Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who am I writing for?

I'm about to start thinking about a new Molly Murphy mystery and also to come up proposals for the next three Lady Georgie books and I realize this is becoming harder than it was before. Not because I'm running out of ideas--far from it. I keep coming up with fun little twists and interesting plotlines for both series. The problem is that I am now so engaged in social media that I am in constant contact with several thousand fans. And they tell me what they like. I heard a lot of griping because Darcy did not figure prominently in Naughty in Nice. Of course there was the dashing and sexy Jean Paul de Ronchard instead but for keen fans of the series it just wasn't the same.

When I started writing mysteries I literally wrote for myself. I didn't think what might sell, what might make the NYT bestseller list or what might win an award. I knew what story I wanted to read and I couldn't find it on the shelf, so I wrote it. Now I feel all kinds of pressures--good reviews, bestseller lists, and above all pleasing my readers. It's got to be fun and sexy and dramatic and a good story but most readers want the story to be a personal one for Molly and Georgie. They want romance and heartbreak. They want their emotions involved.

This is now mmore of a challenge with the next Molly book because if you read Bless the Bride you'd know that Molly is now married. No more of that lovely romantic tension or the will they, won't they. So I have to think long and hard about where I want to go with that series. Children of her own to worry about, I'm sure. Daniel in danger. Cases that involve her personal life. So.... any suggestions as to what you'd want Molly to do next?

This raises an interesting point: should a writer keep her readership in mind when she writes, especially in a popular series. If the publishers had their way, we'd write the same book, over and over. Find a popular concept and stick with it. Look at Patricia Cornwell--that's exactly what she's done. Until now I've gone where I want to with my heroines, tried new things (like Molly meeting Houdini) and different tones for the books. But now I'm increasingly aware that my readers expect a certain kind of book when they see my name. Added pressure to perform and to please.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Should a writer write to please her readers? Should a series be consistent in tone and darkness so that the reader knows what to expect?  Do you get bored and lose interest if the stories are too similar or annoyed if they are too different? I guess I'm trying to please everyone and in the end the only person I can please is myself.


  1. When it all comes down to it, I Think a writer should write to please herself/himself.

    BUT .. I also think that when you have a readership (is that a word?) that follows you, you need to think about them.

    Basically, I don't think a writer needs to please everyone, that can't happen. If everyone's heart is invested in a certain will they/won't they relationship and you kill off a main character I think a writer would upset a LOT of people. It's about writing for yourself and maybe tweaking a little here and there for the readers.

    I think the reader likes it when the author listens to them in ideas, but I don't think it should be a major rehaul of a plot line because some readers aren't happy.

  2. I think that social media is both a good things and a bad thing.

    Yes, it brings the author/actor/brand name closer to their followers. You can have almost instant reactions or input from them.

    But, on the other hand, like Netfilx found out, you make some of your customers mad, they don't just sit back anymore. You make one wrong decision or what customers think is wrong and you can be all over the internet news within the day.

    So now you don't sit back and hope or wonder what the masses think. You get instant fan mail and instant hate mail.

  3. Love both Molly and Georgia. As much as for a reader you want the story to go in the direction you favour the character should go, part of the fun of a new book is not knowing what's going to happen and seeing the twists and turns that affect the characters and lead to the end of one story and hopefully the beginnings of another.

  4. Write for yourself. You can't write by committee because it will ruin your voice. That said, you'd better get off the social media and ignore the clamor.

  5. I'm glad you wrote about this, because it's something I think about when I hear about all my fellow Sisters & their successes. I definitely want some of the success, but I also want to be sure to remain true to me & my characters.

    I say, your characters have revealed themselves to you, & it's up to you to remain faithful to your characters.

    Nice article, Rhys. :o)

  6. I am not a writer, but rather an avid reader (about 4 books a week). I think a writer has a primary obligation to write something they are proud of, and that should inevitably change as a series progresses and they grow as an author, have different life experiences, etc..

    As a very loyal reader, I suspect I will enjoy whatever you write. After reflecting on what it is that draws me to purchase your books on the day they are released, I have come up with two main points: 1)the sense of atmosphere in your novels - the historic detail, the sense of place and time 2)the characters - a new episode in a cozy series is like a reunion with old friends. Other than these, I like to be taken on a ride, with unexpected twists and turns. Opening or downloading a new books is like a new adventure.

    Unfortunately, I think people in our culture are quick to run to social media when they have a complaint, but not when they have praise, so sometimes the feedback is quite skewed.

  7. Thank you for such insightful comments. As a writer what I enjoy best is visiting old friends when I start a new book. And the historical research

  8. I agree that, ultimately, you have to write for yourself. One of the other pitfalls of social media is that you get an influx of opinions that are all subjective, and, like Anna said in the first comment, it's impossible to satisfy all of them. I became a fan of yours because I love YOUR voice and YOUR characters, so don't let the social media trolls try to change it!

    Incidentally, I love that you change it up once in a while. There are some series that, while I adore them, have such a set formula, and sometimes I wish the author would do something a little different. I thought it was refreshing to see Georgie on her own for the first time in a while, much as I love the delicious tension between her and Darcy. But that's my very subjective opinion. :-)

  9. Write for the story -- the characters. The audience knows what they like, but really, they don't know what they WILL like until they see it. And sometimes they'll ask for something until they are sick of it -- or until other readers are sick of it.

    Better, always, to leave 'em wanting more, rather than keep hitting a popular note until they've had enough.

    If you want to listen, then listen to their expectations so you can pleasantly surprise them as opposed to horribly surprise them.

    But in the end, trying to read the audience as a whole will always be a gamble. A vocal minority can throw you off. Be true to your vision.

  10. I have one word for you: Misery. (by Stephen King). Write for you. When it's not fun anymore stop doing it or start a different series.

    This sounds contrary to me being a fan, I know. But it's really not. As a fan, I want to read things you enjoyed writing.

  11. Write for yourself, Rhys! And your post is relevant to one of my problems as both a writer and reader. I believe that series should be closed, i.e. at some point the writer should be able to say "The End" to his/her characters. The endlessly open-ended series benefits the publishers (which is why they pressure series writers for another and another and another) but I see too many series that have just gone on too long. As you're a writer of series, I wish you'd post on this issue.

    The same applies to TV and movies, of course. I'm always so happy when I come across a drama series that has an END. As a general rule, British TV is much more likely than American TV to end a series when it's just artistically right to do so, don't you think?

  12. No, I don't think you should write to please your readers. You need to write to please yourself. You need to write from your own imagination to create the unexpected and to develop your characters. Otherwise your writing will lose it's spontaneity and creativity.

  13. I would not pay too much attention to one dubious review. Your books appeal to many segments of society. My parents who are in their 80s have enjoyed all the Lady Georgie books and my father commented that Naughty in Nice was the best one yet. Amazon US was quite slow shipping it to Australia, and we were all waiting eagerly for it to arrive, checking the post box every day. Eventually it arrived and it was certainly worth the wait as we all eagerly devoured it in turns. Keep up the good work.

  14. Write for yourself - you cannot please everyone, and only you know your future vision for the books! I missed Darcy in Naughty in Nice as well - but loved seeing more interaction with Georgia and her mother - and was quite satisfied when Darcy and Georgie made up at the end. :) Really enjoying this series that I discovered through! :) Cheers!