WHY AN AUTHOR’S EARLY WORKS ARE USUALLY MOST ORIGINAL© 2011, Vicki Hinze
When an author first begins sharing his or her writing, s/he has most freedom in the writing. There are no expectations to be met—none by a publisher, none by agents, none by reviewers, and none by readers. This gives the author the liberty to write at will.
After the first book is published, then all of those groups do have expectations of more of the same only different. And if the writer doesn’t deliver that, some will take exception.
For example, if your first novel is a saga and your second is a romantic comedy, the expectation was for another saga, and so that expectation not being met will resonate with those who expected it. Some will not like the change. Some will. Some who were not interested in reading a saga will be interested in reading a romantic comedy.
So for career-building purposes, it’s a wiser move to meet those expectations by writing the same type of book. Not the same story over and again, but the same type of story.
That’s not to say you have to do so. Only that it’s harder to build a career when you switch the types of books you write. The more frequently you shift types, the more the above gain some and lose some occurs.
My point is that a writer should be deliberate in what s/he writes and publishes. I knew long before I started publishing that I would take the hard road in building my career. I knew I would write many different types of books, and that my readership would be dynamic because of that choice.
I wasn’t writing just to build a career. I was building a life. My purpose was to write healing books. Ones that I felt held merit and could help everyday people who feel broken by their situations or experiences to overcome obstacles constructively and heal.
In my earliest published works, you’ll see people who made mistakes that carried steep consequences to themselves and to others. In my most current works, you’ll see people who made mistakes that carried steep consequences to themselves and others. Early or recent works, you’ll see victims choose not to let what happened to them steal their present or their future as well as their pasts.
Those things remain constant book to book. There is another thing that ties all of the books together, regardless of genre or the absence of one: every book has elements of suspense, mystery and romance. The different label of genre is determined by that book’s focus on one of those three elements.
Why those three elements? Because I have to have all three to love a book, and I won’t write a book I don’t love. That’s my one writing rule. Why?
Because if I don’t love it, how can anyone else? A reader—regardless of whether s/he is an editor, agent, reviewer, bookseller, or reader—can’t get something out of a book that a writer doesn’t first put in.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that every reader will love my books. They won’t. But those who seek the same themes and elements have greater odds if I’ve loved it.
Now what impact does that have on originality?
It has a huge impact.
Many, including writers, believe that once an author starts publishing, s/he can write whatever s/he wants. But in fact the opposite is true because of expectations. When you start, there are none. But with each successive book, there are more and more expectations that the writer is expected to meet.
So think of the writer’s career as an inverted pyramid. The higher up the career ladder the writer climbs, the less freedom s/he has to experiment and explore and write totally different projects.
There are exceptions, and I am one. But note that while my books might cut a broad swath—from paranormal novels or metaphysical novels to general fiction, to psycho thrillers, drama, military romantic suspense, intrigue, women’s action adventure, thrillers, mystery/suspense, to Christian fiction, they all have healing themes and those same three elements: suspense, mystery, romance. These are the constants in my body of work. These are the things the reader can expect and will find—and my love for the project (the value of which should never be underestimated).
I’m often asked why I take so many risks. I could have built a career much more easily had I written in one genre. Found my niche and stayed in it. That’s true, but a writer also has to create their own definition of success. Mine is purpose. To fulfill my purpose, I must follow my bliss. That’s the fuel that fires the engine in me so I love the work. Merit, need, offering those healing opportunities—that, to me, is success.
Fortunately, early on, I learned to let readers know what kind of book they were getting. If you look on my website at the book page, you’ll see ABA—general market fiction. You’ll see CBA—Christian fiction. You’ll see Military Intrigue, Romantic Suspense—all kinds of labels to cue the reader as to the type of book. If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter (or bi-monthly, depending on deadlines and news), you’ll see labels and the discussion cueing readers on what kind of book a specific one is. You prepare your readers. You show them the same respect they show you in choosing your books.
In all my years of writing, which is well over two decades, I’ve been blessed with readers who trust me on the constants. Many, including the reader who wrote me my very first fan letter in 1993, are still with me. And I’ve received one note from one reader who has followed me until I started writing Christian fiction. She says when I move to another type of book, she’ll be back.
I could say I was fine with that, but truthfully, I was disappointed. Of course, I was. But her objection is based on religious grounds, and that is to be respected.
So early works are usually most original because the writer is free to experiment and explore and take huge risks. The higher up the ladder, the fewer opportunities exist to do that, but the risks don’t just impact the writer and those dependent on him or her. They impact the agent and editor and publisher, too.
Many publishers rely on a large volume of sales to stay fiscally sound. Can’t fault them for that. Everyone wants fiscally sound publishers. But that means they work to minimize risks.
Now that many authors are publishing themselves, I expect we’ll see this long-established pattern of most original works early in a writer’s career expand. Many writers who are independently publishing have what they call “books of the heart” that they’ve written but couldn’t publish because they were too different or because the work would appeal to a small niche market or any of a thousand other reasons. Now they can and will and are publishing those works.
So I do expect this trend to change. How soon? No idea. I thought it would take three to five years for ebooks to explode and it’s surpassed my three-year expectations in a year. But writers are natural risk-takers. They have to be or they’d never be writers. So I don’t expect it will take long for it to be common. How do I know that? Because it’s already started.