Yesterday, I was talking with a friend about the game industry and how risk management is one reason new type of games aren’t being published. That games that succeed are sequences to the previous ones or copies from existing and proofed games. He is a veteran of the industry, and he said developing a new style of game is a huge gamble which demands both time and money and the results aren’t guaranteed. Therefore big game studios don’t always go for something new. (Consider they have bills to pay and hundreds of employees. They need the games to provide.) And I compared this to the book industry and writing itself.
This same risk aversion you see in games are present in the book industry from both the reader’s and publisher’s perspective. They both want to reduce the unnecessary risk by buying from a known author whose earlier work they have loved than take a gamble with a new unknown writer, but if that writer happens to write with a similar style, premise and often enough the same story than a known author then taking that risk becomes that much easier. We as people hate risk. We hate to waste our time and money, and we are naturally prone to familiarity. (We don’t like to step out of our comfort zones.) I keep reading/hearing people searching for the same book over and over again. I want to read a book with an underdog hero, and so on, because I loved such-and-such a book. Only natural. It makes sense to invest our attention as a reader and a publisher into something we know works. (It is a sensible thing to do as a publisher with responsibilities.)
But how about creativity and innovation? They are still out there. Once in a while comes along a book, movie, game, an album that is new, refreshing, and captivates the audience. Someone took a risk making it, and a producer took a risk financing it. Then follows a trend where everyone copies the format with their own twist. There is nothing wrong with this. So it goes. But how about you and me as a reader and writer?
As a reader, stepping out of a comfort zone is a good thing. It expands our mind, but when time and money is in a short supply, there is nothing wrong with going with what you love. That is understandable.
But what about us writers? If you want a sure way to succeed, go with the familiar. However, this doesn’t mean you can fake it. Readers/audience can smell a copy made of dispassion and for money. And no, plagiarism isn’t an option either. You need to make it your own with the proved elements that work. There is another way to get rich, let’s all write dinosaur porn. I heard that is a sure way to make money through writing. Anyway, unfortunately, or fortunately (whichever way you look at the issue), most of us writers believe into what we write and want to write stories based on our preferences, what inspires us, comes out of us, and in our own voice. This is a good thing, yet, I would say it is necessary to understand what might be the risks for your book not to be well received. It would be foolish to go blindly forward and wonder why everyone doesn’t think you are a genius.
As writers, we need to take risks to a point, because a book without suspension and done out of convention and fear can turn bland and boring as crit. You can check if familiarity and risks are in balance by using a triangle. Where one trade can be wacky, odd, out there, and so on, the two others have to be familiar. So you might go with a wacky story, familiar characters, and conventional style. This will cause the reader to have an element of surprise in a safe setting where they know the basic not to stop reading because they feel out of place or uncomfortable. This triangle works with any minor detail: settings, characters, a scene, a piece of clothing… It is a triangle of balanced bizarreness. It is not a good idea to turn all three odd or even two. And to remind it is not an either-or it is a sliding scale. Let’s play with it.
So how this all translates into my writing? I think I take too many risks or too big risks. Like with my first book, I had a full cast of older characters. The two main characters were over 80 years old. I knew when I wrote my book that this is a turn off for the major public and I battled with myself if to change their ages, but I didn’t. That is the way they (characters and also the story) wrote themselves. I assessed the risk and took it understanding the age will be an issue. The same goes for my second book, I know the major public won’t care for a book about economics even in an undead, Necropolis setting, but I accept that. The trick is to find the audience who will love my premise entertaining. Those weird readers who laugh at resurrected bankers and glowing skulls as computers, and like some serious pondering about economics on the background as the story unfolds. This is a risk I’m willing to take because it is something I believe in and it is something that comes out of me (liked it or not.) If this doesn’t work, I’ll try that dinosaur porn. What a big tail you have…
Thank you for reading!
P.S. My cat helped me to write this. She also distracted me and a lot. Soft and cute little devil.
P.P.S. Happy New Year ❤