Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being accessible vs. "selling out"

Besides writing pop fiction (sweet romance, magical romance, and ~ my latest foray into something new ~ spicy sci-fi romance!) I've been at work for more than a decade on a big, sprawling cross-genre work that takes an oblique look at the nature of the mother-daughter bond by examining my late mother's life and our relationship through biography, memoir, and fantasy.

In a recent email conversation with another writer, who's working on a series of mysteries that incorporate magical realism, we talked about making our work understandable. She said, "I am on the precipice currently" about making the novel "more reader friendly/sellable, or something I am proud of as different and unsellable."  In response to some critique she'd received, she'd "tried simplicity [but] I didn't like it."  She still runs into passages she'd rewritten for this purpose, she said, and I got the impression that they strike a false note for her. She concluded, "I know there is a compromise somewhere..."
This poem about Older Women by local poet
Afrose Ahmed seems to fit here.

This is something I've struggled with too. I believe that there is a compromise possible, and one that's ultimately necessary unless one is not just writing for oneself. 

Accessibility matters.

It's too easy for us literary writers to get on our high horses and equate salable with selling out. Frankly, I see no virtue in being deliberately unsalable. We are not nihilistic youths who glory in the incomprehensibility of their wails of adolescent angst. We're mature women, women of the world in the best sense, whose writing flows from the well of our rich and deep experience of life. 

Writing something in a deliberately different way because that's the best way you see to tell your story?  I'm with you there one hundred percent - as long as it's also accessible to your intelligent readers. Every good book is ultimately a partnership between writer and reader. If you are writing something unusual, in content or in format or both, you want readers who are willing to try something new, and also willing to maybe work harder than usual to understand what they're reading. Those readers are worthy of your respect.

Accessibility has little to do with being sellable, and nothing to do with being publishable (anyone can publish anything these days). It's about communication. If my purpose in writing a book is to communicate something of my vision to others, then I do my best to make sure that those others I want to reach can follow what I am telling them. I don't oversimplify; I don't dumb anything down, but I try always to remember that the reader does not have the same insight into my vision that I have.  It's my job to convey the vision to the reader's understanding.

This is where critique is vital. Whenever I have to explain what I've written to my critique partners, then at least some of my other readers are bound to be confused by it too ~ and I won't be on hand to explain it to them. 

So it's up to me to do everything I can, short of oversimplifying, to avoid confusion. Sometimes it's just a question of tweaking the word order, or of making new word choices, but it's very hard work! Writing a romance story is a stroll in the park compared to that labor.

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