Through a lot of years writing and teaching writing, I have noticed that to earn a living as a writer of fiction, we should adhere to this simple formula:
Get born and/or raised with a moderate or better gift for storytelling; then learn the essentials of the storywriter’s craft; then find, create, or get crammed into a niche.
The ideal journey leads through an agent who is both delighted with our work and with the potential of our work to make a fortune, who then places the book with an editor who is both delighted with our work and with its potential to make a fortune. An editor like the one who phoned John Irving and said, “Now you can quit your day job.”
Should the ideal path elude us, we’re faced with a perilous excursion to locate the crossroads of what we choose to write and what a sizeable number of folks want to read.
Here darkness and light may collide. We might find ourselves confronting a Faustian choice. Do we base our decision on cold-blooded business logic, or on what new age gurus mean when they advise us to follow our bliss?
For those of us born to and raised by idealists and dreamers, the business option leads nowhere. When we take that direction, sooner or later we snooze at the wheel and crash.
If we survive, we hobble back to the crossroads and onto the bliss route. There, while searching out readers who share our passions and concerns, we get stopped by the need to take on a label, a genre, sub-genre or niche.
Take me, for example: my books have been labeled as literary, mystery, PI, male PI, historical, and noir. But the rub is, in each of those categories are somewhere between a thousand and six million other novelists.
To become visible in the midst of that great host, we’ll need to create or discover a sub-sub-genre, or a sub-sub-sub one. A hyper-targeted marketable niche.
Here we idealists may pause to wonder where we made the wrong turn that led back to the business route.
For about ten years, since my dreams of the perfect agent to perfect editor path got banished by fatigue and/or wisdom, I have been seeking a marketable niche. But until lately, every one that came to mind was too abstract. While learning the writers’ craft, I began to prefer the concrete over the abstract.
Not long ago, as I strolled past an antique shop, a series of experiences reached a climax. The light bulb flashed. I discovered my concrete niche.
My novels are about crime and 20th century California. Or, those obsessions are what marketing folks might call the platform, the brand.
Such marketing fellows insist that wherever we meet the public, whatever represents us–business cards, facebook templates, every item in the labyrinth of marketing opportunities–must announce our brand.
I’m looking for a hand painted tie like detective Tom Hickey wears. Maybe it will feature a trained bear eating somebody or a guy falling from the Golden Gate. And already I have a new web site. Check it out, please, and shoot me a comment. Please.