Yesterday, I enjoyed a delicious treat at my local garden centre – this lavender and honey cake. I had selected a huge scone with plenty of butter and strawberry jam, but then I passed this on the counter and just couldn’t say no because it sounded so different.
My conclusion? Delicious! I was so glad I’d made that choice. What a journey. The first mouthful really did taste of lavender, with tiny purple fragrant flowers in the icing. As I continued, I detected a kind of ginger flavour, followed by a more usual sponge taste. After another bite a distinct zing of TCP wowed me (for non UK residents that is a antiseptic wash!). It was one surprise after another, held together by the underlying familiar flavours and textures I expect from cake.
And this made me think of commercial (not literary) writing. It can be a frustrating business, trying to get that first deal. You write something different and publishers say booksellers won’t be able to place it on their shelves. So you try creating something more in tune with what is popular at the moment and agents call it derivative and won’t take it on.
I believe the only way to write is from the heart, and I do that, but at the same time I want to make enough sales to earn a living, so I keep an eye on the market. This doesn’t mean selling my authorly soul but, to my mind, as someone who depends on writing to pay the bills, it means offering readers more of the same – that they love – to attract them to the book, but then something different inside (so that they don’t feel it is “just another read” of that genre.)
I mean, if that cake had been sold in a wrapper that said “Yes, it actually does taste of lavender, with added zings of ginger and TCP”, to be honest, I’m not sure I would have risked it! The cake simply had a really appealing title and honey made it sound comforting and familiar. Plus it looked good, so I couldn’t resist.
Take my award-winning summer 2015 novel, Game of Scones. Originally it was set in heaven – don’t ask! In retrospect my editor was jolly polite in the manner that she turned it down! Even I roll my eyes when I look back. What on earth was I thinking? It would have totally alienated readers who’d enjoyed my 3 previous non – paranormal romcoms. But I was determined to use that title, I loved it so much, so eventually, I came up with an idea I was even more passionate about – a romance starring very exotic scones, an English teashop on a Greek island of all places and subjects such as the Syrian refugee crisis. A holiday love story, yes – but with a difference.
And this is what I’m hoping I’ve done with my latest summer release, out now, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. I’m thrilled with the many reviews that have mentioned the shocks and surprises within the story and aspects of life they never thought would be covered in such a book.
I’ve covered subjects that are close to my heart – that I am passionate about. Otherwise, as an author, what is the point? But I have kept close to my usual style, not in a cynical way, but because I love my readers and want them to continue enjoying my work. If I want a growing audience for the subjects that inspire me then I have to think of the best way to keep loyal readers happy, whilst still attracting new ones to my work.
Of course, it’s a risk, trying something different. And all of us authors get our fair share of bad reviews – not everyone will like your work. And if you write some very different, that publishers and agents decide is too much of a risk for them to take on – and your heart is 100% in it – there is nothing to stop you from self-publishing. I am in awe of some self-pubbed authors out there, who’ve got to grips with the necessary technology and enjoyed great success. And there are always those break-out books, taken on by traditional publishers. that inspire a new genre – like Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades. There is nothing to say that your story couldn’t be one of those.
I can only speak for myself, and my personal goal is to – hopefully – give the majority of those readers, who click the buy button, a literary slice of lavender and honey cake. The unexpected within the expected. Good luck with whatever path you take with your writing. That’s the great thing with the digital revolution – there are now so many routes.