We write our stories for different reasons. If one of them is to make a career of it — not simply to publish, but to last — you need to be able to finish that sentence for your readers with clarity and purpose.
You need to be playing the long game.
When you look at the regular names that claim a spot on the bestseller lists, and then ask yourself (and others) why you read them, you’ll quickly realize how true this is.
They have a brand, an expectation that they deliver to.
We read John Grisham because he always delivers an interesting slant on the law, and there’s always an underdog being victimized by it.
We read Nelson Demille because his dialogue sizzles with cynical wit, his protagonists are self-depricating patriots who are the silent heroes we wish we could be, and the pursuit of the solution is always visceral and satisfying.
We read Stuart Woods because he doesn’t mess around with narrative, he prefers dialogue that is short, snappy and simply loaded with appeal. We overlook the silly stories just to hear the characters snipe at each other.
We read James Patterson because it goes down easy, digests quickly and you can knock off a whole novel on a single leg of a trip, including layover.
We read James North Patterson because he tears into the nuances of the law in ways that actually make interesting sense, and we feel enlightened along the way.
We read Clive Cussler to live vicariously. Exotic lands, dangerous journeys, treasure and treason, all that Indiana Jones kind of stuff.
We read Jonathan Franzen because… well, my guess is because the critics say we should, and when we do we’re ready for some cocktail party chit-chat, even if we have to lie about finishing.
I tried for that over the course of my five novels, but I didn’t stay the course.
We read — and I use the term simply to stay in tune here — Larry Brooks because he takes us into dark little corners of ourselves we are afraid to admit we find delicious, along with some snappy (and snarky) dialogue.
Trouble is, I distributed that particular brand — that’s what we’re talking about here, the writer’s brand — across a sexy thriller, a techno thriller, an arena-dependant thriller, and a speculative apocalyptic thriller. Some stuff stayed consistent, but I wasn’t carving a deep enough niche.
The long game involves knowing who are as writers, and delivering it. It can take a while to land on it — it can take years — and sometimes, when a book hits, it becomes our inheritence rather than our choice. Whatever… branding works, and we need to understand it when we can.
Part of the process involves realizing we are not writing for ourselves as much as we are writing for an audience, one we are trying to grow. Rare is the first book that defines a career. And yet, when it gets some traction, even a little, reades and want more of the same. Which is why it’s best to focus on what jacks your wagon, rather than get stuck with some science experiement that ends up defining you.
Who are you as a writer? And why will anybody care?
That’s the question we need to keep posted next to our keyboards.
Who do you read? What is it about their work that you know is dependable, that you look forward to with each new story?