Do you know what type of author you are? Are you an entertainer who has your hand on the pulse of the readers’ hearts and minds or are you the artist who pushes boundaries and challenges perceptions? Is the binding your stage? Is the typeset your muse? Do you come armed with a story readers will love or do you have a message that could change the world?
I have a theory about authors of fiction—that there are three types. The entertainer, the artist, and the all-too-elusive unicorn. And I believe that if authors understand which category they fall into they can save themselves a lot of angst. If you understand what type of author you are, you will not waste your time grieving over a world who does not notice your words and publishers that reject you. And you won’t spend countless hours fruitlessly querying publishers who will never give you a chance or marketing to the wrong crowd.
First, let’s define the three types of authors.
The entertainer, like their counterparts in comedy, film, music and stage, know how to create something people connect with. They understand that most readers pick up books because they want to immerse themselves in a world that they find entertaining. And these writers fulfill that need. Entertainers do not worry much about the craft, preserving the integrity of the literary world, or even writing with realism. (Hello, romance novels, I’m looking at you!) These authors have one purpose—to write stories that readers enjoy. Entertainers are the heroes of the everyday man. And what’s more, they top the bestsellers charts and publishers know it.
Fortunately, there is a wide variety of worlds, scenarios, and characters that readers find entertaining, so don’t feel limited if you are an entertainer.
For the artist, it’s all about the craft. Every word matters; its placement in the sentence is the difference between something insightful or mundane. The art is paramount. These authors write stories with messages. They intend that their characters will endure, the characters’ struggles will stay with the readers long after they’ve finished the novel, and that their words will be considered meaningful and profound. Realism, in all its hideous splendor, is their forte. Artists are venerated in the literary world. They are the role models of authors, actual and aspiring. Often artists receive critical acclaim but little renown, unless they fall into the third category.
The Unicorn is that special species of author who knows how to make the profound entertaining. They combine artistry and marketability. These are authors who inspire us, make us laugh and cry, and make us think. They are what every acquisitions editor and agent dreams of finding—an author who garners critical acclaim and public approval.
I often hear authors bemoan the fact that some novel they think is utter trash hit the bestseller list while “good” novels, perhaps their own, are undervalued or ignored completely. And generally, they cannot figure out why. After all, their novel is soooooooo much better and more meaningful and better written and…
Please, do not to hate or degrade a fellow author for being an entertainer. It’s like comparing One Direction to MUSE. One group are entertainers, the other are unicorns. They aren’t even in the same category. But the music industry is a richer place because they both do what they do. The same is true of the literary world. We need all types of authors, including entertainers.
Entertainers take a lot of flak. They are judged for not making an impact, for being clichéd, for writing swill. But readers love these authors and their books. And that counts for a lot—especially with publishers.
Publishers are slaves to what the market demands. Do they care about the craft? Yes, they do. But they won’t choose artistry over sales. Never forget that—especially when you are writing your book or querying your novel. Publishers will give the public what they want and right now, the market is more focused on entertainment than it has ever been, in my humble opinion.
So, what do you do if you are not an entertainer or a unicorn?
Yes, it’s hard to get published if you are a strict artist. But there are some things you can do.
– Don’t set yourself up for failure. Look for a publisher or agent that specializes in what you do. You will only frustrate yourself if you send your existential tragedy to publishers who are seeking the next Fifty Shades of Grey.
– If your book will appeal to a small, specialized market, go after that market hard.
– Check your ideas of bestselling success at the door and own what you are good at. Write the stories that are in your heart and share them. You will build a base of fans that will follow your work if you are diligent and don’t give up.
– If you cannot find a publisher, become your own publisher.
– Don’t ignore the entertainment factor. Look beyond the message and write in a way that readers will connect with.
– Make connections in the literary market and with the small publishers that cater to these markets. Write short stories for literary magazines and websites, enter contests, and build friendships with authors who write similar things.
– Stand out. Don’t just aim for profound, be different in a “this blew my socks off” kind of way.
Author, know thyself, because doing so will help you find the right market for yourself and your words.
Happy writing! 🙂