Recently, I was blessed to become friends and acquaintances with a few other SFWA and RWA authors who have been around the block. These ladies were in the industry as professionals–with livable careers–long before self-publishing came along. These ladies have been published by the big houses–and most of them still are with the big houses.
While I have traditionally published a short story, I”m a self-publishing author. I started from the ground and worked my way up, learning the ins and outs of publishing from bitter sweet experience. I didn't have an agent to hold my hand–I don't have one to hold my hand. Some days, I wish I did.
But my interactions with these individuals has made me think about writers, readers, and literary prejudices. What, exactly, is a literary prejudice?
In my opinion and experience, literary prejudice is a mindset where readers expect a certain thing. If they do not get said thing, the author is ostracized. For example: A romance author who typically writes happily ever after endings will be harnessed into always writing happily ever after endings because this is expected of him or her.
She s/he stray from this path, the readers' literary prejudice kicks in, resulting in a mass exodus of fans/buyers. It's not something as easily defined as racism, sexism, or some other form of common prejudice. It's something that goes deeper.
Once an author finds their niche, literary prejudice is what happens if the author decides to write something different that falls outside of the ‘comfort zone' of their basic readership.
Some readers will simply ignore the ‘straying' title. Others will ostracize the author completely. Depending on the originating genre of the author, this may result in the reader never buying any more titles by that author.
I am actually experiencing this to a certain degree, although I simply do not have the readership to see as staggering of an affect as the large-house, traditional authors.
The first novel I released was a dark–a very dark–traditional fantasy. It is edgy, and it takes a plunge into subject matter many dislike discussing. The Fall of Erelith is a very difficult series for me to write. I've been working on book 2, Royal Slaves, in fits and bursts since I finished The Eye of God, but it's a story that's very hard for me to tell. (It is also not a profitable story, which doesn't help matters any for me.)
The second novel I released was a dark epic fantasy. It doesn't challenge as many things, focusing instead on the action and adventure I love in fantasy. I wrote Storm Without End for me as much as I wrote it for others. I broke loads of rules, learning a lot about my identity as an author.
With these two books, I started setting myself up for the niche I would fit in: dark, edgy, and intense fantasy fiction.
The trend continued with Inquisitor. It is as much of a thriller as it is an urban fantasy, and once again, I broke loads of rules while learning more about my identity as an author.
Winter Wolf followed suit, and I dug the trench deeper, delving into some of the darker aspects of humanity. Dark, dark, dark.
None of these novels have a lot of romance in them.
In Blood Diamond, I started to break out of the shell I had created for myself with my previous novels. Romance became a minor theme–minor compared to true ‘romance' authors. The dark and the unpleasant sides of humanity remain in Blood Diamond, playing to my love of thrillers and suspense. I stay true to my action/adventure roots.
Then I made a mistake. I was interested in finding out the depth of love Richard Murphy had for Nicolina Desmond before the events of Winter Wolf. I knew some of it–how they fought, some of their circumstances, and some of the games they played. But, I didn't know the whole story.
I wanted to tell that story. I wanted to know what kind of woman Nicolina had been before she had lost her memories. I wanted to know what kind of man Richard had been before tragedy stole away the most precious thing in his life.
I wanted to find out the depth of Richard's love that would drive him into doing so much for a woman who remembered nothing about him.
It's romance. This is far outside of the dark fantasies I had spent so much time focusing on. It's not intense romance, not in the way a good romance writer handles it. There's still plenty of darkness, action, and adventure, but the lighter side of their love often comes up. There's a good amount of humor in it as well.
I escaped the mold of my normal writing and–heaven forbid–tried something new.
I expanded my boundaries, perhaps not as well as I could have, but I've learned something sad about the reading industry:
Literary prejudice is alive and well.
It's the same mentality of critics who attack other readers for enjoying a novel like Twilight, though I'm far from ever reaching that level personally. Readers get set in their expectations, and when their expectations are not met–or worse, they're challenged–bad things happen to the author who simply wanted to tell a story in the way they wanted to tell the story.
My readers and fans, many of whom enjoyed The Fall of Erelith, Witch & Wolf, and Requiem novels, are finding my detour into this new project disconcerting.
Will all of my future books be romance drivels? Will I leave the dark fantasy niche for fluffy romance where no one of importance is permitted to die? These sort of things begin to haunt me.
Beneath a Blood Moon is as much dark fantasy as it is romance; some parts of it explore the emotions of love. Others delve into the bleaker aspects of humanity. In a way, yes, I will stray from the utter dark of my beginning novels. There's a reason for that.
Without light, there are no shadows.
Without those lighter elements, without that romance, love, and friendship between characters, the darkness is a pale shade of gray. It lacks the utter blackness of true despair because there's nothing to contrast it with.
In a way, I hope by exploring more of the good parts of life, I can make the darker elements stronger. I hope I can make the action and adventure more intense. I want people to care about my characters–all aspects of them.
In my first novel, the lighter side of humanity, including love and romance, is a far-off dream: a desire held by the characters out of their reach. Acceptance, freedom, and the basic rights to a humane existence are also stakes. The Eye of God's culture and society is an oppressive place.
The story isn't about the contrasts between good and evil, light and darkness. It's a story about finding out how deep the rabbit hole goes and learning there is a sky with a sun out there.
The world starts in that bleary gray, and the characters must overcome all that stands before them in order to find that light. That contrast is their goal and destination instead of the medium used to paint the piece.
As the story progresses, the darkness with get darker, but that's because the characters grow to have things to lose–and things to gain. For women, if they find the courage, the strength, and determination, they have a chance to become equals and break free of the patriarchy binding them as slaves to their men. For men, it is breaking free of the rigid structure controlling every aspect of their lives.
For slaves, it's about becoming human in the eyes of others.
Every novel I write is different, and that may ultimately become my undoing.
I don't want to be an author readers go to for a safe expectation of content. I want each book to be a surprise. Will there be a romance tucked between the sheets of a dark action adventure? Will there be humor in the dark, epic fantasy?
It may cost me my career and brand, but if it means I must fall victim to the literary prejudice game, that's okay.
Literary value is overrated anyway. Read what you love to read.
The instant you fall in love with a book is the instant it has the greatest literary value on Earth, no matter what the critics may say. So yes, while I tease and taunt Fifty Shades of Grey/Gray (How is his name spelled again?!), while I have my opinions on it, if that book makes you want to read, it's a great book.
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise or make you ashamed of your enjoyment of reading a book–any book, even one ‘society' deems is horrible. If you love it, it's a great book.
Literary prejudice can go suck a lemon.
Read what you love reading, and don't let anyone take that away from you. Just remember, literary prejudice is a bad thing… and your favorite authors might feel trapped by the graves they have dug for themselves in their efforts to maintain a living for themselves. (It's okay to dislike a book or series an author writes–don't turn your back on them completely just because a few books aren't up your alley. Remember, authors love variety, too. They want to write what they love to read… and many authors have a broad variety of loves and interests. I know I do.
Thanks for reading.