Imagine a parallel world in which movie or TV actors behave like some writers I’ve seen.
Let’s say you become a big fan of a trending A-list actor, “Chris Lawrence.” You search for his name. What comes up? Perhaps his Tumblr feed, Facebook page, or Twitter account. Now imagine if all-American actor Chris Lawrence only says things like, “Practiced my acting today. Lots of trouble acting happy when I’m so sad inside.” Or, “I just read my latest movie’s script. It has 67,984 words.” Or, “Here’s a screenshot of an email with my agent.”
Or, perhaps even worse, “Learn A-List Acting 101 with Chris Lawrence! Delve deep into the secrets of 1) getting into character, 2) cutting up with Jimmy Fallon, 3) SO MUCH MORE.”
That would be weird. Instead you would first see publicity photos. Or shots from his actual movies. Or updates about convention appearances. Or maybe the occasional personal thought about the themes of his recent movies.
Shouldn’t novelists perhaps do more of the same?
Disclaimer time. This topic and challenge is risky for at least three reasons:
- I’m still only a fan, not a published author (not even self-published).
- I have many author friends. I don’t, and won’t, “pick on” anyone.
- If I go on about this, I’ll end up turning hypocrite in two ways—either right now, by myself focusing this article narrowly on authors, or else in the future, about 40 years or so, when you may get the E. Stephen Burnett Complete Novel-O-Rama Training Course Seminar To Write SplendidFiction™ and Be a Trim Healthy Author for Just $0.35 A Day.
That aside, as a fan-not-published-author, I don’t get why so many authors (or aspiring authors) instead focus so narrowly on the arguably dullest parts of what they do: writing and editing and the publishing industry.
As if their fans want to get behind the authorial scenes most of the time.
As if their fans want to know not only the release day and plot of the author’s next yarn, but also the release delay reasons, wordcounts, publisher inside info, and not to mention those infamous agents and deadlines and periods of midnight self-crippling doubt, amirite?
Also—and here I must be very careful—especially when famous successful authors showcase their Author Training Courses, I suspect a gimmick. What happened to you, All-American Novelist? Did you run out of novel ideas? Is this a retirement job? Did you get old and have your fun, so now you’ll sell your inventions so that everyone can have powers—everyone can be super?
Of course, there may be reasons for these writing-and-publishing-industry emphases to hit me all wrong:
- First, actual pro authors may find their fans love this kind of stuff. Maybe I’m an outlier.
- Second, clearly fans of fantastical or speculative fiction love writing this sort of thing themselves, more than, say, the fans of John MacArthur devotionals. So it stands to reason fantasy/speculative fans like more behind-the-scenes info than most.
And of course a good author wants to build personal relationships with fans. It would be bizarre and a bit inhuman to hide every detail of the author’s writing and publication process, as if it’s taboo.
But when I think of some writers—no one by name, but an overall impression—I struggle to recall their story “face.” I struggle to recall their recent novel titles, much less character names.
Instead, I retrieve this rather comparatively bland word association: writer.
I first recall impressions of memes, updates, screencaps, and essays about writing.
I’m not a fan of this kind of writing-and-editing-and-industry-info-dumping.
And I can’t help but suspect that even a slight focus on these details keeps the genre(s) of fantastical storytelling-by-Christian-authors from growing.
Mind you, I love writing myself. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here.
But I don’t enjoy actually writing about writing all that much. The topic is boring.
I’d rather not focus publicly about how stories were made, but explore the stories we love.
I’d rather not dwell on a talented actor’s technique, but watch his or her movie.
I’d rather not know about sausage-making, but enjoy a sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit.
I speak first as an aspiring fan. But surely these passionate writers themselves don’t benefit much from talking about writing more than they actually, you know, do it. I shared this article by Hannah Strickler Anderson, who recently resolved “to talk less and write more”:
I don’t want to build a community around my writing; I want my writing to help you build your community.
This seems to broaden one’s appeal beyond niche groups of blog or social-network allies.
This would also give more time to actually gain craft expertise. In reply to this article, some storytellers said they’d known people who seemed more enamored with talking about writing than spending time exploring the stories they love. (Strangely enough, those people often find little to actually write—time, perhaps, that they’d spent talking about writing.)
What if you do not love only stories in general?
What if you also want to see Christian-made fantastical stories grow and find more fans?
Well, if our websites and blogs and social-network shares focus on writing-industry things—that is, if our writing-and-editing-and-industry talk effectively becomes the hook for our marketing—our audience could shrink even more than usual:
- From: people on the internet and who are Christians and/or appreciate fantastical stories and who go looking for this sort of thing for themselves or their loves ones and who have better-than-most attention spans and happen to find your website and happen to be drawn to your article and don’t mind buying books …
- To: people who miraculously fall into all those categories, but also live and breathe for discussions about craft/industries of writing and editing and publishing.
This is one stumbling block we can easily remove so these amazing stories can grow.
Writing, and talking-about-writing, is a means to an end: stories. So authors, let’s not tell as much about craft-of-writing, but show more of the stories we love.