Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hack Job?

A fellow writer and I had a discussion the other day on what’s selling in romance. It was sparked by the edits I’m currently doing for my latest book. The editor wants more explicit language and another sex scene to bring the heat level up to line standards. I had no trouble with that. Whatever makes the book better is fine with me.

Then I thought: better, or more saleable? Am I turning into a hack?

There’s no fault in wanting to make a living doing something you enjoy. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first learned the alphabet. I had my first success in science fiction before I sort of fell into romance. I’d been reading romance for years, even played around with a couple of plots, but never got serious until I found an open call for a romance anthology and realized I had an idea. So I wrote the idea and discovered I liked the genre and could write saleable stories in it. Then I found a publisher that likes my work. The rest isn’t history yet, but I’m working on it.

At the moment I’m writing paranormal, which is like the SF/F I was writing before, just with sex scenes. Sometimes I get caught up in the plot and have to remind myself to add sex. I’m still new at this.

This wasn’t some conscious decision prompted by market research. I didn’t look at sales figures and say, “Romance is selling better than SF, and with all the e-publishers I stand a better chance of finding a receptive market. Plus, I hear you can make huge royalties if you’re prolific. I’m going to do this for a living.” The “prolific” part alone should have scared me off. If I can write even a novella in six months, I’m having a good year.

What concerned me in the wake of our conversation was the decisions I did make. I’m trying to change my slothful habits so I write more. That’s helpful in any genre. However, I’ve added M/M novellas to my to-write list. In today’s market, that seems to be where the money is. Never mind that I’ve got ideas for paranormal M/M stories and I enjoy writing them. The book I’m editing now is M/M/F. I didn’t write it because ménages sell. It’s a sequel to my last book (an M/M novella) and I wrote it because the idea nagged at me and I wanted to hang on to the characters. On the other hand, would I have written either if their respective subgenres weren’t hot sellers right now? Am I a savvy writer with an eye on the market, or a hack?

You tell me. I’m not even sure where the line is drawn between writer and hack. I stumbled into this. I read Marvel Comics growing up because of the soap opera elements. I loved seeing relationships develop between the characters as much as I did the superheroics and cosmic plots. In high school I wrote comic book fanfic and made one of the heroes gay, so the M/M didn’t come out of nowhere. It just happens that, for once in my life, what I want to write actually has an existing, robust market. I want to make a living at this. What writer wouldn’t? But if I consciously choose to focus on the selling subgenres, am I flirting with hackdom?

I feel like I’m justifying. I don’t know. I do know I love reading my dad’s old Louis L’Amour collection, but I can’t see myself writing a Western. A Western with SF or paranormal elements, romance optional, yeah. But if straight, traditional Westerns become the next big thing, I’m up the creek. Couldn’t do it. The same for F/F in erotic romance. I have no ideas in that direction. If M/M goes down the toilet I’ll write paranormal M/Fs, which I’m still writing, by the way. Or excise the sex scenes and write the books as SF or fantasy. If the idea hits me hard enough, I have to write it down, and I have to write it the way it wants to go. That’s how I ended up here in the first place.

How about you? What’s your definition of hack, and how close do you find yourself flirting with it in your efforts to make a living as a writer? Maybe “hack” is just a term invented by people jealous of other, more prolific writers’ success. I like that one; it makes me feel better.

And now, back to the edits. How many uses of “dick” is too much in one paragraph? Ah, the life of a working writer.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, I have no clue where that fine line is. All I know is I have to stay true to myself. Yes, I do my best to write to the market [as I perceive it... don't hang your hat on that one]. However, the story is one I want to write anyway. It just goes to the head of the line. If that's hackdom, well color me guilty. But if I was a real certified hack, whatever that is, I think I be raking in a lot more bucks... both money and the shapeshifter kind...

as far as the dicks... obviously, don't ever name a character you like Dick... or do and have a great 'dick romance' time.

Or... shit, what good dick you've got... give me that dick again... oh, yeah, that's the best feeling dick evah... yeah, yeah, you big monster dick, that's it pound it...

Is that too many dicks?

If the paranormal genre ever goes down the tubes... well, I don't write anything else.

Serena Shay said...

Nah, not a hack, Pat. I call it being savvy about your career. I mean, being able to turn a love into a career is an incredible stroke of luck, so why wouldn't we want to do everything we could, and felt okay about to help sales.

However, if a writer makes changes they are diametrically oppose to, or that would change the entire story, just because they were "told" to, well that leans a little to far away from the love of our art, imho. there ever really too much "dick" in a story?

Pat C. said...

Thanks, I feel better now. I guess I had a moment of panic. Although I did make a conscious decision to write more M/M novellas, because Diana the Siren publisher told me that's where the money is. Given my age and lack of transferable skills in today's job market, this may become my only means of earning the grocery money. Don't call it hackwork; call it survival.

Hope she likes the M/M about the superhero and the supervillain who fall in love ...

Savanna Kougar said...

I have a feeling Diana will like anything that sells well.

Yeah, survival, I hear ya.