Have I made a mistake with my writing? Should I have paid more attention to what readers want? Should I have followed a formula and used tropes?
I’m not a genre-specific author. The one genre I loved when I was younger was romance. I read novels in other genres, but wanted to be a romance novelist. Do you remember the 1980’s movie, Romancing the Stone? The heroine, Joan Wilder, is a successful romance novelist who goes on her own adventure in South America and finds her soul mate. I loved everything about her. In the beginning, she was shy and rather plain, living with her cat named Romeo and only venturing out of her New York city apartment when she had to. But, when forced to travel to another country, she meets a strong, handsome man who helps her on her quest to find and rescue her sister from kidnappers and thieves. Joan Wilder becomes much more than a mousy writer. She transforms into a confident, strong, fearless woman. And an even more successful romance novelist. I must have watched that movie dozens of times, to the point I knew the dialogue. Yep, I wanted to be Joan Wilder. And in my teenage and young adult years, I attempted to write romance. But as many romance novels as I read, I struggled to write one.
In college, I moved on from romance novels and wrote a lot of non-fiction, which I loved. I wrote poetry, memoir and biographical sketches. I attempted a play and segued into what I considered general fiction. I enjoyed telling stories, focusing on my characters more than anything. My stories were about real people and events, my own feelings and experiences. Whatever challenged me, whoever inspired me was what I focused on and wrote about. And when it came time to self-publish my novellas, I was clueless about which categories they would fit in. Why? Because I didn’t know that I wasn’t writing in a specific genre. Or maybe I did know, but wanted to force my stories into the proper box so I could have more readers and a bigger following. At the time, I wanted to be a successful author so badly. I no longer wanted to be romance novelist Joan Wilder, but I still wanted her success and transformation.
Despite not fitting into a box, even though I picked boxes–contemporary romance, new adult romance, paranormal romance, holiday fiction to name a few–I continued to write what I wanted. And I wrote what I learned is called realistic fiction. It’s something that isn’t very popular and doesn’t have a particular formula or tropes. I never considered that I was writing realistic or literary fiction because I always considered that particular genre to be for the elite, the most intelligent and talented writers, which I knew I wasn’t. I love writing and want to reach people on a unique level. I want my readers to resonate with my characters, to understand that what they go through is real life. I always say I write stories filled with flawed characters in complicated relationships. I don’t write happy endings, but hopeful ones. Definitely not the definition of any kind of genre romance.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few months now, wondering how I could or should change as a writer. I’ve gone back and forth with ideas, always in the end criticizing myself for my past choices and the mistakes that I made. But did I really make any mistakes that I can’t work with and change now? I still love my stories, and now I have a better understanding of what they are, which box they most fit into. The hard part is realizing that they don’t fit into a popular genre, so my readers and followers are few. And because I wanted to gain more readers, I did a lot of book promotions. What’s tough about free book promotions is pigeon-holing your book into one specific genre. For my first novella, Bring Me to Life, I chose contemporary romance for lack of a better choice. And for my latest one, I chose sweet contemporary romance for the same reason. I made sure the descriptions were more accurate for the kinds of stories they really are, but I know that readers and followers of any kind of romance genre are critical and brutal. I learned that these readers want their formula, their tropes, and if they don’t get them, they feel duped and are disappointed. That means low ratings and bad reviews for me. Ouch. Yep, I was a bit late with this particular education.
Am I sorry I’ve been writing realistic fiction? Not at all. The truth is, I’m not the kind of writer who likes to be in a box with formulas and tropes and happy endings. Am I sorry that I put my work out there to the wrong readers because I didn’t understand? Yep, but it’s done. I have to take it and move on. And it wasn’t all bad. I received some four and five-star ratings and a few lovely reviews. Of course, I’ve always known that a lot of people will dislike my writing style and stories. That’s part of being a writer, especially a fiction writer.
I will continue writing how I love to write, but, this time, I will work on finding my true audience. There are plenty of readers who love literary fiction, who crave realistic characters and stories. I will transform how I market myself and my books. Maybe I won’t have that amazing successful career that Joan Wilder the romance novelist had, but I believe if I stay true to myself and my writing, I’ll find my readers and eventually I’ll be successful.
4 thoughts on “I’m not Joan Wilder”
I LOVE JOAN WILDER!! And that movie is one of my comfort movies!
Death to tropes and boxes!
Rebekah Mallory RID-NIC Certified since 2007 & Indie Author at Unkind Press, LLC http://www.rebekahmallory.com
“Death to tropes and boxes!” I LOVE that!
Yes! I feel the same way, Patricia. I’m not a novelist, but I’ve changed how I write to appease a “business-focused” audience. I need to get back to writing my truth. Thanks for the reminder! It’s great to see you in my inbox again 🙂
Thank you so much, Jae! Yes, it’s taken me too long and a lot of mistakes to realize this, but now I know you will find your readers and your people by being exactly who you are. 🙂