This is a spin-off post from the brilliant one Skyla wrote on Monday. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and then come back to me. I’ll wait.
I commented about the divide between authors who want to appeal to everyone and those who would rather be vocal even if it offends some. (That’s really simplified, but if I explained in depth this post would become TL;DR, and we don’t want that.)
Let me start by saying there is NOTHING wrong with either approach. Hell, I’m doing a little of both, to tell the truth. I mean, my contemporary romances have some stuff in them people might object to, but not a lot. And I’m not sure I could personally write something that no one found anything objectionable in, but that’s a different post (one that would be all about me and pretty boring.)
The thing is there are pros and cons to both approaches. As I’ve said before, I’m all about choices and recognizing that any choice, no matter how mundane, has consequences. So, let’s look, shall we and then I’ll use a very popular author as an example of the former because I don’t personally have the numbers to use myself.
Pros to each way:
Appeal to the masses: If you can do this, congrats! Appealing to the masses will garner you a lot of fans and a lot of money. Praise will depend on the work itself, but if you’re rolling in cash, I’m sure you can handle a little sting from reviewers.
Vocal about issues: You get to stick to your guns! That means the fans who find you and like you, really like you. They appreciate that you’re willing to talk issues and filter that into your fiction. If you do it seamlessly, even better. Often, reviewers will mention this in their reviews. That can be good or bad, but at least it’ll get people talking.
Cons to each way:
Appeal to the masses: Mass appeal also means the potential for mass exodus of readers. And you have to bite your tongue–a lot.
Vocal about issues: Loyal readers are great, but unless they also sell to all their friends, your readership is limited. You have a slow build going on, if you’re good and lucky. Otherwise, that small group of dedicated readers may be as far as it goes.
Obviously, there are exceptions to all of this, but let’s take a look at Stephenie Meyer. She appealed to millions with Twilight. One could argue that a lot of readers didn’t like it, but how many of us still bought the books to find out what all the fuss was about? Hell, I bought the damn box set because my friends kept talking about it. That series had mass appeal. (I could break down all the reasons why, but that’s been done before by people smarter than me, so even if I had one or two new points,… TL;DR.) Then she wrote The Host. I’m going to tell you a secret. I liked The Host. In fact, I think I actually read it first, which is what convinced me to give Twilight a chance. Is it a perfect book? No, but it was an interesting book, and it dealt with issues about life (and consequently about murder and…in a way, abortion), about war, about all sorts of things.
Guess what? It didn’t sell as well. The movie? Bombed.
Stephenie Meyer went from being an Appeal to the masses author to one who wanted to be Vocal about issues (whether she intended to do so or not), and her fan base reflected it. Now, you could argue that The Host was still a NYT bestseller, which it was, but let’s look at the numbers for a minute. From Wikipedia:
In August 2009, USA Today revealed that Meyer broke J.K. Rowling‘s record on their bestseller list; the four Twilight books had spent 52 straight weeks in the top 10. The books have spent more than 143 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Please note that the references for these numbers are from 2010, and may not include any extra time on the NYT list due to the release of the film versions of Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. However, even without those numbers, that means each book in the series, spent an average of 35+ weeks on the NYT bestseller list. (And I’m not sure if that counts the box set at all as that would fall under a different ISBN.)
Now let’s compare to The Host, also from the same Wikipedia:
The Host debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and remained on the list for 26 weeks. Meyer has said that she is working on additional books in The Host series and that she intends to write a trilogy, with the second and third books being called “The Soul” and “The Seeker”, respectively.
The Host came out in 2008. So, not only did it spend less time on the NYT list than any of the Twilight books, but clearly plans to finish the series were scrapped. Why? I wouldn’t doubt fan reception of the first book had something to do with it. Since then, she’s moved on from writing and is instead focusing on her role as a movie producer, so my guess is those books are never going to happen.
This isn’t to comment on Stephenie Meyer’s writing at all. As I said, I enjoyed The Host, but it does show a significant drop in numbers (a loss of 1/4 the amount of weeks on average for the Twilight books).
Is this any solid proof that it was the content of the book that changed reader attitudes? Nope. I will say that I’ve seen it with others though. I’ve seen it a lot in the romance world. So, while I can’t prove anything, I will say there is consistent data that points towards authors who start as Appeal to the masses and move to being Vocal about issues often lose readership. So, while I suppose there’s some validity to the article in RWA, it really is all about choice. Why are you an author? What do you want to say? Can you say it and still appeal to the masses? “Is that juice worth the squeeze?” as Skyla put it.
No one can decide that for you…except you.