responses, as traditional publishers went with things they were more certain they could sell
  • I knew I would be asked to change certain elements of the story to something more palatable
  • I don’t like their royalty structure
  • If I break out, I want it to be because of what I did, and not for someone else to be able to claim the credit.

But not going traditional leaves me in charge of marketing and publicity.

And most indies do not write mainstream literary fiction!

So there is little path to follow, and that among mostly indie historical novelists; though if I end up taking as long as I seem to be, ‘historical’ may fit me. Depends on whether it is 25 or 50 years since the events happened, as 2005/6 is the timeframe. I’ll probably make 25 by the time I finish the third volume, but probably not be around for 50.

I am gleaning information and ideas from many sites and groups

None of them really appropriate.

I need to figure out how to ‘go viral,’ to capture the zeitgeist, to become popular.

While still having zero energy, fighting my body daily to get some writing brain time, and trying to blaze a trail.

I have ideas. I have sources and places to put ads (some of the previous ones were expensive disastrous messes). I get cannier and sneakier and more educated and more focused with each thing I try.

But it hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.

The last attempt led me to USTO.gov (copyrights and trademarks and such) to make sure a phrase I will trademark wasn’t being used already.

It isn’t.

But the cost is not zero, and the category I fit in right now – intent-to-use – won’t last long enough for my purposes, so I’m not revealing it until I’m ready to use it. Meanwhile, I will be on tenterhooks.

Which brings me full circle:

‘Write a good book,’ they said.

But never said that part of that may make it extremely hard to sell.

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As usual, comments are very welcome – and I love getting suggestions.

Also, my thanks to Stencil for their graphics software and ability to have a free account for up to ten images a month.

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30 thoughts on “Write a good book, they said

  1. Lynda Dietz

    I think the not-your-typical-romance aspect is what I liked best about Purgatory. There’s a relationship, it’s normal and it’s complicated—just like real life. And it doesn’t all wrap up tidily.

    It’s unfortunate that “Romance” has become synonymous with buff bodies, millionaires, and a quick HEA. I want a love story more like the Outlander series—at the core of it is Jamie and Claire’s relationship, with all its beauty and ugliness, spanning decades with no quick fixes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I like the “I’m not going down this path unless it is RIGHT” aspect of what I’m writing. Which gets reinforced in Book #2 – choices are made, and it’s no longer about just personal consequences.

      Do you remember Jane Eyre offering to go to India (!) with her cousin St. John as his sister, friend, companion – and him insisting it had to be as his wife? That’s the extra bit – and I learned from the best. She wouldn’t go if it wasn’t right.

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  2. Sharon

    Romance can be such a misleading term, how many people have picked up Wuthering Heights expecting something very different to what they got. Labels can be very disparaging and misleading. Wish we could all just embrace the rich tapestry that is life, without assumptions and labels.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      That’s why I capitalize Romance – to agree that it is its own category. Proper labeling ensures people get what they want – from groceries to cars to books.

      You don’t want to try to fool readers – they will resent it!

      AND they leave bad reviews when they are unhappy.

      You want the rich tapestry of life, but many readers want something the same, only different, that they can sink into.

      It’s like tuning your TV to what the guide says will be Gray’s Anatomy or your favorite soap, only to be shown something with zombies or aliens.

      A very small proportion of readers will read on, intrigued, and expand their reading horizons. The majority will throw the book against the wall, and vow never to get anything from you again.

      I’m for accuracy in labeling. Then you can decide if you want to try something different, so it’s your choice.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      My point is that I want to LIVE with characters a life I will not otherwise get to live.

      Which requires first that I be able to identify strongly with those characters (missing in most novels, TV series, and movies).

      And second, that the life be presented so plausibly that it feels REAL.

      Third is maybe that is isn’t real, but who cares about that?

      I couldn’t even read a few chapters of the Fifty Shades books because they failed so splendidly at my first two requirements.

      But I can read Dune, or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and believe I’m there.

      Much of it is the writing quality, but the important part is the ideas and the seamlessness of the creation.

      If I can see the flaws, I can’t believe the story. So I can’t live the life. So I won’t read the book.

      Back in my younger days, I was so desperate for reading material that I read all kinds of things I wouldn’t bother with now. I learned something from each, but I can’t afford the cost any more.

      ‘Romantic elements’ sounds as if it were added on top of the story. I’m saying love IS the story, somewhere, somehow.

      Liked by 2 people

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  3. acflory

    Yes. Back in the early 70’s I went for a trip around Tasmania with a couple of friends. We hired a transformed truck that was like a caravan inside and drove from the north of the island to the south and back north again. As I was just a passenger, I was bored out of my mind and read through about 20 Mills & Boon romances that someone had left behind. That inoculated me to Romance for life. 🙂

    Romance is wish fulfilment. I’ve even heard it described as soft porn. I can’t read it and I can’t write it, but a love story? in the context of a greater, global story? Oh yes.

    We are all likely to die poor, but I think/hope we’ll leave a legacy of good /stories/ behind. -hugs-

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I don’t know what Mills & Boon romances are, but I don’t think I’d be able to read 20 without upchucking. Wish fulfillment, for me, needs to be possible.

      And possible in Romance seems to mean ‘between beautiful healthy young people, one of whom should have money.’

      Do that for dreaming, if it makes you feel better about your life – and then form a relationship with someone entirely not like your dream?

      I’m going for plausibility. It takes a LOT more words to set up with characters defiantly different from young and healthy.

      As you know.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. acflory

        lmao! You’re not missing anything. I had no idea we’d be spending so much time just driving from A to B [top speed was 65 km with a tail wind], and I hadn’t brought a book with me, thinking I’d be too busy. So after I finished reading the breakfast cereal pack and the toilet roll wrapper, there really was nothing else. 😉

        Yes, I think that kind of ‘fantasy’ only breeds discontent. How can you settle for smell socks and all the other realities of a relationship when you’re forever expecting a six pack and champagne?

        Bah…

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  4. Catana

    In most cases, I think, the difference between romance and mainstream love stories is that romance is fantasy and mainstream love stories are realism, or at least an attempt at realism.Fantasy is, by far, more popular than realism, and pollutes almost every genre, including the one I’m most interested in: science fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. acflory

      I enjoy both scifi and fantasy, but they are not always that different. Hard SF is strict about the ‘possible’ in terms of real science, and is perhaps the only form of true scifi. Most military SF turns the science into ‘magic’ by another name. FTL? Space ‘battles’? Dog fights? Anti-gravity? Windows? Much as I enjoyed the very first Star Wars movie, it set the standard for a huge chunk of SF every since. And most other forms of SF fall somewhere between the two because there is no way we can know what aliens might be like, physically or mentally. And then there’s SFFR which is happily-ever-afters on alien planets, or /with/ aliens, or with AI/robots that are indistinguishable from the hunky guy on the cover. -facepalm-

      For me, the thing that distinguishes scifi from fantasy is the ‘villain’. In most fantasy, there is some over-arching battle between good and evil, and evil is usually some great, god-like power. The fantasy stories I love are the ones where the focus is on people power. 🙂

      Apologies for the long comment, but you struck a chord! lol

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      1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

        I love striking chords! Write away – it makes things so much more interesting.

        I love Dune – but it’s not the same thing as Heinlein. Etc.

        I’ll know I like it if I like it. Hard SF is what I used to love, but the ecology on Dune is real, if unlikely.

        I’m a sucker for well-written, and some books pull you in with their writing, even if they couldn’t possibly be true ever. The popular stuff – things like The Hunger Games – are usually aimed at some mishmash so the audience can be large.

        My own writing has SO many influences, because I loved reading anything when I was younger.

        Liked by 1 person

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        1. acflory

          I love Dune too, and for exactly the same reason. The planet and its ecology are characters in the story, and they’re every bit as important as the Fremen or Chani or Lady Jessica or even Paul.

          I always say that Dune and Left Hand of Darkness are my two favourite scif books of all time. In a sense, they’re both also fantasy.

          Have you read Robin Hobb’s Farseer books? They’re pure fantasy, and yet her world building is so deep and rich, they feel like scifi.

          I adored Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and his little know Door into Summer, but some of his later works had ‘quirks’ I found off-putting, which is why he isn’t up there on my pantheon.

          Yes, a good story is a good story is a good story! Genre really has little to do with it. I grew up reading the classics so I don’t restrict my reading, but scifi is my favourite. 🙂

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        2. acflory

          Yes, the situation over there is a lot more volatile than here. By the way, have you looked into the benefits of turmeric? The Offspring has started making a weird concoction called ‘turmeric tea’ and swears by the increase in energy. I put turmeric in a few of my dishes but not enough to say whether it actually has an effect or not. Or perhaps it only has an effect if energy levels are abnormally low to start with. Anyway, keep writing. 🙂

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        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I tried turmeric. It made me deathly ill to my stomach. I’ve tried so many things!

          My ME/CFS doesn’t usually come with nausea, and I did not like that addition.

          Plus every thing I try seems to steal working days from me while I research it, get it, try it, recover…

          I’m using the liquid B12 and nothing else but painkillers right now.

          I wish everyone were compelled to vote here – then we’d have a system which was already working well and vetted.

          This used to be a tranquil place – no more.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. acflory

          Ah, that’s a pity about the turmeric. Clearly doesn’t work for your system. I know what you mean about trying everything. We’ve been through all that too.

          Making everyone vote doesn’t guarantee that the ‘majority’ will make the best decision, but it’s better than leaving it up to the extremists at either end of the bell curve.
          Hopefully things will be tranquil again. One day. 😦

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        5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve read of other people not tolerating it, or tolerating only small amounts.

          Something with that pungent an aroma has very strong volatile oils – I don’t do well with atomized oils. No biggie. Just have to watch what I eat.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. acflory

          I think we’re aware of things like St John’s Wort being potentially dangerous but as turmeric is used in just about all curries, we don’t see it the same way. Stupid really because if it actually works as advertised then it can’t, logically, just be ‘food’.

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    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Fantasy often means ‘magic’ – and I don’t believe in superpowers, magic, or the whole shapeshifter/vampire/zombie stuff – so it makes it impossible to enjoy any story that might be based there. I find myself saying, “Oh, come on.” Constantly.

      They have to push just about everything under the rug to give room for the ideas beyond, say, immortality as a zombie. I look at the energetics of the thing: I can barely move – how would something dead keep walking?

      The ideas may be powerful, but the execution would improve them a lot.

      If the ‘What if’ is plausible, it is MUCH scarier. If, in addition, it is written well, look out!

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  5. Chris

    Fantastically informative post, thanks for sharing these ideas and thoughts.

    I have to say, modern romances (what most people understand as “romance” today) is probably my least favorite form of literature — I’m not even entirely sure I can call it that. It’s everything literature shouldn’t be: repetitive, stereotyped-to-death, lacking affect, lacking substance, lacking depth, basically pointless.

    In my opinion, the reason romance is what it is today is entirely due to its massive, production-line commercialization. When the goal is to sell as much as possible, you create a product that can be mindless, as long as it caters to special needs you have carefully managed to bring to the surface. It’s ingenious, in a way: First you convince massive numbers of people that they’re lacking in some way, and then you sell them the cure. In the words of Hecate, the protagonist of The Perfect Gray, my latest novel: “I’ve even made code that detects behavioral patterns in readers’ comments, and then sends them targeted ads selling them solutions to the problems I helped them imagine.”

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Glad to hear I spark thought.

      I capitalize Romance for that reason – to indicate the serious category Romance business.

      I don’t read them – and don’t feel that way about life, friendship, and love – so I can’t write them. I will never tell other people what to read or listen to (except for excoriating Fox ‘News’), or watch, but tastes vary, and our Romance-writing colleagues have the much larger target audience.

      They used to be treated badly by the Romance publishers – given very small advances and pitiful royalties – and now indies are doing things their own way, and there are many business successes. Good for them.

      I don’t read or write Horror, or Gothic, or Steam-anything.

      I think almost anything can be turned into literature (Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, all of Edgar Allan Poe), but many of the writers don’t go for that, and I’m assuming their readers are fine with it.

      I won’t be popular the way some are. And the product I create will take a long time to write – and demand quite a bit from my readers. So be it. There are plenty who aim at the mass audiences – and the audiences love them.

      I don’t judge – Romances are just not my thing. Neither are stock car races. And when a reader leaves a 1* or 2* review saying the book was long and boring and they couldn’t follow it, I look to my own advertising because my book shouldn’t have been attractive to them in the first place.

      My only excuse is lack of energy – I’d do a lot better otherwise. I hope.

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