Remember my very first post on this blog, about how I Gave Up Trying to Make It as a Writer? The one I only wrote seven months ago? I’ve tried to embrace the idea of being more of a literary dark speculative fiction writer who was just doing it for the pure joy of expression… But then I got depressed and I wrote a blog post On Losing My Motivation to Write. I stopped being excited by my writing goals, which had never happened to me before.
The funny thing is, I’m enjoying my day job more than ever. I’m busy and I feel a lot more competent when it comes to building WordPress websites and editing. That should make me less concerned with making a cent off of my fiction, but it doesn’t.
Because, turns out, I care about trying to “make it” as a writer. I care about getting sales and readers and fans. I want people to read my damn work and to love it. I want to be seen as a successful writer down the line—one with the authority to speak at author events and create courses and nonfiction books and teach workshops.
But I think what’s really, really driving me to write something palatable is that I know I can. I can write plenty of novels that would appeal to a dark romance audience and that I would love. I think giving up on that decently-selling author goal made me lose the excitement of possibility. It disconnected me from things I didn’t think I truly cared much about, like delighting lots of readers and selling well.
I’m also just excited to try my hand at the dark romance genre. I have plenty of ideas that would make great dark romances, so why not write them? I have a lot more that could be dark romances if I chose some story elements over others—elements I was considering anyway. Why the hell wouldn’t I opt for the most commercially viable version of ideas I still love?
But I think I needed to 100% give up on trying to write to market even a little in order to realize that writing 100% for myself wasn’t what I wanted either. Maybe this was the only way to a healthy middle.
Or maybe I’ll write another blog post a week from now explaining why I’m actually aiming to be published by a small literary horror press… Then the next week, I’ll announce that I’m refocusing exclusively on erotic shorts. God, I hope not. But it wouldn’t be in character. I’m constantly trying to make the best guess about what’s going to ultimately fulfill me and give me what I want out of my vocation, but of course, I’ll never find out what that is until I commit to something long enough to succeed. So I’ll try my best to do that with the following tactics.
So what’s the plan now? How am I going to write dark romance sustainably?
- I’ll prioritize the story ideas that would naturally appeal to a dark romance audience: I have lots of story ideas that tick all the boxes of a popular dark romance novel. It only makes sense to write those first and try to gain traction with more to-market novels.
- I’ll tone down or avoid the less popular things I like in major works. As mentioned earlier, when I can choose the more commercial option or the dark romance reader repelling option, I’ll choose the former. If I’m not married to the idea of adding a younger woman who fucks the heroine’s love interest halfway through the novel, why the hell would I include it?
- But I’ll still push genre boundaries. I crave certain things in the dark romance subgenre that are rare, but that I’m confident a lot of readers would like, or at least not hate: elevated writing, more gritty realism and nuance in the romance (especially the HEA), more goddamned actual dark fantasy romance! I’ve grumbled enough about how I would do A and B if I were writing dark romance. Why not be the change I want to see in the world?
- I’ll find a smaller outlet for fringe passions: Shorts and the occasional novella should scratch my itch for my less popular literary interests like FFM and erotic fiction that isn’t romance. I can also use these stories as low-risk ways to test my audience and see what they might just embrace more than I thought they would.
- I’ll slip in more unpopular stuff when they already love me: Plenty of big-name writers have done this, writing the crowd pleasers until they got a big enough name to take some risks. By building an audience that adores my writing, they’ll be a lot more open to trying something new from me, an author they love and trust, than from some rando they’ve never heard of.
- If there’s an unpopular novel idea I feel I have to write, I can still write it. Maybe I actually won’t. Maybe I’ll feel too much pressure to finish the next commercially viable novel to ever finish the wild crazy story of my deepest heart of hearts, but it’s soothing to remind myself that I can. And, again, the more I’ve built trust with my readers and have tested fringe ideas through short fiction, the more likely I am to succeed with something different.
So what does this mean for me right now? Will I now refer to myself as a dark romance author? Not yet. I think I’ll wait until I’m ready to start publicizing my first dark romance novel before I do that. It’ll be fun to decide which story idea I’ll work on first. I don’t know if this decision will last long enough to see me through an actual dark romance, but man does it feel good to have real excitement for writing back.