Writing goals, genre expectations, and the corporatization of the publishing industry.
I've been thinking a lot lately about my writing goals--what kind of books I want to write, how I want to write it. There's a lot of talk about writing to market. This is often conflated with writing to trend, e.g. vampires are hot now, let's write stories with vampires. Writing to market, I think, is a bit broader. It's more about fulfilling genre expectations. For example, if a reader picks up a cozy mystery, they expect an amateur detective, a small town, and all the violence happening off the page. A body is discovered, but it's not particularly gruesome, and the reader doesn't "see" the crime occur.
Lately, the list of genre expectations in the cozy mystery field has been growing longer. Now the amateur detective needs to be a small business owner, preferably with something involving baking or crafting, so you can get that recipe/knitting pattern/whatever in the back of the book. There needs to be an animal, with a character arc, no less. There's more, but I can't think of them right now (this really is a late night stream-of-consciousness blog).
I think a lot of these genre expectations are set by traditional publishers. And they make sense. They want to sell books. They want to know where to tell bookstores to put books on shelves--i.e. to group like books with like books, so the right readers can find them. As a cozy reader myself, I don't want to pick up a book that I think will end with the solving of a crime, and discover the hero gets killed and the killer gets away with it.
The problem is, it all seems to be getting a little too alike. Rules and restrictions can often spur creativity. I've had assignments in creative writing courses with ridiculous restrictions, and they've always forced me to do something really creative. But I don't think that's happening in traditional publishing.
I think the same thing is happening in movies and music. It's gotten corporatized and "safe," and it's all sounding the same within genres.
Indie publishers don't have to follow those "rules." Most of us do, because we also want our books to be on the right shelf--whether it's in a physical store or online. Also, there's an entire industry of "how to's" when it comes to indie publishing. How to write, how to sell, how to advertise. And since we all want to sell, authors eagerly follow this advice... And end up just like every other author who came through the course or read the book. But more and more, indie writers are starting to break from the pack.
Some of these break-outs will be failures. Maybe most of them will. But I think pushing the envelope and coloring outside the lines will be a good thing for creativity, originality, and entertainment.