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  1. #1
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Manufacturing a Hit

    Every time someone becomes spectacularly successful, especially if success bursts upon the public, many people ponder why. Most of us do this idly, out of curiosity. A few (especially in the film business) do so hoping they can duplicate the blockbuster. Literary agents and publishers may do so hoping to improve their ability to recognize a possible bestseller when it comes their way.

    And we writers think wistfully about Jo Rowling's near billions and Stephanie Meyer's millions. Why couldn't it have been us? Can it be us?

    Those trying to manufacture a hit can succeed. Much more often they fail; there are several obstacles to success.

    One is that a hit sometimes depends on the times. Introducing a depressing book or movie in depressing times, or a light work in happy times, may not be a good tactic. If "Star Wars" had arrived a few years earlier or later it might have been seen as just another silly adolescent fantasy, with lots of hot-rod racing set (of all places) in SPACE.

    Another is that previous works may have mined out an idea or area of ideas. If you write another Twilight-like saga today it might be ignored. Or maybe not. Before Twilight there came hundreds of human-vamp teen love stories. What Stephanie Meyer did was to come up with an approach that felt new, not an imitation.

    Another problem is that we may look at a success and only see the superficial aspects, not the deeper more primal parts of a successful story. Is the fact that Edward is a vampire crucial? Or could his part have been filled by some other powerful supernatural being? Or even a powerful and charismatic but dangerous human?

    The Twilight stories show another side of failing to see deeper aspects of a success. The sight of a lot of teen girl jumping up and down and screaming on red carpets can lead us to assume they are the only fans. But the books were written by a married mother of three for her own enjoyment, not for teenagers, and many of the Twifans are the mothers and grandmothers of the most obvious fans.

    Further, a third of Twifans are boys and men. To many of us the Twilight books are pretty good superhero action-adventure stories. We skim the romance parts to get to the GOOD stuff.

    The Twilight series can also be read as horror stories. Those Volturi Italian vamps are SCARY.
    __________________________________________
    So how does one come to write a bestseller?

    Much of the process is described in accounts of how Tolkien created his Ring trilogy. And several biographies of Jo Rowling.

    Circumstances differ. Tolkien wrote before the quick communication of the internet, and his success came much slower. Rowling wrote when the internet was mature.

    Stephanie Meyer's experience is the most recent. She describes it in the following Web page. As you read it you might want to think about how it compares with your own writing experience.

    http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html

    There are several aspects of Meyer's creation of Twilight that are common to the working processes of other successful writers.

    She started with something that fascinated her, something she enjoyed exploring and expanding upon. And something that stayed fascinating, so that it sustained her all the way through the long, hard process of writing a book. Even though she was the mother of three young children (one recently born) - which anyone who has had even one child knows is a more-than-full-time, difficult job.

    This implies a major DO for the rest of us. Find our own inspiration, one which will remain inspiring. It doesn't have to be a situation, as it was for Meyer. It could be an image, a character, an action or set of them, a setting, or many other things.

    Meyer was writing for herself, not for a group of readers, for a "demographic," a "market segment." This suggests we DO NOT write for others - unless we are part of those others. Do not write for horror readers, for instance, unless we are a horror reader. Do not write for the kind of children who love Harry Potter - unless we have remained in touch with the child within us.

    Meyer's experience suggests another DO NOT - don't be straitjacketed by the ideas and experiences of others. Meyer was a great reader, including fantasy and SF. But she did not read horror, and the only vampire story she can remember was an Anne Rice book she read years before. Thus she was able to conceive and write about vampires who could go about during the day, and had other aspects unique to her vision of vampires.

    Ignorance of convention can help, as it did Meyer. But you could just as easily be an expert on all vamp stories and be stubborn enough to ignore convention, or even fight against it.

    This "do not" is the flip side of the advice to write what you know - which for fantafiction (F&SF) writers means that we invent our imaginary realities in such detail that they feel real to us and thus (we must hope) will feel real to our readers.

    I could go on about other lessons learned from Stephanie Meyer's (and Jo Rowland's and J. R. R. Tolkien's) experience. But the most important one seems to be this: success can not be manufactured by following a few (or a few thousand) rules. Follow them we may - many of them are sensible, even wise. But success is a benison given by others. We can only write what we love the best we can. And be satisfied with the process of writing and the products we create which we at least love reading.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; December 16th, 2009 at 02:10 PM.

  2. #2
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    We can only write what we love the best we can. And be satisfied with the process of writing and the products we create which we at least love reading.
    That is the lesson. At the risk of sounding flippant, commercial success is a matter of luck. The right story, featuring the right characters, in the right situations, at the right time and place, gotten into the hands of the right publisher, etc....

    There's zero chance of predicting what will be a hit, especially in an art form where the creator has to begin work nearly two years before the finished product is available for consumption. So write for yourself and hope that someone out there "gets" you.

  3. #3
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    So write for yourself and hope that someone out there "gets" you.
    Ah, thanks Jon. I needed to see that just right now.

  4. #4
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    There's zero chance of predicting what will be a hit, especially [when] the creator has to begin work nearly two years before the finished product is available for consumption.
    A point those who worry about trends don't get.

    It might be OK to think about what might appeal to readers in general and those like-hearted people most likely to enjoy what we enjoy - AFTER we finish a particular work. Then we might polish it to make the work a little more accessible, perhaps less confusing. But never if that compromises the work's appeal to you.

    As many people have said you must love what you create. If you don't it's much less likely that others will love it.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; December 20th, 2009 at 10:25 AM.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    That is the lesson. At the risk of sounding flippant, commercial success is a matter of luck. The right story, featuring the right characters, in the right situations, at the right time and place, gotten into the hands of the right publisher, etc....

    There's zero chance of predicting what will be a hit, especially in an art form where the creator has to begin work nearly two years before the finished product is available for consumption. So write for yourself and hope that someone out there "gets" you.
    Yes, yes, yes--to you and Laer both. Write the book you most want to read--the book you wish someone else would write, only you know they won't--and hope that there are others who want the same book.

  6. #6
    Omnibus Prime Moderator PeterWilliam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E_Moon View Post
    Yes, yes, yes--to you and Laer both. Write the book you most want to read--the book you wish someone else would write, only you know they won't--and hope that there are others who want the same book.
    Thank you for this. I cannot convey in words what I've struggled with in terms of a story I want to write and the various convolutions I have gone through trying to make my story fit different things I "ought" to do. Reading this has firmly cemented my resolve to write the story as I originally intended, regardless of anticipated reception and expected criticisms.

  7. #7
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    Here's what I think: Nobody else can write your book. Only you can bring it to birth. So you have an obligation to your own book. It may be good, or not so good, or salable, or not salable...but it is yours. And if you write it honestly, with every fiber of your heart and mind and soul...it will speak to someone.

    And this: what we have, as writers, is the freedom and the responsibility to write honestly--to say what we mean to say, as clearly as we can say it. Nobody can make you write a book you don't want to write. They can wave money at you, but you can say No. Nobody can keep you from writing the book you want to write. They can refuse to publish it, but you can write it, and be true to it and to yourself. What we have to give readers is our honesty, not just our facility with words. "This is what it's like to be such a person, in such a place, in such a situation..."

    That being said, no book is born perfect in every word. It never quite matches the vision. So there is revision and polishing to be done...but done to bring it closer to your vision of what it should be. And over the course of many books, you get better at this...I can look at my first books and see where I would change a phrase (and the typos--boy, would I change all the tyops!) But they still say what I wanted them to say, just not as tidily as I think I'd say it now. And there are stories I've written that now I wouldn't write...they were honestly written then, but I've changed, I've grown. (I'm really glad the stories I wrote in my twenties and early thirties weren't ever published...)

    So yeah--write your story.

  8. #8
    hack-wit Aether Monkey's Avatar
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    Thanks E-moon. Your comment validates the guiding principles of drafts I have been working from.

    First draft: write from the heart and soul; write profusely; write for the passion and the joy of it.

    Drafts after the first draft: Re-write with you analytical mind; carve; re-shape; accentuate; write with an eye toward the craft of story-telling.

    In the end, I think it is only good writing/story-telling that is successful. So I just focus on that.

  9. #9
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
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    I was just reading something similar at Dean Wesley Smith's blog, especially Rule #3. It seems to be to write the story once, then put your writer's hat aside and do nothing but edit the re-drafts.

  10. #10
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    Dean's advice is all to the good. Man has experience, skill, and a toolkit to die for. I recommend reading all the entries on getting started. (Unfortunately for me, I'm not that good at reselling old stuff...my "pies" have fewer "slices." Nor do I have as many flavors of "pie.")

  11. #11
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E_Moon View Post
    Unfortunately for me, I'm not that good at reselling old stuff...my "pies" have fewer "slices." Nor do I have as many flavors of "pie."
    That's because you are not thinking Spin-offs! License your pies, get someone else to do the work and collect royalty checks.

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